Chile, March 2022: A chilly reception (Part 3, Patagonia)

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

We made it to Patagonia!  That in itself would be cause for celebration, but after our ordeal in the Lake District, it felt like a triumph.  It had been 7 years since we first experienced the magnetic draw of the Torres del Paine and they had never loosened their grip on our imaginations.

We were picked up in the dark at 5:50 am by Hector and whisked through quiet pre-dawn traffic-free Santiago to the airport.  This was our first time to fly on SKY airline, which seems to be the Spirit Airline of Chile, with separate charges for every service, including drinks and baggage.  We didn’t have prepaid luggage, but after ponying up for that, we were on our way, via Puerto Montt, with this flight from Santiago connecting us to our originally scheduled flight to Puerto Natales, before we were so rudely derailed by the flat tire scheme.

4.25 hours later, with a brief stop at the scene of the crime (Puerto Montt airport), Ivan picked us up at midday in Puerto Natales, housed in a small, attractive, wood-lined terminal.  It was only an hour’s drive to Patagonia Camp, an enclave of yurts on the shores of Lake Toro, the ultimate in glamping.

Patagonia Camp is a collection of comfortable yurts set in a luxuriant landscape on the south shore of Lago Toro, just south of the entrance to Torres del Paine National Park.

We were welcomed with calafate pisco sours and a late, delicious lunch of a savory pumpkin soup and huerto sandwich.

We did not rough it in Patagonia; these yurts were nicely appointed and the food was excellent!

After a briefing on the excursion options by Cristobal at 5 pm, we took advantage of the hours of daylight still remaining to walk from the property, intending to hike to an overlook called Mirador Los Azules, along a ridge overlooking Laguna Bonita (pretty lagoon, indeed). 

A short walk from Patagonia Camp, looking away from the Torres, over Laguna Bonita.

Steve and Greg were quickly detained by an attractive scene at a fishing outpost. I hiked most of the trail at top speed, trying to beat the failing light, but finally turned back at 7:20 pm, knowing sunset was near 8 pm and that I had passed through some very dark stretches of forest.  I suppose from the map that the look-out at the end would have yielded views of Lago Porteño on the other side but the better part of valor prevailed.   Greg hiked after me, but turned back before we connected later, back at the bar.  I enjoyed the cocktail of the day (corta corriente), as well as dinner, guanaco empanada, tuna with a mint and pea sauce and an elongated macaron with lemon sorbet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

We were out most of the day, joined by the quartet from New York (3 women who appeared to be sisters and a husband) and led by Horacio, on a long, hard, 9 mile hike one way called Lazo Weber.

The signature creature of eastern Torres del Paine: the guanaco.  They are a favored prey of pumas.

Guanacos were spotted along the 1.5 hour drive to the start of the trail, on the east side of Laguna Verde. A dead guanaco carcass attracted clouds of condors.  An armadillo skittered away, just as had happened on our one sighting on our prior trip.

A nice viewpoint over much of Torres del Paine National Park was our reward for hiking Lazo Weber.

The payment for hiking Lazo Weber to this overview of Torres del Paine National park payment was a difficult, steep, sandy, sideways descent to the waiting van. Weirdly, the steeper the sand, the safer it felt, like walking downhill in thick snow. The bridge to the right is Puente Weber, crossing Rio Paine and opening to the left into Lago Toro.


Thursday, March 31, 2022

No one else signed up for the “Historical Patagonia” hike, so we had a private outing, with Horacio as our guide and Beto as our driver.  Although rated as a moderate hike on AllTrails (Petroglyphs via Lake Sarmiento), this was a  pleasant, easier walk up to a cave with rock carvings left by the nomadic indigenous Tehuelche people.  Our way was eased by the van enabling us to make this a one-way hike instead of an out and back. It was a gorgeous sunny day, making the cool shade in the cave welcome.

Iphone panorama: A natural cave in Patagonia housing indigenous petroglyphs and relief from the sun.

Along the way, Horacio pointed out puma prints, guanaco prints, guanacos on high alert, guanaco skeletons and was hopeful of us actually seeing a puma. We remembered well being warned by Claudio (our guide from our first trip to Patagonia) that if we really wanted to see pumas, the trip would have to be dedicated to puma pursuit.

Guanacos post a lone sentry high on a ridge, suggesting the unseen presence of their predator, the puma.

Lots of evidence of puma predation of guanacos along the Petroglyphs via Lake Sarmiento hike, from skeletons to tufts of guanaco fur caught in fences.

Afterwards, we drove north to Cascada del Paine, which we recognized from our prior trip.

After putting our tripods and neutral density filters through their paces, we ate our delicious box lunches.  Everyday, I ordered the chickpea patty with caper spread, pickles, roasted eggplant and peppers and caramelized onions on a dark whole wheat bread, an outstanding sandwich.  Steve and Greg bemoaned me not electing the brownie again.  We were all sleepy on the van ride home.

We were surprised to find guanaco on the menu but the kitchen at Patagonia Camp could do no wrong.

We revived in time to enjoy another outstanding meal of guanaco “stew” (chunks of tender guanaco meat on a bed of carrot purée) and cherimoya ice cream dessert.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Patagonia’s high winds mean the cloudscape is constantly changing and the water surface of Lake Pehoé is most often choppy.

The best laid plans are made…for retooling.  High winds kept the New Yorkers from their planned excursion to Grey Glacier.  On our last trip, our boat excursion to the glacier was similarly postponed due to excessive wind and even when we went, it was a “3 hour tour” with the windows on the small boat streaked with choppy water.  If a single word can define a place, for Patagonia the choice is easy: windy.

Steve calmed the water of Lake Pehoé by combining multiple exposures. Even obtaining short motion-free exposures could be challenging from high on a ridge at Camping Pehoé.

Horacio’s planned hike for us was vetoed by the rangers, so it was on to Lago Sarmiento Plan B, which turned out to be quite scenic and visually intriguing.

The upside of intense winds: beautifully sculpted lenticular clouds, en route to the shore of Lago Sarmiento.

Torres del Paine, beautiful from every angle, with every kind of foreground.

Coral like bacteria eroded formations awaited us at the end of the hike. Thrombolites are calcium carbonate accretions formed by cyanobacteria, acting under an unusaul confluence of conditions.  Lago Sarmiento being a shallow, alkaline lake without inflow and little marine life is one of the few places in the world with these conditions.  We were accompanied by one other guest, a Chilean actress (Javiera Contador) who Horacio told us was quite well known in Chile as the mother in Chile’s version of the TV show, Married With Children (Casados Con Hijos).  Steve’s back was bothering him enough that he halted just before we reached our destination.  When I saw the formations, I knew Steve wouldn’t want to miss them, so being a good wife (and needing to find a green latrine with some privacy), I walked back to find him and have him join us.

Chilean actress Javiera Contador having a Sound of Music moment, admiring the views of Torres del Paine, from the shores of Lago Sarmiento, which is ringed with these unusual thrombolite formations.

A little different foreground for the always stunning Torres del Paine, rare thrombolite formations ringing the shore of Lago Sarmiento.

I still had enough energy on our return to the Patagonia Camp property to ask to be dropped off en route to the trail leading to Cascada Lago Toro, which I had to myself.

On my way back, the Chilean actress, now accompanied by her husband, was heading for the falls and later, Greg and still later, 3 of the 4 New Yorkers.  I made it back to the yurt before the skies really opened up with enough rain to keep me out of our by now beloved jacuzzi.  It had seemed a frivolous luxury on arrival, but sore from the hikes, it morphed into a seeming medical imperative by departure.  Even Steve was coaxed into it once.

We had debated delaying our mandatory Covid testing until our layover in the Santiago airport, but came down on the side of doing it from Camp the evening before departure. Holed up in the Puma Room, we willed the Internet to hold out long enough for us to complete our video-monitored rapid Covid tests, which thankfully, it did.

Saturday, April2, 2022

It’s a long way back from the end of the world (el fin del mundo): 4 hours in a van with the New Yorkers to Punta Arenas (raining the entire way), a 3 hour Latam flight back to Santiago, a 4.5 hour hour layover (taken up by waiting for the American counter to open), a blissful 10 hour cocoon back to DFW, a 2 hour layover in DFW and our final leg, the 3 hour flight back to San Diego.

We caught glimpses of the local ostrich, the rhea, on the drive to Punta Arenas. This rhea image is from our 2015 trip.

We had a new worry accompanying our travel back, the perfect bookend to an eventful trip.  Trooping up the grey weathered wood boardwalk leading up to the road from Patagonia Camp in the dark at 7 am, Steve, blinded by an approaching person’s light,  stepped off the edge of the platform, falling 4 feet onto the mossy forest floor below.  His calf was swollen and we suspected a tennis leg injury, but worried about the swelling worsening en route (we know too much and were tormented by the possibility of deep venous thrombosis or even worse, compartment syndrome).  The long flight from Santiago was overnight (boarding at 9 pm), and was easily filled with a departure movie, a restorative sleep on the fully reclining business class seat (THE greatest luxury, after hot water) and a breakfast movie.  Since Will Smith and his altercation with Chris Rock at the Academy Awards had been much in the news during our trip, I had to watch King Richard, for which he won an Oscar playing the domineering and ambitious father of tennis superstar sisters, Venus and Serena Williams.  The climbing exploits of Marc-André Leclerc, memorialized in The Alpinist, had me gasping over my quiche breakfast.  One of his most astonishing climbs was one of his last, climbing Torre Egger (a  mix of vertical rock and ice) in the winter, one of the Torres del Paine we were already missing as it receded in the increasing distance.

It’s enough to see these Torres, I can’t imagine climbing them! The Alpinist is a gripping account of Marc-André LeClerc’s drive to summit what most would considered unclimbable.

Altogether, this was a not entirely pleasant, though truly memorable, trip, one we will ever forget.  That said, I’d go back to Patagonia tomorrow!

So long Patagonia for now, I don’t think this will be our last trip there.



Subscribe to the Aperture Photo Arts RSS Feed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *