~ The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And, in that vein, when you’re surveying the epic landscapes of Patagonia, it’s easy to feel like a very wealthy landowner indeed. The many faces of the Patagonian landscape have drawn explorers and adventurers since Portuguese mariner Fernando de Magallanes arrived in the region in 1520. Mountain peaks soaring from ragged pedestals to pierce churning clouds; extravagant glaciers carving corridors through extreme terrain to arrive at deeply crevassed facades; ethereal icebergs casting adrift from glaciers to ghost across dramatic lakes; golden pampas wafting in the breeze and offering refuge to wildlife. Last November it was time to see it all for ourselves.
Punta Arenas in Southernmost Chile is our hopping-off point, and the journey northward introduces us to the vast remoteness that characterizes the region. Windswept and lonely sheep estancias (ranches) stretch far to the left and right – the domain of resilient gauchos and opportunistic wandering guanaco and rhea.
We call in at ‘Cueva del Milodón’ (Cave of the Mylodon) Natural Monument to marvel at the replica of the giant ground sloth found here (so glad we’re not meeting the real deal today!) then it’s on to ‘Los Torres’.
The National Park boasts mountains, glaciers, lakes and rivers. Centrepiece, Cordillera Paine, is a small mountain group including Paine Grande (largest); Los Torres (the towers); and, Los Cuernos (the horns).On our wildlife walk, we are rewarded with great wildlife sightings – grey fox, a hairy armadillo, guanacos and a number of puma. These sightings are all a special buzz!
In our quest to see more of Patagonia’s gems we cross the border to El Calafate (Argentina). This charming town, gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, has a modern Glaciarium. We get a great introduction to the natural phenomena of ice and glaciers and to the Southern Patagonia Icefield, third largest reserve of fresh water in the world. Still, nothing adequately prepares us for the power of Perito Moreno Glacier. Unusual in that this glacier is actually advancing, this incredible beauty has a 5km-wide terminus and averages 74 metres above the water surface
Up next is the small mountain village of El Chalten. Stunning backdrop to this frontier post are the peaks of Cerro Torre and Mt Fitzroy. At 3,405m the latter is considered one of the world’s most technically challenging mountains to climb. We‘re not keen to test that theory, but you have the opportunity to trek to an iconic panoramic viewpoint of the Cerro Torres – yes, as spectacular as promised! The leisurely Condor Trail takes us to the vultures’ launching site and a vista of the peak-rimmed valley.