Patagonia. Just that word alone stirs up so many wild emotions and gives me the goosebumps. The vast fringes of the world, the sparsely populated unspoilt wilderness, the last frontier. It’s epic. Patagonia deserves all those big words and more. It’s actually a region and is in both Argentina and Chile, and with LATAM and Nomade I visited the Chilean side and headed straight into the Torres del Paine National Park.
After a five hour van ride through the deep south of South America in pitch darkness, I really wasn’t sure what I would be waking up to the next morning. It was dark, dark as the night, and the winds howled all night long as I tried to imagine what it was like outside.
I couldn’t sleep. I was far too excited and had so many thoughts racing through my mind. I had stalked the hotel website prior to leaving Australia and this only added fuel to the fire of my imagination. The hotel – explora Patagonia is the only luxury hotel in the national park and in that moment I was tucked up right there, in the heart of Patagonia. So when I pulled the curtains in the morning I was speechless. My eyes teared up. Nothing could have prepared me for that dose of surreal reality.
The howling wind comes and goes, either way Patagonia is a silencing place, you are always alone with your own thoughts here.
A granite kingdom, comprising of steep escarpments, mood ring deep turquoise lakes, blue glaciers, rivers and mountains. Pristine and unspoilt.
Within the national park there are three distinctive spires or horns of the Torres del Paine, called the Cuernos del Paine, which are hypnotic. No matter where you are in the national park, you can’t help but be drawn to them and their craggy texture.
Sometimes exaggerated by the setting sun’s cross light, sometimes by heavy cloud, either way their stance is always dramatic, as the colour delicately changes and dances over the granite face.
There really are no words. At every turn there was just so much raw natural beauty. I’m not a hiker, I’m a bit (very) impatient, though with this trip I learned to slow down a notch.
The whole experience of staying at explora Patagonia is that you can choose from over 50 ‘explorations’, guided hikes that are suited to you and what you want to get out of the experience. And since our small group visited in Winter we had the entire park to ourselves. Can you imagine. Seriously. I didn’t see another visitor who I wasn’t familiar with the entire time. It was extraordinary. The vastness.
What got my heart racing was being able to spend time horseback riding in the pampas / the grasslands, with the Gauchos; the skilled horsemen of Patagonia.
They are very proud and renown horsemen, who live together in a small group with their horses, where they train and care for them. They are generally known to be strong, proud and silent types, and very committed to the horses.
Everything about the Gaucho way of life seems so utterly timeless, like a time gone by.
I was photographing the horses in a woodland paddock of sorts and in the late afternoon air I could hear a whistle, then all of a sudden the horses formed a line and started heading towards the stables, following the sound of the Gaucho’s whistle, whistling that it was time for bed.
Gauchos live in basic shared rooms within the stables, where the smell of leather and hay hang in the air.
The crackling wooden fire oven in the kitchen brings everyone together after a day’s work. It’s a basic and honest way of life. One of the simple luxuries is exchanging ‘yerba mate’ together, a herbal infused hot drink made from dried leaves , like tea, which is shared around the table from a hollow gourd. I tried it, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste, earthy, yet bitter, at the same time.
This is Javier, he was the newest gaucho to the group and is 23yr. We didn’t share any language, the Gauchos don’t speak English, though his love for the horse was evident, including his inky black tattoo of two horses on his forearm. From what I could make out he has been a Gaucho since he was about 14 years old. Which means leading a sometimes isolating life through bitter winters, with not a lot of company, and sometimes alone for long stretches of times, besides the beloved horses.
I still can’t believe I was there – looking at these shots and bringing together this post still feels so surreal. So much appreciation for the natural world and such a privilege to have had the opportunity to visit.
Part Three coming tomorrow night – Peru! Let’s go!
Also, if you’d like more info about LATAM airlines and the trip here is a fact sheet to download.