Patagonia Pt. 1
If you haven't been keeping up with our exploits, we've been moving...a lot. Its been a bit exhausting really but there's been so much we've wanted to see in Chile. People often ask us if we have pre-planned areas to visit or things to do throughout our trip & the answer is no. In fact, once we arrived in Chile our itinerary changed more than once thanks to recommendations from locals & people we've met a long the way.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit it now but we almost didn't go to Patagonia at all. I know how crazy that sounds so I'll just let that sink in for a moment - were crazy. However at the time it seemed too far to travel & to much of an expense for us. We figured Patagonia was a destination we'd be sure to get back to. Well most likely we would have been wrong because it is far & it's not cheap, at best it would have been years before we'd attempt to go again & with all our new friends admonishing us (You HAVE to go to Patagonia!!) we don't regret it for a minute, easily the best thing we've done thus far, maybe ever.
Located about as far south as one can get in Chile, Punta Arenas is located on the strait of Magellan & is quite the quirky character. A small (ish) city that wants to be a big city, it's a mix of industrial shipping, construction, & rural supplies with budding gastropubs & brew houses. We dined on artisanal pizzas (fabulous) & popped by two of its most famous brew houses - Austral Brewery (our personal favorite) & the smaller microbrewery Hernando de Magallanes. Pro tip here - Magallanes has a odd restriction on consuming full beers in its tasting room, so if you are not aware of this & purchase to bottles then you end up drinking them outside on the lawn in very chilly temperatures out of view of its cameras...not that this happened of course.
Given its location & decent sized airport, it is the starting point for most Patagonian explorers but we would not recommend it as home base if you don't want to spend several more hours in transit prior to entering the parks themselves. Once picking up (another) rental car, the petite Chevy Onix whose resistance we would test over 4 days, we hit the road again for a very flat, very straight 2hr drive north.
Though north of Punta Arenas, here is where we began to feel we were at the end of the world. Another fishing port, Lonely Planet now describes it as a "Gore-Tex Mecca", we'd add home of hostels & local beer houses for the budget traveler. Here is your last opportunity to load up on forgotten gear, grab necessary provisions (nature bars, beers :-) ) & gas (critical) before hitting the parks. Puerto Natales opened their own airport roughly 1 year ago but only provides service during the high season of the park and only twice a week though - not a very convenient or budget friendly option (hence our flight to Punta Arenas & the driving...).
Natales is a vastly better option for those hikers not wishing or able to stay closer to the park than Arenas. Daily buses are available to deliver adventures to the various park entrances, though for the daily hiker again we would not recommend this option as you'll spend the same amount of time on a bus as you will hiking! (This pro-tip comes compliments of Victoria, whom we met in Valpo - muchas gracias!).
After a bite & café, loaded down with what few provisions remained at the local super market (basically some breakfast bars & 2 beers as it was so cleaned out on a Sunday...) we continue our trek NW to what would be our home for the next 4 days.
Having lost all internet or connection to the outside world in Puerto Natales, we entered a vast stretch of land, miles on either side of the road, with nothing but flat farm lands until the Patagonian mountains abruptly jut up towards the sky. Switching around what remained of FM radio service, whom should cross our airways but none other than Ms. Taylor Swift...Taytay can find you anywhere.
Pavement lasted us only 90km (or what you can call pavement I guess?) til we hit a rough dirt & gravel road. Another 10km towards Cerro Guido (our only reference guide available, little to no road signs for comfort) & we make an abrupt left turn towards our final destination. Only 12km on (worse) dirt roads, 1 gate & numerous wild guanacos, lesser rhea & herds of sheep stood in our way now.
Tercera Barranca sits nestled at the base of the "Torres", a spectacular view of the spires on a clear day. A unique "eco" inn the entire place runs on windmills & generators which only run 7-9am & 7-11pm, yes no heat throughout the chilly nights but ample warm blankets are provided so even I wasn't phased. At this point we were so far south we were never actually in the dark - bed by 11pm, up by 6:30am, always in the daylight - blackout shades have never been more useful.
The main lodging house boast no more than 8 rooms each with their own unique view but I think ours was the best....west facing right to the Torres, I don't know how we were so lucky :-). A large common area hosted cards, board games & a sizable fireplace as well. Breakfast & dinner were served in the dining house just a quick few steps away & while breakfast was included dinner was optional....where else would one find to eat out here we have no idea but the food was delicious & plentiful (3 courses) so nonetheless we didn't complain. The best part in our opinion were the house dogs & cats, including three 4-month old puppies that freely roamed the property. Ben made a buddy who always came running each time we were outside, playfully rolling over for him begging for a good ol' belly rub.
After the hustle & bustle of Santiago & Valpo (even more calm & secluded than Chiloe), Patagonia was the perfect sanctuary to spend the next few days. It boasts an ideal setting to enjoy the picturesque beauty of nature all around you, forgetting that the rest of the world continues to move forward. Over the next few days we would need this calm & restful setting as we'd test our hiking resolve tackling some of the most rigorous treks in Patagonia... stay tuned for Pt. 2!