Gone to Patagonia

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jan 20, 2008

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

As my former colleague Matty D used to enjoy reminding me, Bruce Chatwin resigned his job at the times by sending them a telegram: "GONE TO PATAGONIA STOP"
I was always impressed with that, and wanted to do it myself, but there were difficulties. For a start, telegrams no longer exist. It would have had to have been an email. And then it would have changed - the "stop" would have gone, for a start. It would have been more along the lines of "Hi, Rob. I'm not coming in today, or ever again, because I've gone to Patagonia. Cheers, Matt". And I hadn't gone to Patagonia by then, either. But Quito doesn't sound quite as good - indeed the whole email lacks the succinct charm of Chatwin's original. And then, of course, there are all the boring reasons like wanting a reference, not wanting to leave ex-colleagues with too many problems, and so on. So I resigned in the usual way. Shame.
In any event, I am now in Patagonia. Having taken a scenic route from Santiago. A trip on a minibus for a few days, with a guide who bore a passing resemblance to the great Ivan Campo. Eleven of us heading south. First night in Pichilemu. Surf capital of Chile. So where better to learn to surf? Well, possibly somewhere the waves aren't so big and fast - it isn't surf capital because it's easy. But there was an instructor called Elvis. So that sealed it. Problems, though. Elvis told me that the most important quality for a surfer - excepting, of course, zen-like cool (cf Point Break, etc) - is balance, a quality I lack in abundance. But then falling into the water is fun, too. Ultimately, I don't think surfing is for me. Not least because fat blokes don't look good in wet suits.
Next day, a stop in Santa Cruz, visiting the Museo de Colchagua. Founded by a former arms dealer, who is trying to reinvent himself as a philanthropist, it is interesting, although the section on the history of weaponry seems to contain a disturbingly large amount of Nazi memorablia. Herman Goerring's hunting knife, for example. Hmmm.
Then onto Pucon. That is a fantastic town. Lively, picturesque, interesting. So what does a sedentary chap like me do there? Climb a volcano, obviously. Yes, a volcano. An active one. Well, when I say climb, it probably wasn't that difficult. No ropes and so on. More a gentle stroll, really. Done in sandals, shorts and a vest, whilst walking the leopard (cooler than walking the dog, let's face it). Up to the top, and watch the lava shooting up. Peering over the edge of the crater was a strange feeling. And then heading back down, sliding much of the way, sat on a plastic sled thing. Well, that was exhilerating. The hostel in Pucon was also one of the most pleasant I've stayed in all trip. Wooden walls - almost hut like. Bookcases. Although I looked amongst the books, and an innocuous looking paperback suddenly struck fear in me. Across the front, in big, proud letters, the title - The Necronomicon. We're doomed. Dead by dawn. No Bruce Campbell to save us. Although, fortunately, it didn't come to that, and we left alive.
One more night stop, in Valdivia (drinking until four, using YouTube as a jukebox), then on to Puerto Montt, for the Navimag ferry - four of us leaving the bus. Me, Ingo from Germany, Letitia from Switzerland and Elizabeth from Austria (Vienna, in fact, although this means nothing to me). Down to Patagonia. Through some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen. Mountains, islands. Even a rainbow right across the sky on the last day.
Patagonia, of course, is cold. A harsh wind that eroded the mountains cuts into your skin. It adds to the atmosphere - this isn't really a place to be enjoyed whilst sipping cocktails. Suffer for the beauty. Raw, red face from the wind, slowly developing skin cancer from the excess in UV rays coming through the hole in the ozone layer directly overhead. Still, mustn't grumble.
Puerto Natales itself is full of people getting ready to do large treks. Never before have there been so many people who aren't students buying instant meals in supermarkets. Rice, noodles - anything that just requires boiling water. All to spend a few days (or more) in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. But then, Torres Del Paine is surely worth a few days of grotesque student Pot Noodles. Rivers, glaciers, mountains, guanaco - even Puma. And we saw one! Fantastic! Incredibly rare, hardly ever seen, but there it was. Some distance off, admittedly. I was hoping it would come up to us, purring, and start rubbing its head against my leg. It didn't. Just sat there. Cool. Impeturbable. Occasionally glancing at us, asking "What are you looking at?". Wow.
One more thing - all the icebergs that had broken from the glaciers were blue. Why is this? Something, I imagine, to do with the refractive index of ice. But then, why aren't ice-cubes blue? Eh? Explain that one, so-called secular scientists. Ha!

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tedinger on

I'm glad you had an enjoyable trip to the Patagonia! I lived in Punta Arenas for some time and fell completely in love with Torres del Paine and Chile in general :-)

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