Patagonia and Atacama
Seven o’clock on Sunday night finds me in the outdoor jacuzzi at Tierra Patagonia, overlooking the beautiful mountains on the opposite shore of Lake Sarmiento. The mountain looks majestic as ever, framed by low, puffy clouds that seem bigger than the landscape itself. The wind is roaring, but I don’t feel a thing. Completely at peace with the immensity around me, my mind starts to wander, as it has done for the past few days. I think about the hundreds of photos I’ve taken, the journal notes I’ve made, and the stories that I’ve yet to write, and I feel overwhelmed.
It’s my second full day in Chilean Patagonia. I arrived on Friday afternoon, after a four hour flight from Santiago and another four hour drive to the property from the airport in Punta Arenas. While the thought of that much travel may seem daunting, you’re rewarded by beautiful vistas as soon as you leave the airport grounds, which only intensify as you draw closer to Tierra and Torres del Paine National Park.
Eventually, paved roads give way to gravel, and the number of passing cars dwindles. A sign with the property’s logo appears on the left, and you turn down a winding driveway that appears to lead to nowhere. It is only after a few moments that the property appears out of the hillside, barely breaking the horizon.
The Cordillera del Paine mountain range looms in the background, surrounded by lush hills and turquoise waters. The sky is a shade of blue/grey that I've never seen before, partially obscured by low hanging cotton ball clouds. There's a calmness and purity in the air, a reminder of your location not terribly far from Chile's southern cape, the veritable end of the world.
The next day, we head out for a daylong excursion, a driving and boating tour through Torres del Paine National Park. The driving is an excellent lesson in the immensity of the landscape around us; mountains that don't seem to far away are in fact an hour's drive.
We drive and drive, stopping only to take photos of the scenery or take mini-hikes off the road. We drive past waterfalls and lakes, hills and valleys. Though the Southern summer (Jan-Mar) is considered the high season, Southern fall is stunningly beautiful, as trees are exploding in vivid oranges and reds, creating a fiery landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. After several hours of exploring, we head down to Grey Lake to board a boat which will whisk us to Grey Glacier, the endmost glacier on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The lake's milky water eventually leads to the glacier, a massive blue wall of ice that stretches skyward. It's surreal. There is no noise aside from the lapping of the lake against the boat's hull, and the click of camera shutters. We drift.
The following day, Sunday, a grueling eleven-mile uphill hike is in the cards, to the base of the Torres del Paine, the park's namesake granite monoliths. It's an eight hour roundtrip journey, with a stop for lunch at the base. The first three hours of moderate hiking are enjoyable, and the landscape gradually turns from plains to forest. As we approach the fourth hour, the forest gives way to loose rocks, making for a more difficult scramble to our finishing point. Our exhausted group reaches the top, where we are treated to a deeply rewarding view of the base and a turquoise lagoon, as the clouds roll away and there seems to be nothing but sky above.
Nearly 6500 miles later, the urban sprawl of New York City feels foreign. I pass through Grand Central, encountering more people than I did over the course of four days in Patagonia. The memories of Chile and its beautiful remoteness are still fresh in my mind, unlikely to go away anytime soon. The purity of Torres del Paine will leave you in awe of our amazing planet, in utter euphoria, and with a new appreciation for truly going off the grid. - T. MICHIE
TAYLOR MICHIE | Taylor's work has appeared in AFAR, The Huffington Post, USAToday, SpinSheet, BoardingArea, and on the cover of TIME Magazine's he Wireless Issue, among others. He currently contributes to Airchive.com as a senior correspondent, as well as Glamping.com and others.
LESLIE FINEMAN | Growing up between New York City and Toronto, Leslie got bitten by the travel bug early on. She moved to England for university, where she spent summers soaking up as much as possible – working on a kibbutz in Israel, tending bar in the Greek islands, studying Spanish in Spain.