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Southern Travels

Notes from Patagonia


It’s a long trek to Patagonia from Santa Barbara. More than 30 hours from door to door, so to speak. Still, the dry eyes, swollen ankles, and exhaustion are well worth it — Patagonia is an earthen temple in its raw form. Recently, I had the opportunity to make the trek to the bottom of South America, an adventure that included hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and cruising through the fjords to Cape Horn on the educational research ship Via Australis.

From Los Angeles, I caught a flight on LAN (lan.com) to Santiago, Chile, where I stopped for one night at Hotel Fundador (hotelfundador.cl) before continuing to Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Patagonia. From there, it was a three-hour drive north to my hotel in the town of Puerto Natales, the capital of the Last Hope Province. Pampas, mountains, and lakes, as well as sheep, rhea, black-chested buzzard-eagles, hare, gray fox, and guanaco, were in my sights all the way to my destination. I arrived in the afternoon at Hotel Remota (remota.cl), where I stayed for the next three days.

Remota was built in 2005, and its design is an homage to the natural landscape; it successfully creates the experience of being indoors while still engaging in the natural elements of the region. There are no televisions, no music, no distractions from the solitude of the land.

Time went quickly, with a new adventure each day — hiking to the base of the majestic blue towers in Torres del Paine National Park; a horseback ride to the top of Dorotea mountain; kayaking down Grey River. Delicious food and informative guides rounded out the sublime experience. I tried to emblazon the sights and sounds of Patagonia on my brain. There is nourishment, a replenishment of the soul that comes from quiet locations such as these.

Leaving Remota, I returned to Punta Arenas to board the Via Australis, one of the ships in the Cruceros Australis (australis.com) fleet, for a four-day cruise of the fjords that make up the tip of South America. Via Australis is an educational research vessel, and as such, passengers learned about the ecosystems, wildlife, and history as we sailed through waterways including the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel. We disembarked for excursions via Zodiak that got us nose to beak with the wild Magellanic penguin colony of Tucker Island; near enough to Pia glacier in Glacier Alley to feel its thunderous calving; and to the infamous Cape Horn, where 800 ships have wrecked and 10,000 lives have been lost. Standing on the edge of the continent, just 300 miles from Antarctica, I attempted a moment’s meditation, trying to internalize the significance of where I was. My effort seemed feeble, but I was able to catch a moment, fleeting as it was, of the power of this place.

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