A Winter in Patagonia – Pt.1
The ground rumbled as I watched the planes take off from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The air was hot outside and the planes seemed to be floating in a sea of heat waves coming off the runway. It seemed like every airline at the terminal was rushing to get into the sky before nightfall. The sound of rolling luggage, taxiing airplanes, and the buzz of airline employees jetting back and forth on the tarmac – it all made me smile. In about 32 hours, well away from the stresses of everyday life, I would be 6,368 miles away in the farthest reaches of the modern world – Patagonia.
Patagonia is a sparsely populated region in Chile and Argentina known for it’s exotic flora, fauna, and vast natural beauty. It is highly regarded as South America’s southern frontier. A year ago, I read a description given by The Lonely Planet:
On South America’s southern frontier, nature grows wild, barren and beautiful. Spaces are large, as are the silences that fill them. For the newly arrived, such emptiness can be as impressive as the sight of Patagonia’s jagged peaks, pristine rivers and dusty backwater oases. In its enormous scale, Patagonia offers an innumerable wealth of potential experiences and landscapes.
The idea of a frontier at the tip of the Earth drew me in and I became obsessed with the idea of seeing the beauties that few could speak of in person. The remoteness, the spiraling mountains, the never-ending plains, and the wild horses. It seemed so vast to me, like Alaska, Montana, Canada, and New Zealand collided together and created Patagonia. I was definitely hooked.
Our obsession with this expedition started after a trip on the Appalachian Trail had fallen through for my buddy, Josh. Demoralized after finding out he would not be able to hike the AT, we started brainstorming different ideas of a comparable trip. After about an hour of doing so, we turned on Netflix and were halfway through 180 Degrees South when the idea popped into our heads. Watching the landscapes unfold on the screen and listening to the way people lived our their lives down there, we decided that Patagonia would definitely be our destination.
We used the next year to gather gear,information, maps, and scoured the internet for points of interest. However, we quickly ran into a problem, we were going in July – the Patagonian winter.While July meant swampy heat and humidity for Washington, it was the exact opposite for Chile & Argentina. High winds, snow, freezing temperatures, and the hibernation of the tourist infrastructure made for a difficult problem.
So we decided not to try and solve it…
This decision made everything slightly more complicated, but for some reason seemed right to us. Not having any plans or any sort of itinerary gave us the freedom of going down there and actually exploring, living, and learning what the country and region was all about.The plan down there was to have no plans aside from booking our flights.
Our flight itinerary gave us a hefty amount of airtime. 4 flights – DC to Miami, Miami to Santiago, Santiago to Puerto Montt, and Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas. That was 6,368 miles and two days of traveling – hopefully we’d still be awake by the time we got there. As each flight progressed, we watched as the layovers got longer and the people dressed warmer. We had gone from shorts and a T-shirt to winter pants and a jacket in less than 24 hours.
It was late into the night as our last flight skidded into the landing strip at Punta Arenas. The handful of passengers left on the connecting flight seemed relieved that we finally arrived. The airport was completely deserted for the night, only a security guard and a janitor had remained.
A three hour bus ride later from the airport, we made it to the sleepy town of Puerto Natales. It had been snowing for a good chunk of the evening and the streets were empty as the snow piled onto the ground. Josh and I managed to hitch a ride with a local (who absolutely loved mariachi music) to a hostel on the outer part of town. It seemed like no one was open aside from them. Nevertheless, we managed to get a room for the night and settled down pretty quickly. After about two days of travel, we were just glad to have a bed to sleep in.
The next morning and afternoon were spent gathering supplies, staging our gear, and exploring Puerto Natales. Since the town had gone into hibernation for the winter, we did not have to beat any crowds, the locals were not annoyed, and we had all the time in the world to take pictures.
Our journey of getting down to Patagonia had ended and we were now well on our way to starting the real one. I did not have any expectations nor any idea of what we were going to do or what Patagonia had in store for us and I was perfectly okay with that. Walking around Puerto Natales, I decided I would leave the next month in her hands and that was the beauty of it.