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Published: February 18th 2007
Suffocating in the Gore Tex®
My first impression of Patagonia was that of an endless and boring steppe. A landscape with no hills, no trees and no fun. When I was waking up in the morning on our bus journey from Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos it came to me as a bit of a shock to see that nothing had changed. 1000 kilometres of the ugliest landscape imaginable. Could this be the famous Patagonia? The dream of adventurers? The nightmare of early explorers? Well, it really is part of Patagonia (quite a big one, actually) but of course this is not all it has to offer as I would soon discover.
In Torres del Paine we meet the rest of the world. A Swiss couple we have met at lake Titicaca, an English couple we have come across in the Bolivian Amazon and another couple we have crossed the Salar de Uyuni with are the ones that we know already. But there are a thousand more. Every summer the South American tourist crowd is heading South to visit one of the last frontiers (as seen in many travel magazines) and by doing so they are rapidly pushing the frontier further
Nowadays you can visit the natural wonders of Torres del Paine in style. You can stay in hotels (aka refugios) and have all your meals cooked for you. This somehow mocks the Patagonian spirit. Ironically, the refugio tourists often sport the the flashest equipment. Brand new jackets and shoes of whatever brand is fashionable at the moment, bought especially for the expedition to the last frontier. Our Gore Tex trophy went to a Swiss couple which, from gaiters to gloves, was dressed in the newest textiles and was last seen sprint-trekking up the Valle del Frances. They looked like copied out of the latest outdoor catalogue and pasted into the Patagonian landscape.
However, the question is not whether you wear the newest gear or some old stuff. The question is whether you find the Patagonia you are looking for. If you are after some absolutely stunning landscapes, Torres del Paine can hardly be beaten. But if you are seeking that wild and untamed land which has and always will be implicated in the name Patagonia you won't find it here. Today, Patagonia is a brand. And Patagonia is a buzzword of tourism which is used to sell travel
packages to one of the wildest places on earth (the brochure language again). It is also used to sell equipment which - of course - you would need visiting such a remote place. But in fact the main tourist draws like Torres del Paine are just as much holiday destinations as any other. Let's face it: If you can visit with a rollaboard suiter you probably won't need those breathable rainpants.
With our thighs still sore from seven wonderful days in Torres del Paine we set out to discover some of the less visited Patagonia. In a moment of optimism we decided that, with four days left, we could maybe squeeze in a trek to Cape Froward, the southernmost point of the American mainland. That we really managed to complete the trek and reach the cape was only thanks to a friendly whalewatching boat which gave us a lift for the better part of the way down. The only problem with that lift was that as we had gotten to the Cape the easy way we didn't know what to expect on the way back. We only knew that we had to get back somehow. We had heard that
there were beaches to wander along (quite many of them), cliffs to surround, swamps to cross and rivers to wade through. It would be our 'real' Patagonian adventure.
Three long days of walking were rewarded with some of the most romantic and wild camping we could have imagined. Wherever we put up our tent we found a little paradise (although a little bit chillier than the classic one) and while we cooked dinner over the campfire we were watching the sea with the sky in it, the sky with stars in it and the stars with dreams in it.
PS: On the last day the weather turned bad and then miserable and after eight hours walking in the rain we both wished that we had one of those excellent Gore Tex jackets...
Find more stories and pictures on our Lovelyplanet-Homepage
. Planet Portrait
* Top 3:
Camping on the beaches along Magellan Strait
Seeing the Cuernos across Lago Pehoe on a clear day
Eating some fresh fish on Chiloe island
* Our route:
Puerto Natales - Torres del Paine - Punta Arenas - Puerto Varas - Castro - Achao - Quellon
The Gore Tex gang
Enjoying a splash of bad weather from the safe deck of a boat.
* That was bad:
The ferry ride from Quellon to Chaiten was bad value.
* Recommended guest house:
Hospedaje 'Haga tuto aqui' in Castro.
free on arrival
* We paid for a meal:
between 1000 and 2500 Pesos.
* Money saver tip:
Although they don't advertise it on their webpage in February 07 it was possible to get a bunk bed for the Navimag ferry trip from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt on the lower deck for 200 dollars if you ask directly in the office. Planet Pictures
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