Monday, January 28, 2013

My Patagonia

A Room with a View

Well, it has been raining for two days here in sunny Phoenix, Arizona.  Rain does to Phoenix what the snow does to the Northeast -- lots more accidents as cars hydroplane on oil and rain slicked roads (apparently oil builds up over time and when the rain comes -- watch out!).   So, I've been holed up in the Hyatt Place Hotel in Mesa, AZ while the intrepid Nancy B makes art.

Lake View
Seems like as good a time as any to write about a trip to Patagonia that I took a couple of years ago particularly given that a friend recently asked about it.  It was the second leg of a journey that started on Easter Island which I wrote about in My Rapa Nui.  I can remember a Chilean man at the hotel on Rapa Nui reprimanding me for choosing Patagonia over Atacama.  His theory was that I could see the Rockies in North America, why go all the way to Patagonia to see mountains that looked the same?  I didn't quite have an answer to that at the time but now I do.  And, Atacama remains on my list of places I want to see -- the trick is to figure out what to pair it with when I do go.

But, back to Patagonia.

I have a memory of this trip that permeates how I feel about it.  I am twirling in the midst of a field and there is no one within sight.  Just me, the blue sky, the blue lake in front of me, mountains in the distance, and the verdant green grass surrounding the trail.  As I walk slowly up to the lake another laggard is standing there taking it all in.  My niece Julia is off in the distance with his girlfriend not far away and the rest of the group is almost to the van.  His commentary was the equivalent of "I don't get it."  I live in Barcelona, you live in New York City.  Those people down there live in cities.  Why are they rushing? How often do you get to experience this?  This feeling of being alone with the world.  We laughed together at our fellow travelers and took off slightly apart to finish our respective hikes through the wilderness.
Running Water

For this leg of the trip, Julia and I were staying at the Explora's Hotel Salto Chico which is within the boundaries of Chile's Torres del Paine National Park.  It's a wonderful hotel with views of the Cuernos del Paine from a number of the rooms -- including ours (the photo above was taken from our window).  It's a great option for those of us who don't backpack -- offering a variety of hikes with experienced guides as well as horseback riding.  When you arrive, they send you out on a hike almost immediately.  I think it's a bit of a sorting exercise as you hear the guides for the rest of the trip gently encouraging people to pick hikes that fit their level of physical fitness and speed of trekking.  I think I was sorted into slow but steady walker from the get go.  Interspersed between the hikes are gourmet meals.  I  can still taste the tomato soup  we had for lunch one day.  It was made from the leftover tomatoes from the night before yet it tasted as though they had just been picked off the vine and barely cooked.

A Julia between two Nancy's
I loved the hiking here in Patagonia although I am not up to trekking the  "W" circuit which is a four-day adventure up into the mountains.   Leave us face it, I like a bit of luxury interspersed with my physical activity and so the Explora suited me just fine.  We also ventured out on horseback -- an adventure that reminded me of my days as a girl scout counselor where I begged to be a counselor for the horseback riding only to find myself placed in an intermediate class having never been on a horse before.  The rules were that there needed to be a counselor in every class.  Hmm, if you add in my getting a horse that was part Clydesdale for English riding and that intermediates were staring on jumping, you can easily deduce why I'd never been on a horse again until this trip rolled around.  Fortunately, these were pretty gentle horses for us gringos.  It was atop my steady steed that I had one of those Isak Dinesen moments as a condor spiraled down on a thermal whilst we gazed across the mountains.  Sometimes a blurry memory beats a photo.

Speaking of photos, I was completely off on the exposure in this neck of the woods with most of my photos coming out over exposed for no reason that I can fathom since my camera was basically on auto setting.  It was also the first trip where I lugged a guerrilla tripod which made the photo shoot behind the Explora at dusk kind of fun.

It's a bit of a trek to get to Torres del Paine requiring an overnight in Punta Arenas where we spent an  afternoon touring the Cemeterio Municipal -- one of the more interesting places I've whiled away an afternoon.  I've written about final resting spots -- including our visit to this cemetery --  elsewhere in this blog.  I most remember the families perched on the edges of graves laughing as they picnicked with their long-lost relatives and had a good time.

Having been to the end of South America to see the mountains of Torres del Paine, I think my Chilean friend had it all wrong (and thank goodness he wasn't my travel agent!).  His point was that the granite bones of Torres del Paine were the same as those of the Rockies and so why bother to see both.  Somewhere he forgot that a place isn't just about what one sees but how it makes you feel.

Hmm, Patagonia and Atacama would make a very nice pairing.  Another trip to plan.  But maybe after the intrepid Nancy B and I figure out where to stay on the way home from Sedona where I am finishing up this post that began on a rainy day in Mesa, Arizona.

Courthouse Butte (Sedona, AZ) on a Rainy Day

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