I might not have been completely descriptive with my Patagonia blogs. Patagonia is a section of wild and harsh environments. It is a country all to itself although it spans across parts of two countries. Splitting itself in two along the Southern Andes as they slowly dive into the southern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The Chilean and Argentine cultures are different for sure, but as in most regions where countries are divided between arbitrary lines, there is a blending of cultures and activities and certainly landscapes that make two countries seem like one. And truly Patagonia, at least in the south, should be one country. Separated only at times by high mountains with glaciers that allow only foot traffic.
It is for sure a unique place. The mountains aren’t the most beautiful. The glaciers not the most dramatic (well, that might not be true). The rivers and fjords not the most majestic. And the population is certainly not the most colorful or culturally stunning.
Yet there is a uniqueness to the place that takes a while to percolate thru you. There are industrious farms passed down thru immigrant families. A smattering of what is left of a decimated indigenous population. And these small, kinda lifeless towns set up for mainly tourism that go back to their lives once autumn sets in.
Chile is a nearly 2600 mile long country (second longest in the world; barely losing out to Brazil) but it averages only 110 miles wide and that’s counting islands. You can basically drive one main road thru the whole country with only pollution keeping you from seeing mountains the entire way.
Patagonia is a travelers heaven. Hordes of young mainly European backpackers hitching their way north or south, sprinkling the odd bus ride in to make life more predictable. Wild camping is not only accepted but encouraged. And if you speak the language, use of private property is allowed. And that is important, because the historical use of estancias (private farms) down here has the majority of the wild lands fenced off. But when you find that sweet spot. Man.
I will say Patagonia is not this exotic place. The stunning nature of the scenery does sear its way into your soul. Breathtaking does not describe it and my pictures don’t do it justice. But the lack of marauding insects and animals that can eat you or get into your food (even the pumas aren’t really feared here by humans) takes away some of the wild backpacking lure of Alaska, BC, or even WA and CA.
There is rarely any crime. We habitually locked our doors when sleeping in the van, but not when we had a big group. I locked my van out of habit in towns but not always. And I was pretty much set at ease the whole time. I recently told my travel companion Pascalle that up north we have to get our spidey sense back when we are in towns.
So it has left me so far with this feeling of love and wonder for the place and for wanting to come back to visit some places that i would like to see again. More in-depth. And certainly the mountains and glaciers again. But the people haven’t grabbed me the way they do in more indigenous areas. They have been kind and friendly and engaging. But no pull there for me. Well, maybe in Argentina a bit. But now I head north and that may change. You do see the quirky small town folks and I am sure there are some characters here I would get a deeper feel for if I was better at Spanish. But I can connect nonetheless with a laugh or a smile or a wink.
The ability to quickly get up to incredible mountains and glaciers at around 2000 feet in elevation is quite a mind bending experience. With every new glacier bringing an expectation of grandeur. And I have seen more glaciers in this trip than my whole life combined. And it is the decimation of these beautiful and ancient ice repositories that just gives me that sinking feeling that we, as humans, are just fucking things up. And we know it. And its getting worse.
If you want a wild and woolly outdoor experience with little danger (but higher cost), take a vehicle down here and take your time. Explore the incredibly diverse landscapes, the continual beauty, and the friendly people. Don’t expect to understand the Chilean Spanish if you speak Spanish. Give thanks for the slower speaking Argentine who listens to you when you say “Si puedes hablarme como un nino, puedo entenderte.”
Do it in December or March to avoid the crowds and still get good weather. Be patient with summer weather as it still can suck here then. But when it clears…Wow. The contrasting colors and shapes and differing landscapes that seem to change every 100 km will wow you. But its not easy travel. It takes time and effort. And patience. And I can say I haven’t even scratched the surface. And I am a bit sad my Spanish is not better. But it is a good motivator.
When you are done here, you can sit back and be amazed at realizing a dream. And wanting to do it all over again!