Ferocious, yet fragile. Barren, yet beautiful. Wild, yet welcoming. Words cannot describe it, photos simply don’t do it justice. This is Patagonia
A true introvert, I’ve never felt as comfortable in the cities of man as I have in the wilderness of nature, and never have I felt more completely and utterly at home than in Patagonia. The landscape is truly staggering, with vast open swathes of nothingness occasionally interspersed with perhaps the most dramatic mountain scenery I’ve ever seen, and towns that seemingly have no right to be there.
At first glance, it appears although these places are teetering on the brink, with the harsh elements of nature trying her hardest to eradicate them. But she doesn’t, and they draw scores of people from all over the world. And for good reason too.
Patagonia is just spectacular, full stop. The towering spires of Torres Del Paine, Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre are some of the most incredible mountains I’ve ever seen in my life. Their forms seem impossible, the distinctive granite peaks ascending high above the surrounding mountains, resemble something out of a dark, modern-day fairytale retelling. You can’t help but be in awe of them, staring up from below, wondering how such unusual and distinctive peaks came to be.
But this is just a little about some of the main attractions. Patagonia is predominantly a vast, barren, deserted place, only occasionally interspersed with the odd town or mountain range. However, I also found this spectacular, not least for the humbling nature of the place, making you appreciate just how small and fragile you are, compared against such a vast expanse. Crossing the border between Argentina and Chile we saw vast swathes of this open expanse, yet I never became bored staring out of the window at it.
All the people we met in Patagonia, on both the Argentinian and Chilian sides, were incredibly warm and welcoming. Granted, we are tourists and they no doubt realise that tourism injects money into their towns and economies, but their good nature and kind spirit go beyond simply the transactional.
In London, where Bambi and I used to live, a city with 10 million people, it’s not uncommon to travel from your place of work to your home without speaking a word to another person, despite passing by literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Here, in Patagonia, with a population density of fewer than two people per square kilometre (closer to Antartica than that of London) and in one of the most sparsely populated regions on earth, people smile at you as you walk down the street. They say hello. They are friendly, hospitable.
Londoners, in my humble opinion at least, have lost their sense of togetherness, and of community, replacing it instead with the digital realm. Here in Patagonia you still feel that sense of connectedness, with people still wanting for human interaction and not a device interface. But anyway, I digress – Back to Patagonia.
The towns we visited have been vastly different from one another. El Chalten in Argentina resembles a small, quaint little mountain town tucked away deep in a valley in the Alps and is set against a backdrop of the renowned Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. It has a beautiful charm about it and we both quickly fell in love with this very special place. Anytime in the future when my thoughts wander back to this town, remembering the time we spent there, you’ll see a wide smile appear on my face, grinning ear to ear.
El Calafate, also in Argentina, and Puerto Natales, Chile, are very different places to El Chalten. Upon first glance they appear harsh, desolate places, but looking closer you realise how wrong a judgement that is. The harsh elements bring a battering to settlements in Patagonia, especially in winter, which is apparent when you first glance at these places. But looking closer, past that and exploring them properly, I found they had the same delightful charm about them that El Chalten had – It’s extremely difficult to put into words and I’m certainly not articulate or intelligent enough to explain it. You just have to experience these places for yourself, and I highly recommend you do.
El Calafate is a tourist hub town, a kickoff point for many other destinations and the towns centre feels a bit like a facade, made exclusively to capture the tourism $’s that run through here. It lacks the authenticity of El Chalten and Puerto Natales, but then you’d be foolish to expect anything different from such a tourist hub I guess. The town, while I didn’t really appreciate it at first, really grew on me as we kept making our way back to it following our many side trips.
Puerto Natales feels more authentic. It doesn’t pander to tourism and the place still resembles how I imagine it looked in decades past. El Chalten was, without doubt, my favourite town we visited in Patagonia, though Puerto Natales was a close second.
Why Patagonia must be on your bucket list
Patagonia is a truly special place and one that has stirred my soul. From the epic landscapes and the snow-capped towering spires to the humbling nature of the place and the welcoming and friendly locals, I have loved every minute of my time here. I hope earnestly that one day I am fortunate enough to be able to return as it is with a heavy heart I leave this awesome place behind.