Leaving Patagonia, Slowly: RTW, The First Five Weeks

A quiet shore - the Ventisquero Sound

In the early days of January I sketched out the only rough timeline that would ever be produced for my current round the world trip. According to that document, one hastily scribbled onto a moving box, I would be saying my goodbyes to the northern reaches of Argentina and Chile in the waning days of February, and looking forward to an extended stay somewhere in Bolivia. Perhaps in the thin air of Potosi or Sucre.

That won’t be happening. Not just yet.

As the harrier flies, I’m still more than 2,400 kilometers from the nearest land crossing to Bolivia, and I’m not feeling particularly rushed to get there. A work gig I had lined up there went sour, taking with it any sense of urgency. I am still eagerly looking forward to it. I just haven’t had enough of Patagonia just yet.

At the moment I’m in Puerto Puyuhuapi, a sleepy village on Chile’s Carretera Austral, where I’m in the middle of an eight-day stay, my longest in one place since I arrived in South America five weeks ago yesterday. My body was begging for a bit of R&R, my mind hoping for a pause for reflection; when I pulled into this quiet lakeside setting on Sunday, I was happy to oblige both body and soul.

Patagonian Time

I knew before I set off last month that plans, no matter how fluid, would invariably change – sometimes dramatically. I didn’t know, however, how much I’d be sucked in by this rugged, and at times pristine corner of the planet.

At the terminus of the Enchanted Forest Trail. Seriously. Queulat National Park, Patagonia, Chile
At the terminus of the Enchanted Forest Trail. Seriously. Queulat National Park, Chile

It’s not too difficult to allow yourself to be lost in time here, or better still, allowing time to lose you. You may know what I mean by that if you’ve ever spent the better part of five hours unsuccessfully hunting a single bird with a lens or spending seven hours trying to hitch a ride that never comes – and not caring in the slightest that those hours have passed you by.

I could have comfortably spent a month getting to know Ushuaia, if only to barely touch the surface of the southernmost city in the world and the people who chose to make that isolated corner of Tierra del Fuego home. I’ll have to settle with reaching the end of the world and hanging out with nearly 4,000 penguins. No complaints.

Magellanic Penguins, Martillo Island, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, 31-Jan-2013

Punta Arenas, Chile’s southern frontier on the Magellan Strait, had a similar allure, one that attracted southern, central and northern Europeans by the thousands more than a century-and-a-half ago to its remote setting.

There are the unspoiled Sounds and fjords near Puerto Natales, Chile, and the rugged peaks and trekking trails near El Chalten on the Argentine side of the Andes nearby, where spending just three and five days, respectively, almost seemed a sign of disrespect. In both places I met people who, passing through as outsiders nearly three decades ago, have yet to leave. I was profoundly pleased that the Patagonian winds pushed away the clouds, ever so briefly, to give me a clear view of Mt. Fitz Roy for my birthday. And I can’t leave out hearing and seeing the humbling might that calves a glacier with terrifying grace.

Perito Moreno 16

And then there is Chile’s relatively isolated Carretera Austral, or Magellanic Highway area, where I’m slowly traveling through now and in no hurry to leave. From the border town of Chile Chico, where Inbal, a travel partner for a week and I started on the byway, to Puerto Puyuhuapi, where I’m sitting right now, I’ve witnessed and experienced more disparate and unique landscapes –all stunning in their own way— than in any other similarly sized area of the world. From 3,000-meter Andean peaks and azure blue lakes to wide expanses of rugged steppe and glacier-fed mountain lagoons, this part of Chile’s Aysen region has it all. Everything but ATMs, fast food joints and paved roads.

Self-evaluation

Puyuhuapi is the consummate sleepy town, nestled at the north end of the Seno Ventisquero (Seno = Sound), an extension of the much larger Canal Puyuhuapi whose blue waters can be seen well before the rough road finally descends towards this settlement that 500 people call home. I instantly got a good feeling about the place, coupled with that call to put on the breaks and stay in one place for a brief stretch. A period to reflect on where I’ve been, where I’m headed, what I’ve been doing and how I’ve done it. And to do a little catching up.

Lago General Carrera at Rio Tranquilo
Lago General Carrera at Rio Tranquilo

There’s been an itch of guilt –albeit a tiny one— lingering unscratched in the back of my mind for not having done much writing here on Piran Café over the past five weeks. I’ve been busily collecting notes from the outset, sometimes incessantly, for what I hope will evolve into a book-length manuscript. I haven’t, however, figured out how to balance that with writing here since the focus of each is necessarily very different. I’m working on a plan, though, that will be set in motion shortly. ☺

I’ve been fairly pleased with the photography aspect of the trip so far – I’ve snapped lots, and have managed to publish at least a few almost daily here and on my Facebook and Google+ pages. Check those out when you’ve got a few minutes – most are public so there’s no need to have accounts to view them.

Fuchsia magellanica, in El Clafate
Fuchsia magellanica, in El Calafate

Moving forward

I decided a few days ago that I quite likely won’t be returning to Argentina, staying in Chile instead to travel nearly the entire length of this long, skinny country before heading to Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama. The country’s shape, at 4,630 kilometers long and just 430 at its widest, has always fascinated me. It’s difficult to imagine what exactly the people living in the relative isolation of Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost ‘real’ city where I visited three weeks ago, have in common with those who live in the capital Santiago, some 2,200 kilometers to the north.

The working plan is to travel overland to Portland, Oregon, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest before heading west over the Pacific. I’ve got a long way to go and part of me says that I’ve got to keep on moving. To get a sense of how far south I still am, Puyuhuapi, at 44°19′00″ S, is further south than Cape Agulhas (34°50′00″ S), the southernmost tip of Africa, further south than all of Australia and virtually all of New Zealand. To illustrate how little ground I’ve covered, the southernmost point I reached is Martillo Island, home to the penguin colony on the Beagle Channel, at 54°52′00″ S. That’s just 1,227 kilometers away.

But part of me is also saying: ‘Dude, just keep going with the flow.’

My only deadline now, as far as reaching a certain place at a pre-determined time, is to meet my old friend and college roommate Drew at the Panamanian-Costa Rican border sometime in the last few days of June. So for now, I’m going to stick with the flow option.

Most immediately?

I’ll be leaving Puyuhuapi on Saturday for Chaiten – I just purchased the last remaining ticket – where I’ll stay for a night or two before moving on to the port city of Puerto Montt to mark the official end of the Carretera Austral. Depending on weather conditions and the boats used, a direct ferry connecting the two takes eight to 12 hours. A combo overland and ferry option, depending on the connections, could easily take up to three days from Chaiten, if I don’t stop much along the way. I’ll quite likely do the latter.

Even Chileans are advising that there isn’t much to see or do in Puerto Montt so I won’t be there long, but I do have a mission. My zoom lens has been misbehaving and I’m hoping the root of the problem isn’t beyond the capabilities of technicians at the Canon dealer there. Fingers crossed.

I’m also seriously considering some Spanish language courses very soon. I was planning to take an intensive two week class in Bolivia, but my inability to carry on anything beyond the most basic of conversations is growing more frustrating by the day. I’m looking into some possibilities in Pucon, a popular outdoors destination about 300 kilometers north of Puerto Montt. If anyone has any other suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them. Muchas gracias, and thanks for reading.

~ By the Numbers: The First Five Weeks ~

Number of days: 37
Number of countries visited: 2
Number of bus rides: 10
Number of hitchhikes: 2
Number of beds: 12
Number of National Parks visited: 4
Number of museums visited: 4
Number of cemeteries visited: 3
Number of trips to a laundry: 4
Number of red wines tasted: sorry, I lost count in Buenos Aires

***

 

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  1. Kelly says

    I’m on and off following your journey…love the photos…and love that the only deadline you have is near the end of June. That is what slow travel is all about! Enjoy!!

    1. BobR says

      Thanks, Kelly, and thanks for checking in, VERY much appreciated. I’m enjoying the ‘slow’. But sometimes I’m thinking that it’s a bit too slow. 🙂 Hope all’s well!

  2. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

    What a great report you’ve given us! your final sentence made me laugh! i hope that the docs are able to repair your lens. z

    1. BobR says

      Me too, thanks. I hate the idea of having to wait until Santiago. Or worse, that it’s beyond repair.

  3. Angeline M says

    Interesting plans…but overland to Portland, Oregan….really? Do I not understand this?
    And learning Spanish is probably a very good plan.

    1. BobR says

      Yes, that’s the plan, no more planes until I’m Pacific-bound from Portland. I’ve already met a few people in Patagonia who’ve biked here from Alaska. I’ll be going by buses. 🙂

      Yes – the language barrier is really frustrating. Classes have always been part of the plan, I just don’t want to wait as long I’ve been planning to. In hindsight, the best thing would have been to take classes immediately upon arrival in Buenos Aires. There were tons of very good options there.

  4. Life Images by Jill says

    it sounds like you are “living the dream”. I love your description – “reporter, photographer and roving rambler”. You are visiting places that I dream about – so thanks for taking us along. Enjoy.
    and have a wonderful week. I am linking up to you through Travel Photo Thursday.

    1. BobR says

      Jill – thanks so much for stopping by, it’s very much appreciated. Have a great week as well! 🙂

  5. I just subscribed to your RSS Feed so I can follow your journey. Wow – and what a journey!

    1. BobR says

      Many thanks, VERY much appreciated! Feel free to share and/or spread the word. 🙂

  6. Anonymous says

    Thanks for sharing Bob. My mind is traveling with you. I have also subscribed of course

  7. Michalis Nikitaridis says

    Thanks for sharing Bob. My mind is traveling with you. I have also subscribed of course

    1. BobR says

      Thanks so much Michalis, VERY much appreciated! I hope all’s well!

  8. Laura Arcoleo says

    Hey Partner!!!! Just took a ten-minute break to read your blog. How refreshing. You definitely have to go see the geysers and the desert at San Pedro de Atacama, you will love the colours and I hope your camera will be repaired by then. I will be in Portland on 13 April, I guess that’s too soon for you? Also Spanish – how many times over the last few years have I told you to get to learn it??? HOW MANY??? Enjoy each and every moment of it and I hope I’ll get an autographed copy of that book very soon!

    1. BobR says

      Laura!! Thanks so much for stopping by! How Many times? Obviously not enough. 🙂 RIght now it’s my No 1 priority.

      Yes, planning to make it the Atacama at some point. And yes, no way I’ll be in Portland by April. Right now, I’m shooting for early September.

      Hope all’s well & tell Lucas hello from Patagonia!

  9. Madhu Nair says

    “Number of red wines tasted: sorry, I lost count in Buenos Aires”
    🙂 … Never been to Latin America … On my to-do list for a while now. Hope to make a trip to Mendoza one of these days. Chile is truly fascinating. I think the shape makes it easier to cover the country – less of going back and forth.

    Safe Travels,
    Madhu

    1. BobR says

      Not sure if I’ll be heading through Mendoza; if not will make a long detour in Chilean wine country. Or perhaps visit both.

  10. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    I always love your photographs – and these are stunning! I can definitely understand why you want to move slowly to savour the beautiful places that you are visiting. I am looking forward to following along on your RTW – no need to hurry!

    1. BobR says

      Many thanks, Lisa – thanks for stopping by and tagging along. VERY much appreciated.

  11. Mary {The World Is A Book} says

    I was wondering what happened to you and wow..what an adventure. The scenery and your pictures are just gorgeous. Love the penguin shot! I don’t blame you for traveling slowly and now tagging along with you. Safe travels!

    1. BobR says

      Many thanks, Mary – Thanks for stopping by and delighted that you’ll be tagging along! 🙂

  12. […] Leaving Patagonia, Slowly: RTW, the First Five Weeks (28-Feb). This summary of my first five weeks on the road was published only the day before […]

  13. Sounds like you’ve got a great version of slow travel happening. And I bet you Chile keeps you in its fold for much longer than you expect. I spent 4 nights in San Pedro de Atacama and could easily have stayed another week. I’ll look forward to hearing more about the trip as it unfolds.

    1. BobR says

      Thanks, Leigh – I’ll be referring to your archive on a regular basis for the next several months.

  14. Marisol@TravelingSolemates says

    Hi Bob, I’ve spent 5 days in Chilean Patagonia several years ago and I felt guilty for not staying longer. There were so much beauty and peace to enjoy. You’re right it seemed disrespectul to just glide by.
    Sounds like you had a great headstart. I wish you wonderful, safe and rewarding journey ahead. I look forward to reading about them. I enjoyed your writing.

    1. BobR says

      Thanks, Marisol, that’s very much appreciated. And thanks for visiting. 🙂

  15. Tuxedo Sophisticated Cat says

    One of the nice things about the weekly challenge is that it introduces you to new photographer’s blogs. I love you blog and look forward to seeing and reading more.

  16. Cathy Sweeney says

    4000 penguins? Very cool. would love to see them and the other beautiful sights of Chile that you captured so well in these photos. What a great trip. Oh, and red wine is good for you. 🙂

    1. BobR says

      Indeed – VERY good for you!

  17. […] Leaving Patagonia, Slowly: RTW, The First Five Weeks […]

  18. This definitely looks like the place to allow time to lose you, Bob. Stay put and enjoy but make sure you share all your photos with us.

  19. […] Note that these are photos published in March 2013, not necessarily taken in March. A few other previous summaries from my current Around the World jaunt, now in it’s 11th week, are here: Top Posts for March 2013 | Top Posts for February 2013 | A Five-Week Trip Summary […]

  20. […] my review of this trip’s first five weeks, posted on the last day of February, I […]

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