Building my trekking profile – The Patagonia (part one)
Hello everyone! I want to share with you about my favorite place in the world: the vast region of southern Argentina and Chile, known as Patagonia.
The Patagonia is located at the southernmost tip of South America, encompassing territories of Argentina and Chile. Start in the province of Neuquén to the city of Ushuaia, situated along the iconic Beagle Channel. Additionally, territories considered part of Patagonia can be found on small islands belonging to Chile, such as Navarino Island or Cabo de Hornos, further south of the Beagle Channel.
These lands were explored by Europeans during the expeditions of Fernando de Magallanes in the 16th century. Upon reaching the southernmost lands of Patagonia, Magallanes and his crew found a navigable waterway that allowed them to pass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. In his honor, this water passage was named the Strait of Magallanes. The region at the southern terminus of Patagonia is now known as Tierra del Fuego, a name that emerged from European expeditions upon observing a large number of scattered bonfires throughout the terrain. These bonfires were lit by the indigenous inhabitants of the area to combat the extreme cold.
The indigenous inhabitants were communities known as the Selk’nam, Yaganes, Aonikenk, Tehuelches, among others. Each of these communities had its own customs, ways of organizing, and culture. However, they shared general characteristics, being nomadic and mainly engaged in fishing and hunting. They organized themselves into groups related by blood relationship, moving on foot and in canoes in search of territories to obtain food. They were tall and robust, with an average height of 1.8 meters, reaching up to 2 meters in height.
The average height of Europeans at that time was 1.5 meters. When Magallanes encountered these settlers, he was struck by their size, particularly the size of their feet. For this reason, Europeans referred to them as ‘Patones‘ (an expression meaning big feet in Spanish), and this term eventually led to the name ‘Patagonia’, which is now used to identify the entire region.
Currently, there are few people who identify themselves as part of these communities. The decrease in the number of these indigenous peoples was a result of European diseases introduced during explorations, as well as deaths that occurred during the colonization process and in the establishment of Argentina and Chile as countries. The largest community that exists today is the Mapuche, located much further north and in the vicinity of the Cordillera de los Andes range. This community faces occasional conflicts with Argentina and Chile, sometimes resulting in material damage and loss of lives. However, these conflicts are being addressed in a more peaceful manner than in the past.
Unlike what I mentioned in my previous post “Building my trekking profile – Peru” in Patagonia, there aren’t as many traces of previous civilizations that lived in the area. What stands out is its magical nature.
My travels in Patagonia
I have traveled to Patagonia several times, and the map above shows some of the places I have visited and will briefly discuss in this post. I’ve been captivated by the nature, landscapes, and the feeling of freedom that emanates from every corner. I love the diversity of landscapes it offers: from lush forests to majestic mountains, to rivers of crystal-clear water that seem like mirrors of pureness itself. In this paradise, the risk of encountering dangerous animals is practically nonexistent, allowing oneself to immerse in an environment that intoxicates the soul and fills the heart with peace.
Every step is an adventure, every trail an invitation to explore, to uncover the secrets that the land jealously guards. It’s a place where time stands still and the spirit soars, where nature seems to speak to you and the grandeur of the landscapes leaves you breathless. It’s a place that enchants, captivates, and leaves an indelible mark on the soul of those fortunate enough to experience it.
The mountain shelters scattered throughout the region are like oases of tranquility, welcoming the weary traveler and providing protection amidst the untamed wilderness. The national parks are guardians of biodiversity, preserving both flora and fauna as well as the safety and well-being of those who visit them. It’s quite easy to embark on exploring various websites and map out an itinerary to explore on your own. This marks a significant difference from my experiences in Peru, where I was always guided. Here, I’ve found the space and security to forge my own trails, despite being a complete novice when it comes to trekking.
These simple expeditions have taught me valuable lessons about the logistics of trekking: how to set up a tent, find water, cook my own food, and carry my own backpack. With each trip, I discover the things I carry unnecessarily and refine my gear for future outings, gaining ideas from my fellow hikers. Because in the mountains, every person, regardless of their experience, has something valuable to contribute.
Let’s look at some of the spots in Patagonia where I’ve been.
Los Antiguos is a city located in the province of Santa Cruz, in the northern area of Patagonia. Known as the national capital of cherries, it boasts significant production of this fruit. The city also offers a stunning coastline overlooking one of the largest lakes in the region, Lake Buenos Aires (known as Lake General Carrera on the Chilean side). This lake, shared between Argentina and Chile, is the second-largest lake in Argentina and the largest in Chile. In the image below, you can appreciate this immense lake with the mountains in the background, visible from all over the city.
An unforgettable journey awaits on the Chilean side near Coyhaique city, along the shores of the magnificent General Carrera Lake, where a natural wonder known as the Catedrales de Mármol (Marble Caves) emerges. This unique marble formation, dating back over 15,000 years to the end of the last glacial era, is a testament to the incredible forces of nature. Intense pressure and temperature transformed limestone into the impressive marble formations we see today
With the melting of the region’s glaciers, General Carrera Lake was formed. Through slow yet steady work, the lake waters eroded the marble rocks, sculpting caves that reveal their interiors adorned with a lush diversity of colors, the result of various minerals that have formed distinctive layers over millennia. These layers are like the pages of a book that narrates the geological history of our planet.
In my experience, having the opportunity to venture into the depths of these caves was truly wonderful and awe-inspiring. I feel extremely privileged to have sailed through this marvel sculpted by nature itself. The vibrant tones and changing textures of the crystalline waters harmoniously blend with the variety of colors adorning the marble walls, creating a surreal landscape that seems taken from a dream.
I will conclude this first part of the post about Patagonia with a very well-known destination, I would dare to say it’s the second most famous in Argentine Patagonia: El Calafate. This place is located in the province of Santa Cruz and has an international airport, making it the ideal gateway to explore this region. Its name comes from a thorny bush that is very common in Patagonia. In ancient times, sailors arriving in these lands used this bush as a substitute for hemp in the process of calafatear (caulking) boats. The calafatear process involves a mixture of resin and tow used to seal the joints of boats, preventing water ingress. In reference to this process, the bush is called Calafate, and later, in 1927, the city “El Calafate” was founded in honor of this tree in Patagonia.
The star attraction to visit from El Calafate is located in Los Glaciares National Park and it is the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, a gigantic ice mass, the third largest in the world, only behind Antarctica and Greenland.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is currently a glacier in equilibrium, which means that its retreat during the summer is practically equal to its advance during the winter. When the glacier advances, it obstructs the flow of water from Lake Argentino, creating a natural dam. As the temperature rises, the water level of the lake also increases, exerting greater pressure on the ice. Over time, the water manages to carve a tunnel in the ice, forming an ice bridge approximately 50 meters high. This process repeats itself year after year, and during this time, spectacular collapses of large ice masses can be observed.
In the image below, you can see the area where this ice bridge forms. When I visited the site, the bridge had already collapsed, but you could still see a small mass of ice on the left that in winter connects to the ice mass on the right.
At this site, walkways have been built to allow visitors to comfortably observe the glacier. Given its equilibrium state, the location turns out to be perfect, as the glacier remains at a constant distance from the observer. This makes the Perito Moreno Glacier a destination visited by countless people, who are left amazed by the natural spectacle before their eyes.
In the area, other trips are offered, and in my case, I embarked on a mini-trekking adventure across the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier ice forms at the highest part of the mountain and gradually slides down the valley over time until it reaches the lake. These immense ice masses take on the shape of the mountain and as they slide over the uneven terrain, they sometimes create small caves where you can enter and admire the glacier from below. We were fortunate enough to be among those who could enter one of these caves, and the sensation is indescribable; it’s like entering a whole new world. The colors, scents, and shapes are incredible, and it lends itself to creating very amusing scenes, like the one shown in the picture, where my dear friends Gonzalo and Emiliano pretend they are holding up the Perito Moreno Glacier.”
The shapes that emerge in the ice, polished with divine perfection, display infinite fractal images, in a deep, dark, penetrating blue. You can lose yourself for hours contemplating this new world, this parallel world to which you gain access with just a few simple steps.
At the top of the glacier, about 90 meters above us, cracks and sinkholes are formed by rainwater and the glacier’s own melting. This water manages to carve passages in the ice wall until reaching the rocky ground and forming small rivers that flow beneath the glacier. We also had the pleasure of witnessing this incredible phenomenon, as seen in the next photo.
I could continue writing much more about these places, but I feel it’s time to conclude this first part of the post. However, I assure you that the best is yet to come. In the next post, we will delve even deeper into the majesty of Patagonia, exploring destinations with much more hiking trails that evoke deep emotions and lead us to dreamlike corners. These are magical paths that invite us to connect with nature in a unique way, to discover the greatness of our planet, and to find ourselves between indescribable landscapes. I invite you to continue this adventure with me and to be amazed by the beauty and excitement that await us in the Patagonia.
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