Hike, Ride a Horse, Kayak: How I Found My Zen in Torres del Paine

Feature Writer: Giulia Billi

Ah, Patagonia! Such a vast, enchanted, tough land…..Frontier land, land of pioneers, an empty wilderness where to project one’s fantasy and dreams. I certainly did, as Patagonia was one of the key destinations that made me decide to travel in Latin America.

Patagonia is a large region spanning between Southern Chile and Argentina. The landscape varies, going from South to North and from Chileto Argentina, where lakes, mountains, rivers are declined in different ways: from the barren and wind-swept plains in the south, to the sweeter and greener landscape around Trevelin and Esquel, to the Alpine-looking areas around el Bolson and in Chile.

As every dream land, it has its own legends. According to the first European explorers,  giants lived here, and apparently centuries later the Far-West robbers Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid settled here for a while between a bank robbery and another. The fauna is as exotic and mythical: pumas , ñandus, or rheas, a kind of ostrichs bouncing around in feathery grace and herds of guanacos roam the plains as punctuation marks in the silence and emptiness.

To see the best of each side of Patagonia, I zigzagged between Argentinaand Chile. It is so that after Tierra del Fuego  I arrived to Puerto Natales and the wonderful Torres del Paine National Park, in Chilean Patagonia, which have been some of my favourite places in my year of travels.

Puerto Natales is a small, unpretentious town by the sound of Last Hope, with a kind of chilled out and sporty atmosphere that immediately drew me in. Nature is the absolute star here: I tried to immerse in it and keep as close as possible to the elements by hiking, horse riding, kayaking. Some of my fondest memories are the horse rides around Puerto Natales guided by a nice young man, Rodrigo, whose family own hectares and hectares of land in an estancia (ranch) where he organizes his tourist excursions. I loved riding and chatting with him and his baqueano (wilderness guide) Lucio, in a stunning, rugged landscape.

Another fond memory is kayaking by Eberhard Fjord near Puerto Natales. The guide, a hilariously funny Chilean and his Venezuelan assistant showed us an old German estancia, some tombs of Scottish settlers and conjured a nice snack on a deserted spot.

Then it was time to trek in the nearby Torres del Paine National Park , one of the most famous parks inSouth America. It is a big park with a very varied landscape, encompassing a glacier, mountains and rivers and fantastically hued lakes colored by minerals, sediments and algae.

Weather there is famously unpredictable. As it lies on part of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, the park has its micro-climate that defeats the seasons and wind is a constant, sometimes harsh companion that can push one down to the ground, like happened to me a few times. Who has ever complained of changing weather in UK will reconsider while travelling Patagonia. My guide told me a real-life joke about a Californian woman who was given as a gift to come and trek here and in front of the miserable weather ended up complaining all the time with him “ Isn’t it supposed to be summer??”.

To save money on guided tours, I embarked by myself on the five-day trek called W that goes around the most scenic spots in the park , reassured by travel forums and guides saying that it is not a difficult trek.

The first day trekking by myself with snow, rain and a 70km/hour wind chill put me in a very bad mood indeed….I felt miserable and lonely, a feeling that was only reinforced once I arrived by evening to the mountain refuge Refugio Grey, full to the brim of people who had got there hours before me and seemed to have fun.

In a gloomy mood, I climbed into bed in the noisy dorm as early as I could, thinking to go back to Puerto Natales the following day with the tail between my legs and give up the idea of trekking alone in the rain.

I slept eleven hours straight and in the morning wake up, in a good mood and full of energy, at the sound of a giant red-headed woodpecker drumming against my window. At breakfast I chatted with a Chilean guide and his German client and they invited me to join them for the whole trekking. From then on things looked up: for the next four days I was in constant company and had a relatively speaking decent weather. After the hikes in the long summer daylight, I loved the strange intimacy and sense of camaraderie that develop among weary trekkers in the mountains refuges at the end of the day, while socks and shoes are drying in the cramped space in front of the fire. I met some real fun, nice people there who made my days as much as the gorgeous scenery.

As an inexperienced trekker, I went from a life of sitting eight hours in front of a desk to walking for the same amount of time. And I had my moments…On the third day we walked for seven hours under torrential rain in the usually gorgeous but then very wet FrenchValley. I had to rely on yoga breathing, several different types of meditation techniques and walking poles to keep me going. Even if my hiking companions did not go fast, they were still walking at a good pace and once I followed them in a path, I could not give up or I’d get lost, thanks to my proverbial sense of direction! In the end I felt a sense of achievement and exhilaration in pushing my limits. Trekking among the Magellanic forest and the peaks, inhaling the cold pure air, I felt like I had found my Zen.

Read more from this writer at http://giuliasfootprints.wordpress.com/

***Check out other great articles by adventurous bucket list seekers at Bucket List Publications.***

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70 thoughts on “Hike, Ride a Horse, Kayak: How I Found My Zen in Torres del Paine

    • You bet! Had an hard time drawing a line and moving on in my trip with so much to see and do in Patagonia. I am happy you liked the pictures

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    • Thank you, when I saw the Glaciar Grey almost couldn’t believe to my eyes, glad you love the picture and can share it with you

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  1. Patagonia is definitely a must destination! As a resident of the Canadian Rockies, mountains are a part of my soul, so I can’t wait to see it for myself!

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    • Wow, the Canadian Rockies, those too should be something else!! Lately saw quite a bit of articles on them and longing to go. I did not know until I was there that according to the Peruvian the mountains are home to Apus, sacred spirits. I couldn’t agree more…

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  2. What an amazing travelogue and pictures. Recently saw that film about Welsh people in Patagonia…the sense of isolation and feeling of being a rather humble little ant in such a vast landscape must be pretty overwhelming at times.

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    • Thank you, and you are spot-on, I thought while traveling there and also when writing my last post on Patagonia, how it should have been like for people arriving here in this immensity….and not always the most hospitable of environments. Could you kindly tell me the name of the film?

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    • Yes, now that I am away from those places, i really miss them and wish I was even more present then, so now I would remember every single sensation I had

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  3. Gorgeous photos… dammit! 🙂 Now I have to add THIS place to my “adventures I seek” list. My husband has been to South America twice & loves it, but he goes for the skiing and the fish. I’d be travelling for the food & culture.

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    • Thank you, am glad you liked them. Go there, go there, it is worthwhile! Food is not an highlight, I’d say, unless you really like your lamb, but vulture and fascination, tons of it

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  4. Thanks for sharing your adventure and the amazing location, everything that you mentioned about the places and the photos brings back memories to me from the stories that my grandfather use to tell us through my childhood.He was born and raced right by that place in Chile, he left when he was 20 and started a new life in a different country. I had a chance to visit down south as far as Valdivia, now, after reading and seeing your pics, I got the feeling I must go..

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    • Thank you Lina, your grandfather stories should have been amazing as it is the place. Have a good time in Ecuador, I missed it this time around but hope to be back and visit

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  5. Great write-up! I enjoyed the photos, too. I am headed to South America in a month and am bummed that I won’t have time to make it down to Patagonia. But I have no trouble committing myself to a second trip down south at some point in the future! It’s a big space — lots to see 🙂

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    • Hi Abbie, thank you! Visited your blog, great preps going on 🙂 Love when one is about to leave and planning the travel…Enjoy every single minute, and no worries, Patagonia will still be there when you go a second time.

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  6. Although I’m back in South America, I’m unfortunately not going to make it to Argentina this time… but your article and pics have reinforced that at some point in the not too distant future, I would love to go. Thanks.

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  7. I haven’t been anywhere more beautiful than Patagonia yet. I was in Coyhaique, Chile and backpacked along the Rio Norte and then took a long bus down to the Rio Baker. Amazing!

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  8. Hi, I live in La Plata, Argentina and the story about the californian woman remembers me the first time I visit Scotland beaches (North and West), where I also visited Orkney Islands. I was so overwhelmed by its beauty that I told my brother (who lives there): “In summer, this must be amazing!!!” And he told me, “Sister, we are in summer”. We laugh for hours!! The argentine summer has many climates and it changes if you go to the north or the south, to the sea or the mountains. Patagonia is magnificent but I never been there in summer. I like to go there in winter and I prefer to spend the 40C degrees summer at the rivers in Traslasierra, Córdoba (center region of Argentina) I like the freezing snow for ski in Esquel, Chubut or Las Leñas, Mendoza. Congrats for your blog and thank you for liking mine. Regards!

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