Thanks to Remote Year, I've been fortunate enough to spend the past two months living in Córdoba and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and it's been nothing short of amazing. Even so, I know I also need time in the outdoors to be truly happy. Currently living so close to Patagonia—a region that contains some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world—it was only a matter of time until I went off-the-grid.
A few weeks ago a fellow Remote, Jeremy, asked the group if anybody was interested in a kayaking trip in Patagonia, and I immediately jumped on board. He and I ended up spending seven days traveling, kayaking and exploring the region of Torres del Paine, Chile, and it was more amazing than I could have hoped for.
The following post is basically a huge collection of my journaling from that week.
Thursday, April 14
It's Thursday afternoon and we're headed to the airport in Buenos Aires. Our original flight is delayed from 1:40 to 3:10, and then again from 3:10 to 4:20. We actually don't hit the runway until closer to 5:00. Shitty weather in El Calafate is to blame.
Finally, we are above the clouds. It's the first time I've seen the sun for longer than 5 minutes in over two weeks. We land in the dark, and take a taxi to our hotel.
Our hotel, Esplendor, was actually much nicer than expected. Beautiful in fact. Though, one small detail was missing. They forgot to put us in a room with two beds, and the rest were booked. Looks like Jeremy and I are getting close on day one.
Friday, April 15
It's 6am and it's go time, which is a shame because this the most comfortable bed I've slept in since joining Remote Year journey, and probably longer. After a quick shower and breakfast, we're out the door by 7:30 and walk to the bus station.
Dogs are everywhere. With only the slightest hint of interest they're at your side, laying on your feet, and rolling over on their bellies. I'm sure they could sense I'm a dog person. They're hardly different than us, they just want love and attention.
The weather ahead looks grim for 4 days of kayaking and camping. An average high of mid 40s and rain every day. The thought of sub-freezing temperatures and snow actually sounds inviting by comparison. Kayaking in the snow would be beautiful. And dry.
A light snow storm and chipped window later, our buss arrives in Puerto Natales and we take a taxi to our hotel. Our hotel, Hotel IF, is a neat little place. We have a rooftop sunroom with an adorable reading nook, a wrap around deck, and a nice view of the lake. I'm in love already.
We meet with our kayaking guide to get acquainted, and he warns us of 80km/winds the next day and suggests we delay our trip a day. He recommends we rent a car instead, and he gives us an exhausting list of sights to see around Torres del Paine. I couldn't be more excited to have our kayaking cut a day short. We are going to see some unbelievable sights.
The rest of the evening we spend shopping for gear (I'm now a big fan of Wool Buffs), having a couple beers at a local brewery, and enjoying one of the best meals I've had in years. If you ever find yourself in Puerto Natales, do yourself a favor and have dinner at Afrigonia one night.
Saturday, April 16
Snow, rain, sleet, high winds. We're seeing it all today. The weather today is indeed too intense to kayak, so we postpone our trip a day and rent a car. We head to Torres del Paines as recommended. I couldn't be happier.
Our journey starts heading north on the 9. We take a slight detour to see the enormous caves at Gruta de Milodon. It's snowing, but nothing unmanageable. We continue north through the open landscape and into Cerro Castillo, where a several herdsmen are guiding an enormous flock of sheep through a roundabout. There's at least 500 sheep. I would argue closer to 750. Watching the dogs work together and guide the heard is impressive.
Onwards to Torres del Paine. The snow is getting heavy. Having not driven in snow for almost a decade, I must admit it has me on edge. It's really coming down now.
We pass Lago Sarmiento and make a detour 10km off the freeway at Laguna Azul. It's a small lake, and the trees are near the end of changing colors, displaying a beautiful blood-red stripe along the mountains. I'm able to snap a decent shot of a vibrant red Long-tailed Meadowlark from the drivers seat.
Next we head in the direction of Salto Grande. On our way we come across Cascade Paine. What a pleasant surprise. There is an expansive series of waterfalls. One of the most scenic views I've ever encountered. We have a break in the weather and couldn't be more grateful. We are completely alone and have the entire area to ourselves to admire the view.
Driving through a narrow strip of land between Lago Nordenskjöld and Lago Sarmiento we encounter countless groups of Guanacos. Literally, countless. Littered throughout are Lesser Reahs, Andean Condors and Crested Caracaras.
We reach Salto Grande with another break in the weather. We hike along the shore for a nice view of the waterfall from below. We decide we want a view from, and when we start the trek the weather decides to take a turn. What should be a 15 minute walk turns into 25. The rain and sleet is coming at us sideways. I've never encountered winds so strong.
We reached the rivers edge, and although we can hardly stand steady and keep our eyes open, it was satisfying to say the least. The waterfall is intense, but naturally that doesn't stop me from wanting to get reasonably close.
The drive home is the most scenic drive I've ever driven. We drive along Lago Pehoé and the enormous Lago Toro. The water is a bright aqua blue the entire way. We pass through a wide variety mountainous landscapes. Steep rocky cliffs, forests full of dark red leaves, fields of bright yellow grasses, all set against snow-capped mountains.
We pass a family of mustangs that know they have more rights to the road than we do. They have no problem running across the road multiple times, making us wait for them, nor do they care how close we get. Graceful, beautiful, wild and free. I'm not used to seeing wild horses, they appear so peaceful.
An hour and a half later we arrive back in Puerto Natales and eat dinner next door at Santallo. Best. Meal. Ever. It's a MUST go. A couple of Calafate Sours later, it's time to get prepared for the real adventure starting tomorrow.
Sunday, April 17
We wake up early. Our guide, Jose from Kayak en Patagonia, picks us up from our hotel and takes us to the beginning of Río Grey, at the southern tip of Lago Grey to suit up.
I had no idea we would be wearing so much gear. First, we have our base layers. Then, we have to squeeze into snug onesies. After that, we slide into a full dry suit complete with waterproof shoes. Finally, on top of everything, we fasten our skirts to keep water out of the kayak, our life vests, and our dry-bags for cameras. I can now be submerged in water up to my neck and remain perfectly dry. It takes me nearly 20 minutes to get dressed the first time.
Jose basically scares the shit out of me explaining about how to handle emergency situations, and then it was time to climb into the kayak. Fun fact: even with all of our gear, in case of a capsize you only have about 5 minutes in the water before hypothermia sets in because it's so cold. No big deal. If we flip, Jose will immediately start building a camp fire. Comforting.
It doesn't take long for me to be uber appreciative for all of our gear. Our first day on the water includes lots of wind, choppy water, and on-and-off rain. The terrain is flat and open, providing no shelter from the winds. However, I am completely dry and warm. I am a happy camper as they would say.
After 10km, we stop to have lunch on the side of the river. After another 10km, our river merges with Río Serrano and we paddle onto the shore. We're done kayaking for the day. We're pickup up in a van, driven 10 minutes up Río Serrano, and are dropped off to setup camp. We barbecue steaks and salmon, enjoy some wine, whiskey and beers, and head to bed.
Monday, April 18
It only takes me 10 minutes to get all of my gear on today, and I'm left with a feeling of accomplishment. After breakfast, we push our kayaks into the water.
The landscape is completely different today, with much more variety. We find ourselves kayaking through narrow rivers, wide deltas, alongside various cliffs and mountains. It's beautiful. At times the water is perfectly smooth. A turn later it will be choppy, fast moving, and we're navigating around downed trees.
The weather could be better, but I am very happy. It's overcast for most of the day, which allows for some stunning views as the sun tries to penetrate through. It rains on and off, but I don't mind since I am dry. We have negligible wind all day, and that makes the biggest difference.
At one point we come across a waterfall and have to carry the kayaks over land to get around it. We stop for lunch and to take some photos.
Soon after we find ourselves kayaking alongside mountains covered in snow. The melting icecaps create dozens of tall, narrow waterfalls along the banks of the river. At any given time there are a half-dozen waterfalls in view. We see Glaciar Serrano just above the distant tree line, quickly coming into view.
After paddling 40km for the day, we reach the mouth of Río Serrano, where it opens up into lake Seno Ultima Esperanza. We setup camp with a view of Glaciar Serrano just beyond the trees. We explore and admire the glacier in awe while Jose starts on the barbecue. Exhausted, it's an early night. We can hear the glacier's thunderous cracking through the night.
Tuesday, April 19
The next morning we carry the kayaks about 100 yards and drop them into a lake at the base of Glaciar Serrano. We have the entire lake to ourselves. I am in heaven.
We paddle the kayaks to within 60 meters of the glacier. Anything closer could be very dangerous if it decided to calve. It's hard to grasp the scale. Compared to other glaciers, this isn't a huge glacier by any means, and it was enormous up close. We hold the kayaks steady and stare in awe for 20 minutes.
We take our time paddling back to land. We pass through the chunks of ice bergs that have broken off through the night. This might be the highlight of the trip. Slowly meandering between these giant chunks of floating ice, admiring them, touching them. The water is smooth as silk. The sun is shining. It is surreal.
We get back to shore right before a ship of 75 passengers arrives to view the glacier. The boat arrives once a day, for one hour, and then the land is silent again. Up until now, we have only passed one person on our journey. We are the most remote I have ever been.
After our morning at the lake, sadly, it's time to surrender our kayaks. We're loaded onto the fairy with the rest of the passengers, kayaks included, and together start the ride back to Puerto Natales.
The boat ride is three hours long, with a stop at a small ranch for lunch along the way. We drink whiskey with ice cubes gathered from the glacier. Along the way I'm pleasantly surprised by the sight of several groups of penguins and a small pod of dolphins.
Dropping us off at our hotel, this time Weskar Patagonia Lodge, we thank Jose for an unbelievable trip of a lifetime. The evening concludes by laying on my bed and looking out the window, admiring a view of the mountains we just returned from.
Wednesday, April 20
This is the tough part. Back to reality. Though I must say, being a part of Remote Year, my current reality is pretty awesome. I'm unbelievably blessed. We catch the 8:00am bus back to El Calafate, and then hop on a plane the same evening. After about 15 hours of traveling, we are back home in Buenos Aires, ready for an amazing nights sleep.
This is a week I will never forget.