Patagonia with 3 Aussies & a Kiwi
My first words of greeting to my new Australian companions on this trip was to tell them how lucky they were to be travelling with a Kiwi - and how it's a little like winning lotto! By day two - when my luggage didn’t arrive in Punta Arenas - it was the three smug Australians who thought they'd won the lottery alright... and this Kiwi would become the butt of quite a few lighthearted jokes over the next 12 days.
Every time I thought I had one over them, I'd be reminded about that missing luggage & that I'd worn the same t-shirt for quite a few days. I've now got a new appreciation for anyone who has ever lost their luggage while travelling – especially those going to very cold climates on an Expedition Cruise! I had no choice but to head down the street to buy some new outdoor weather gear - gloves, woollen hat, base layer, pants, fleece top & that bright yellow jacket that's now steeped in some rich Patagonia travel history.
“Why would anyone buy a jacket that colour?” was an oft asked question that I always answered in the same way, "My luggage got lost & basically beggars can't be choosers!'. On a brighter note; how lucky am I to explore this fantastic part of the world & share it with you - and get to call it work!
On our arrival in Santiago, we discovered that the temperature was rather hot compared to where we were heading the next morning. First up - quick tour of this magnificent city, coffee at Bella Vista, and gondola up to see the Virgin Mary statue. Then it was back to the hotel to change for dinner - and a very late night... followed by a nasty wake-up call at 4 am! Then it was off to the airport for the flight to Punta Arenas where the scenery quickly changed from 'wow' to 'WOAH!', and the temperatures took a dive.
We boarded for our 1st night on the ship, and boy oh boy - waking up the next morning in Ainsworth Bay and looking up towards the Marinelli Glacier was simply stunning!! It was soon time to see if our lessons were going to pay off with our 1st Zodiac landing - thankfully it went smoothly & I managed to keep my feet dry! A good walk & extremely informative history lesson of the area was brilliant, followed by the very first whiskey hot chocolate. Later, another zodiac excursion headed off to Tucker Islands to view the Magellan Penguins.
The next morning it was off to Beagle Sound & a trip to Pia Glacier – one of many in the area. Fantastic walk up quite a steep track for some magnificent views of the glacier, plus lucky enough to see some small glacial calvings.
Later in the day, there was more Scenic Cruising through what they call “Glacier Alley", and what a sight to see glaciers both sides of the ship - all named after countries like Italy Glacier, French Glacier & Holland Glacier... sadly, no 'Kiwi Glacier'.
The next morning was a really early start with the hope that the weather gods played in our favour to potentially land at Cape Horn – alas, they did not not and the sea was too rough for the Zodiacs... meaning I now have the perfect excuse to go back to tick this off the bucket list!
An excursion that afternoon to Wulaia Bay, an island in Murray Channel, and an archaeological site with seasonal settlements of the Yaghan People from about 10,000 years ago. Known as the Wulaia Bay Dome Middens, the site revealed that the people created fish traps in the small inlets of the bay.
The last night on the ship saw the Captain's chart & map auctioned off for USD$750.00, with all money donated to a local wildlife charity. Unfortunately, while it would have been nice to buy - it very quickly jumped out of my price bracket as the bidding war heated up. It was then time to say a fond farewell to 'Stella Australis'; she was a fantastic host & home for the last 4 nights, taken me to see some amazing sights, and allowed me to meet some wonderfully friendly people.
Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of time to have a look around Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world, just enough for a quick photo before heading to the airport to catch a very bumpy flight to El Calafate in Argentina, a neat little town on the shore of Lake Argentino. It reminded me of Queenstown, but without all the people and infrastructure - a really cool wee town. Our day was filled with a guided Estancia (farm) tour to see some guanaco (wild llama), and then a stop at a high country hut for a lamb stew dinner.
Next day was Glacier National Park to visit Perito Moreno Glacier – one of only 3 Glaciers in the world that is still growing - and I felt so privileged to get an opportunity to see this stunning site up close.
At the end of a long bus ride, I was at last reunited with my luggage at Puerto Natales Remota Lodge, and it was a little like opening Christmas presents as I'd completely forgotten what I'd packed. We only had one night there before we moved along the road a few hundred metres to the 'The Singular', a 5-star lodge built in an old Abattoir. To be honest, my first thought was why build a hotel in something with such a bad history, but it has been exceptionally done and is a beautiful hotel!
Then a day trip into Torres Del Paine National Park and chance to see the 'Three Towers', but alas, again the weather gods didn’t play along and we only saw two of the three towers, some stunning lakes, incredible scenery & guanaco.
A real highlight for me was Gaucho (Farm worker) and the beyond magical scenery. I'm at best a very nervous rider, which the horse sensed, and for the first 20 minutes it was a battle of wills between me & the horse. But eventually I got used to it and by the end we were friends & I really loved this experience.
On my long flight home, it was the perfect time to reflect and it really dawned on me what a magical part of the world Patagonia is and that it really needs more people exploring its wonders. It's all breathtakingly beautiful, the people are friendly, the animals are friendly, and I just couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before I get another opportunity to explore more of this magical part on the world… not too long I hope!