Patagonia is a huge and mysterious area of wilderness
that stretches across both southern Chile and Argentina, bisected by the Andes mountains running down the middle and forming the border. It covers over a million square kilometres from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The Argentinian side is mostly dry while the Chilean side is wet and forested.
Patagonia has long been a dream destination for adventurers (and me) immortalised by Bruce Chatwin’s classic ‘In Patagonia’. What’s so enticing about this area – apart from its natural beauty – is its huge scale, dramatic scenery, extreme weather, uninhabited isolation and sense of remoteness. It is known as the end of the earth for a reason.
The four days we’ve just spent aboard the cargo ferry ‘Eden’, sailing through the channels and fjords of Chilean Patagonia – from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales – has been one of the most serene times of my life. The ferry is surprisingly smooth and comfortable. Lying in my bunk, feeling the gentle swaying motion and hearing the low purring of the engines is like being suspended in amniotic fluid. I have never slept so well. There was just one rough patch, crossing the Pacific, that lasted about 12 hours. Despite wearing a seasick band on each wrist, taking ginger tablets and staring at the horizon until my eyes turned to slits, the only thing that made me feel ok was lying still in my cosy bunk with my eyes shut tight.
The scenery was breathtaking all the way. On the first day, thousands of sea lions cavorted in the waters surrounding the boat and huddled together on rocky outcrops, as forested hills and islands rose continuously out of the fog on both sides. The colours of the water and the land changed constantly, reflecting the dramatic shifts in weather.
It’s extraordinarily difficult to take photos from a moving boat, hence the blurry sea lions.
On the second day we passed a rusting shipwreck.
As we sailed further south, the hills turned into mountains and forests gave way to ice and snow. The wildlife disappeared apart from the occasional bird, and everything seemed utterly still and empty. We entered a kind of trance, sitting on the deck and watching Patagonia float by.
As we travel further south through Chile, everything just keeps getting better and better – easier, less crowded and more beautiful. Time slows down. I loved Valdivia, then I loved Puerto Montt more and now I’m fantasising about staying here in Puerto Natales. There’s great coffee (one of the biggest challenges in Chile), excellent local beer that tastes like blueberries and goddess be praised, even a vegetarian restaurant.