3:00 AM came way too early, especially since bedtime came way to late. The travel, the packing, the thinking….it all added up to an 11:30 bedtime that was a killer when I realized it was 3:00 and time for my taxi.
A bleary eyed race through graffiti filled streets and I was deposited at the airport by OneSeed Expeditions Country Director Sergio, with directions and encouragement to have a good time….oh yeah, and I’d know my guide Roberto by his OneSeed shirt and the fact he was a true Patagonian man and would be wearing the round crocheted hats of so many Patagonian coyboys. (Oh yeah, I think I failed to mention, not only is this a trek of Patagonia, it’s a solo trek! The other people in my group made changes or didn’t confirm and I got notified that unless I had a problem with it, I’d be alone with my guide for the whole week. Not one to turn down a 1-1 guided tour of the Patagonian wilderness, I agreed!)
Roberto did not disappoint. Meeting me at the airport, after my 3+ hour flight, (A little trivia, Chile is separated from the rest of S. America from the worlds longest mountain range. If in the US, this range would run from Arizona to Alaska….so it’s a long flight.) He walked me through our week together in his thick Chilean accent. He had maps, pictures, ipad shots. I’m glad I’m good at accents, but I’ll admit to a little concentration in the first few moments. Enough so that he looked at me a little concerned by my intense look. He said, “Are you just tired?” I assured him I’d be fine. I knew we’d be fast friends. He was not only a professional guide, but an expert at the birds and plants of the Antarctic Region of the Magellan District of Chile. Lord knows how I love good trivia.
While waiting for our bus the wind howled and I had to remind myself that it’s summer down here at the bottom of the world. At the same time, this bottom of the world expanse is actually no further south, that the major cities of Europe are to the north. It’s geography and legendary status, given to it by early explorers like Magellan, have helped to maintain it’s stature as a land of giants and the toughest of people. A reputation well deserved.
As we rolled for three hours into the howling winds, my mind recalled eastern Montana, if the Montana plains were also right beside the bluest ocean you’ve ever see. Roberto informed me that this area is predominantly estancios or ranches, mostly for sheep. The golden grassland goes farther than the eye can see and is why it’s the foundation for the district flag, a flag which in this land garners more pride than the Chilean flag. The few trees I did see were permanently humbled by the wind and seemingly kneeling in prayer. However, the grassland wasn’t always so prominent, as early ranchers had burned away all the forest to clear it for grazing. The things that make sense at the time.
A quick stop for a bus change in Puerto Natales, a sea port with a statue to the pre-historic Sloth that was found in a cave near by, and we were off to Torres del Paine national park. The thing about travel is meeting the world. There were trekkers from Japan, Chile, Canada, Australia, France and me. All on the bus, making our run down the dusty roads to the park entrance and Los Torres Refugio which, after 12 hours of travel, would be my stop for the night. Right at the rim of the park, I’d get settled, have dinner and the trekking would begin in the morning. As I looked up at the mountains and the peaks of the Torres that would be our first challenge in the morning, I was more than a little apprehensive. I wish I could tell you some super human thing happened that suddenly made it all ok, but it didn’t. I was there, alone, (Roberto was off to his tent, I was in the lodge.) I was tired, I just realized my camera was stolen from my pack on the flight from Santiago, and I was staring up at a labyrinth of mountains, lakes and glaciers that would be my home for the week. I kept thinking…what was I thinking? Whatever I had been thinking, it didn’t matter now, I was here. I broke out my iphone for photos for the week, got my bag ready and in the morning did what I usually do when I don’t know what to do…I took one step at a time.