Alumni travelers, Muki and Charlie, just returned from a 22-day custom adventure to Chile and Argentina. After adventuring high into the Atacama Desert to find a rare yareto plant, trekking through Torres del Paine, following Magellan and Darwin’s legacies around Cape Horn, making new personal connections in El Calafate and ending in Buenos Aires, they had quite the story!
“We chose this itinerary after we looked at multiple Patagonia itineraries from different companies. This trip seemed to have the right combination of travel in the right areas. We liked the 4 day ship being part of the itinerary and Charlie liked the add-on of the Atacama Desert. We liked the itinerary starting in Chile and ending in Argentina. The level of activity also seemed doable for us. And last, we had been very pleased with our trip to Costa Rica with Wildland.
Charlie: Absolutely overwhelmed by the expansive vistas in Patagonia and Atacama. The flora: never thoughtI would be walking through the old growth Southern beech forests, in the very places that Darwin trod, having read much of what Darwin wrote. Seeing the Andes was breathtaking. Driving up into the stillness of the mountains with Berni to find the Yareto plant was a highpoint. And both of us will never forget the Patagonian wind - either on land or water.
Muki: For me, it was the mountains, the fauna more than the flora, and the people. I was struck, once again, by the warmth of the people in South America. I laughed when I noticed that the outgoing flight crew of one plane ALL kissed the incoming flight crew: pilots and flight attendants! Later, in Buenos Aires, I saw a very large, decorated, police officer get off of his motorcycle and enter a police station. A clearly more junior police officer was leaving. To my amazement, they did the one cheek kiss and I thought – never in the U.S.! And not surprisingly, much emotion was expressed after the farewell dinner on the ship when the captain thanked the zodiac drivers for their heroic performance.
I was also impressed and pleased that everyone I spoke with was willing to engage in a conversation about their country, their situation, their family - wherever the discussion led.
ON ACCOMMODATIONS AND RESPECTIVE EXPERIENCES
For us on this trip, the top three experiences in no particular order were the two Explora Lodges and the Hosteria Alta Vista. All three were wonderful in different ways. We loved both the Explora hotels and their philosophy. There were people on Trip Advisor who gave slightly negative reviews that seemed awfully picky. We loved the way they each operated although both were quite different thanks to the terrain, the altitude, the weather, etc. The scenery, the vistas, the mountains, the desert - each was spectacular and to go outside and walk and get a feel for the land was just what we were looking for. In addition, I did some horseback riding in Atacama.
At Explora Atacama all the guides were terrific. The guides’ enthusiasm and professionalism were definitely noticeable. Two guides stood out for us: Luis, who gave us a fantastic lecture on and demonstration of astronomy in the observatory one night with their telescope. We were incredibly lucky because no one else had signed up so it went way beyond the scheduled hour and he was able to share his love of astronomy in a way that would be difficult to do if there had been more participants.
The other guide was Berni (Bernadina). Charlie didn’t feel well one day, so she and I hiked alone. She inspired such confidence in herself and thus me that I found myself going higher than I would normally hike, and off the trail. (I’m not keen on heights.) We crawled through a dark cave, then up what felt like a mountain, clambering up rocks! And I credit her with helping me overcoming my usual anxieties. Along the way we shared some of our personal stories which made it all easier. It was really nice to have a guide who was so proficient and also so open. On the following day, she managed to get a van and a driver so she could take Charlie and me up to 12,500 ft for him to see a rare plant, the bright green yareto, that he had been dying to see when he still didn’t feel like hiking. It made his day, if not the whole stay for him. We were the only ones on that lonely, isolated, dirt road up in an area where the yaretos grow and it became windier and colder the higher we went. As we approached the area, we were rewarded with this other wordly scene - no animals, not even birds, but the moon (it was broad daylight) still hanging out over the mountains. Beautiful, just beautiful. This was a moment to remember.
At Explora Patagonia all the guides were great as were the hikes. The groups were larger than they were at Atacama since there were more guests, and we had a different guide for each hike, so we usually didn’t get to know them as well, personally. In general, there was less individual attention, but that was OK. We were “into” the Explora spirit and were physically more conditioned by the time we got there. Charlie went to several lectures on glaciology and geology and thought they were very good; I went to a film that one of the guides showed and discussed a documentary on pumas and thought it was excellent. There was also an asado where we were offered lots of different hikes or horseback rides to and from the feast. We took one hike up to a cave where we could see the hand imprints made by people many thousands of years ago. Sadly, we missed seeing the PUMA who visited the hiking group only 10 minutes before us - just stood up and walked over to them! I got to see the video that the guide took with his camera, but that’s not the same.
ALTA VISTA AND EL CALFATE
Alta Vista is excellent in every way. We were given the suite and were very comfortable. Loved everything about Alta Vista - from our room, the comfortable living room, the family, the food, the surroundings, etc.
Pilar Pruneda! Pilar is the guide who took us to Perito Moreno. She was absolutely delightful and a wonderful guide. We both loved her and recommend her highly to any and all future visitors. According to Charlie who is extremely interested in plants since he has his own arboretum, of all our many guides, she is the only one who was truly knowledgeable and interested in plants. She had plant information with her, knew the Latin names (which is what he always asks about) and actively searched for plants to show him. If she and I were in the middle of a conversation when she spied a plant she thought he might be interested in as we were walking around, she would interrupt me, show it to him, and then remembered what we had been talking about, and go right back to it. That is the hallmark of the rare human being who is a good listener! Since we had several hours in the car, we exchanged many stories about life in Argentina and the United States as well as more personal stories. Pilar has the gift of humor and laughter that made our ride so much more enjoyable. In fact, she ended up including Alfredo, our driver, in the conversations, so that he could join in. So, in addition to learning about the area, the glacier, the plants, etc., we also felt that we had all shared a bit of our lives with each other.
Alta Vista was also located in another gorgeous place, remote and isolated, but here there was no set schedule. With the exception of the trip to Perito Moreno, we could eat and do what and when we wanted to, and after the more scheduled stops of our trip, it was lovely to just relax. It also just happened that Tamara’s extended family was visiting to admire her 4 month old baby, Adela, so we got to meet them, and take a one hour walk with Tamara’s mother into the hills. (I also got to hold and play with Adela and loved every minute of it.)Peter, Tamara’s British father, took us for a stomach jiggling ride in a car, off road, through the grassy mounds and ruts, and we got to talk history and politics with him. Can’t say we really enjoyed the car ride all that much, but loved meeting and talking to the family.
ON LEGADO MITICO HOTEL IN BUENOS AIRES:
Legado Mitico - Our room was El Tanguero. Large and beautiful to look at in a fabulous dark red color scheme with real Oriental rugs. The bed however, was less comfortable than most because the mattress was not adequately covered and the stitching of the mattress top made it very bumpy. The lights by the bed were not good for reading, and there was no bureau or shelves to unpack one’s suitcase. Otherwise it was a good room with a good bathroom, and located on the quiet side of the hotel for which we were grateful. Plus it had an affectionate Siamese cat that I, in particular, fell in love with.. Breakfast was good - just the food we like, and the lounge/library was not only beautiful, but serviceable, so that we found some good guide books on Buenos Aires and didn’t have to buy any. Service was excellent and we had some good discussions with the front desk staff.
They couldn’t have been improved upon. Everything went so smoothly. We expected more delays and problems, having traveled in S. America before but it did not occur.
ON AUSTRALIS CRUISE:
We loved being on the water and the hikes. All the service was excellent and the guides were helpful, especially Francisco. However, the ship didn't seem as prepared to handle rough seas as other ships we've been on, e.g. there were no lips on tables in the room or in the dining rooms to stop glasses from rolling off. The staff, however, was.
On our last day, while we were hiking on Wulaia Bay, normally a very calm and peaceful area, the wind and the waves picked up to such an alarming degree, that we first were asked to wait until the wind calmed down. When it didn't, we had to board the Zodiacs, with the help of tense looking staff, while the drivers dealt with 15 feet swells. It was terrifying. But the drivers were magnificent! Docking was as difficult as driving and our driver needed several approaches before he could get close enough to the ship to dock. After all the passengers were safe on board, two poor drivers were stuck on the sea with their zodiacs because the wind and sea were even worse and they couldn't pull up the zodiacs for several hours.
Later, after our farewell dinner, all the drivers came up in their dress uniforms, to stand by the captain to receive his thanks and ours. The captain said this kind of weather had only occurred 2 times in the last 10 years. We were all incredibly grateful to the drivers and the rest of the staff for getting us back safely. Safety IS the most important thing on a boat and the staff on the Australis were magnificent.
P.S. Take waterproof gloves, a warm hat, rain/wind pants and a jacket along for all excursions!
ADVICE FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS:
1.Take the packing list seriously! Bring those rain pants and wind jacket, a warm hat, waterproof gloves or mittens, and hiking boots. Patagonia does not disappoint in terms of wind and weather changes. We were glad to have it all.
2. Get in shape if you aren’t already. It took us a few days to acclimate to hiking hills and boulders. We could have done more in advance.
3. If you’ve never been on a ship, you’ll enjoy the Australis. If you’ve been lucky enough to go to Antarctica, skip it.
4. Stay longer at the Exploras. Four days is really not enough, esp. Explora Patagonia since it takes a full day to get there. It’s possible to stay 6 days which would be perfect, although their brochure says 4 or 8. Several guests managed to do a 6 day stay. Our biggest regret is not having more time at each Explora and Alta Vista.
Your friendly Patagonia expert,