My trip started one late afternoon at LAX airport where security lines are notoriously long, and the process of checking-in can be very arduous. Not a good start for the trip of a lifetime. However, with Premium Business service from LAN Airlines my expectation of a travel headache immediately vanished.
I met welcoming agents in a special Premium Business Class designated area who seamlessly checked me, in and quickly ushered me to their plush fi rst class lounge. I instantly surmised that LAN was a very diff erent type of airline, and that it would be a perfect means of transportation to Chile and Argentina.
Upon boarding the plane I encountered the warmth of the fl ight attendants, a clear indication that I was in perfect hands for the following 11 hours of the fi rst leg of travel LAN’s service exceeded my expectations, with its self-contained Pods, full size beds and soft linens. Being a taller passenger and accustomed to feeling confi ned in most business and fi rst class seating, I was pleasantly surprised to fi nd that the accommodations were extremely comfortable and spacious. My amazement did not stop there. The cuisine and wine selection was absolutely top notch. LAN’s Master Sommelier, Héctor Vergara, is known for his ability to identify the fi nest wines, which is why LAN’s wine list has been recognized as one of the fi ve best lists worldwide. I was delighted with each wine that I sampled, and impressed with how they perfectly complemented each stage of my meal.
I quickly fell into a deep slumber of contentment, only to wake the following morning by a fl ight attendant greeting me with hot towels and of course, yet another delicious meal, breakfast. As much as I enjoyed my time in the air, I was elated to be back on terra fi rma, and to start my journey through Chile and Argentina.
SANTIAGO The start of my urban exploration began in Santiago, which is often referred to as ”the Manhattan” of Chile. With an early morning arrival time, I sailed through customs, and was soon off and running to the Hotel Fundador, conveniently located within the heart of the historic section of the city, also known as the Paris-London district. The hotel was recently restored on a minimalist- Andean theme and was close to many museums, the fi nancial district, as well as local boutiques and restaurants.
Santiago is a sprawling city similar to Los Angeles, but with the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. The city has population of 5,600,000 million residents; which is 1/3 of the total population of Chile. The Country is 80% Catholic, with more than 50 churches located in Santiago alone. The architecture hints at the great architectural treasures of both Central and Eastern Europe, but with a clear Chilean identity. As I wandered through the streets, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Europe with its inviting outdoor cafes and robust culture.
My fi rst day was spent touring the city with a private guide.
Admittedly it’s a luxury, but all the same it’s a must when visiting a city as culturally rich as Santiago for just one day. There is so much to explore, so much beauty to witness and not nearly enough time to familiarize one with all the hidden gems. I instantly felt transported back to another time. I was indeed on the path to becoming an explorer.
After spending a mere 24 hours in the Santiago, I was off to a mystical place called Patagonia.
The second day of my journey would whisk me away to the Remota Resort located within the heart of Patagonia. For the next four days I was part of a beautiful natural setting that I had previously only witnessed form afar in photographs and in television documentaries.
All vegetables served on premise are grown on location, in a green h ouse tended by the hotel.
After a wonderful lunch consisting of fresh fish caught in the waters just a few meters from the hotel, I was ready to resume my exploration via a horseback in the Sierra Dorortea Mountains with my guide Chechiul and Gaucho Adaw Paredes. We saddled up and headed off into the mountains with the rain bouncing off our coats, and the wind in our face. There were just two old souls who knew the magic a nd one in search of it.
As we made our way up the side of the steep mountain, a valley appeared, complete with cows and wild horses. Gaucho Adaw led us through the valley and up to the plateau, where I had my first glimpse of snow-covered Andes Mountains in the distance. For miles and miles there was nothing aside from endless rolling hills. Not a person, nor a building in sight. With a natural wall on our left and a forest to our right, we made our way towards the cliff to admire the natural b eauty of this spectacular view.
This is just one of the many local trips that Remota provides for its guests. The hotel is allinclusive, and offers a vast list of bespoke excursions. There are never more then 10 people in a group and lunch or tea is always served with each outing.
After the excursion, I was ready to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the resort. Remota looks and feels like it has been in Patagonia since Captain Juan Lanmilleros of Portugal first explored this mystical land 1559. I was delighted to meet fellow explorers and to share stories. Each person who I talked with inspired me, and made me e ven more enthusiastic to start day two of my Patagonian adventure.
Early the next morning I awoke from a deep sleep to a ringing alarm clock reminding me: “It is time! …Time to continue to seek out the P atagonian magic.” Would the Lake Sofia region of Patagonia offer new experiences? I w ould soon to find out.
I was greeted in the lobby by my guide, Christian, and we soon d eparted from the hotel for the Lake Sofia region.
As our van started down the unpaved road, the storm clouds started to roll in, and the rain began to fall furiously from the sky onto our vehicle. Being an explorer in training I would not let a little rain get in the way of my adventure. At the end of the road, we got out, and started our hike on an unmarked trail to study some of the important archaeological sites in the Southern Chile. We were also fortunate to spy many eagles and condors in the middle of lagoons that were filled with extensive flora and fauna, all scenes that had been previously witnessed by the likes of Darwin and Magellan. It was one of the most compelling experiences that I had ever witnessed. Just as I had hoped, there was magic everywhere, and I felt that I was living out e very bit the part of a modern day explorer.
After a long day of exploration, it was back to Remota to float in its tranquil pool that is fed by the adjacent waters of the lake. It is profoundly peaceful, and I felt more at rest than I had in years. As I stared out onto the lake, glaciers and distant mountains, I lost track of time. In short, it was a perfect closing to an awe-inspiring day.
On the morning of my third day at Remota, I awoke and prepared for my trip to Torres del Paine National Park. I had expected a day of light hiking and picture taking, but I would soon find out that I would be far more than a mere visitor to the park. This day I would be t ransfigured from an explorer in training into a full-fledged explorer.
The air at the park had an eerie silence to it, and we were shrouded in a light foggy mist, enhancing that now familiar magical feeling. Two rainbows appeared on the horizon, and the intensity of the experience grew ever stronger as a third rainbow appeared over the mountain peaks. Suddenly a condor flew out of the sky, seemingly from nowhere, and circled us. Majestic and mysterious, I wondered to myself if the condor knew something important, and was trying to impart a message to us. Was this is a sign that there might be danger on the horizon? Just then clouds became dense, and covered the p eaks of Torres del Paine.
I had been told that the four-hour trek to the summit could be demanding at times due to the unpredictable Patagonian weather.
My guide Christian offered me two options. The first was to take the marked trail, or the second, an u nmarked route.
Of course, I opted to take the “road less traveled”. As the elevation increased, the terrain dramatically changed from valleys to rivers, and from forest to steep, mountainous r ock. The temperature cooled, and a light rain began to fall. Christian started to construct stone markers so that we c ould be able to find out path back.
We trudged though the riverbed and then began to climb the rock at an angle, so as not to loose our footing.
It became colder and colder. My legs became increasingly weary, and rain p elted me in the face. I began to function on autopilot. “Just go forward, keep moving forward,” I said to myself. Christian turned to me and inquired if I wished to rest. As I looked forward and saw even darker clouds on the horizon, I knew that the condor from earlier that morning had indeed been trying to impart a message to us. I now knew that the message was that I c ould not stop.
I replied to Christian: “I did not come t o Patagonia to quit!” A hailstorm ensued and pelted my body as if I someone was throwing stones at me. My legs began to go numb, and I began to lose my footing on loose rock. I had become worried that perhaps I had exceeded my capacity, and was no match for Patagonia. But I would not stop. I couldn’t. I began to rely more and more on my walking stick, as I hunched down, nearly crawling to hide my face from the hail and furious winds. At times I took shelter behind a large rock, yet such respite could only last a few minutes, as we had to m ove forward our own safety.
It seemed like days before we would reach the summit. As we reached the top, the clouds parted, winds died down and a rainbow appeared. I found another sign of magic, or at least a semblance of it. Mother Nature seemed to want to challenge me, only to reward me later for good faith and perseverance. Yet we were still not able to see the three towers o f the Torres del Paine.
As we sat down to catch our breath, Christian surprised me with a celebratory cup of warm chicken soup and then it was time to start our d escent.
When we finally made it back to the base, the skies became blue, and slowly, the clouds dissipated and revealed the three towers of Torres d el Paine.
At that moment I knew that I finally found the magic. Magic is nature, the l and, and the people of Patagonia.
After a celebratory beer and picnic, we returned to the van and set off for Remota. I was on cloud nine. I gazed out the window at the beauty of Patagonia, relieved to have survived this most arduous hike, and grateful for the opportunity to become an e xplorer in such a place.
Just then, I caught a glimpse a flock of pink flamingos. Not exactly an every-day occurrence. I asked the driver to stop for a moment, so that I could capture them on film. I left the van, and quickly walked out across what appeared to be a salt flat. As I inched forward to get closer to capture their beauty, I noticed that my left foot began to sink. To compensate I exerted pressure on my right foot, but then that foot too b egan to sink.
I felt trapped and began to sink further. I turned to Christian to tell him and he chuckled, not quite grasping the severity of the situation.
As he moved towards me, he too began to sink. QUICKSAND! Slowly the quicksand swallowed my boots, t hen my ankles… then my knees.
Then our driver and a fellow explorer came to assist us by creating a form of human chain. As we were carefully lifted from the quicksand, we were finally able to crawl towards an a djacent plot of safety.
We headed back to Remota exhausted, but joyful from one of the most challenging and rewarding days
o f my life.
I woke up on my final day at Remota, and was fortunate to have breakfast with the famed architect German del Sol. I shared my experiences with him, most notably the previous day, and all of its excitement. With a twinkle in his eye he told me that what I had experienced was the magic of Patagonia. He experienced and became familiar with the magic during a five-year trek throughout Patagonia. The magic that he discovered is reflected in all of his work, most notably Remota: “the r emote magical place.” C APE HORN- USHUAIA The final leg of my adventure would take me towards Cape Horn, often referred to as the “End of the Earth.” My expedition cruise aboard the M/V Via Australis would start in Punta Arenas, Chile, and end in Ushuaia, A rgentina.
When I arrived at the port I noted a large sign stating “Gateway to Antarctica”. The mere notion that I would be in close proximity to Antarctica reminded me that my adventure had not yet concluded.
Instead, it marked the start of w onderful, new chapter.
After a cocktail reception and introductory meeting with Captain Hipolito Morales G., I shared a special dinner with eleven other explorers f rom around the globe.
At dawn we sailed for Admiralty Fjord, first arriving at Ainsworth Bay, where Marinelli Glacier is located. Our first excursion would begin with zodiac transport to adjacent dry land, where we could explore the Magellanic Forrest, and observe e lephant seals.
All the while, our guide educated us regarding all the extraordinary history of Tierra del Fuego. At the end of our expedition, we were treated to a glass of Johnny Walker Red Label over glacier ice, before returning to the ship to depart for Tucker Island. Three hours later, we were fortunate enough to spot colonies of Magellanic Penguins, as pectacular close to a unique day.
The following day, the Captain navigated the ship through the Beagle Channel en route to Pia Bay.
Once back upon the zodiac, we traveled over small ice formations peppering the waterway, as our group admired ice falling from Pia Glacier. It was every bit as beautiful as I had expected.
Later at dinner the guests seated at our table recounted their experiences compiled during the past few days’ e xpeditions.
Suddenly we were interrupted by the Captain, who informed us that we would soon be experiencing extremely rough seas as we made our way into open water towards Cape Horn. Before we headed off to bed that evening, the mood on the ship was that of excitement, but uncertainty. Would the weather cooperate? Would be able to make l and?
I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of the mighty ocean rocking the ship to and fro as we m ade our way into open water.
It is at this point that the Atlantic meets the Pacific and combines with the chill of the Antarctic Sea. More ships have gone down trying to tack the island of Cape Horn than at any
other location in the world.
Somehow I managed to fall asleep without being thrown from my bed, and I awoke off the Coast of Cape Horn. As I looked out my window, I still felt like I was dreaming. I couldn’t believe that I finally made it to the e nd of the world!
Our group assembled early in the morning, and we boarded the zodiac for start the last leg of our adventure.
Once we landed at Cape Horn, we climbed a steep flight of wooden steps that would lead us to the monument of Cape Horn. Legend has it that the monument is the reincarnation of sailors who lost their lives in this dangerous and desolate region. The ground is covered with peat, and still contains hidden landmines from the Beagle Conflict of 1977-1979. It thus remains mandatory that everyone walks here along a w ooden boardwalk.
In addition to the monument, we visited other important landmarks, such as the lighthouse and the chapel known as Stella Maris or “Star of the Sea”, which is also dedicated to those who have lost their lives in the region.
At every turn I was reminded of the tenuous balance between beauty and d anger that typify life at Cape Horn.
The final leg my journey was spent in Ushuaia, the capital of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego. My stay was limited to a few hours of local sightseeing. With such a limited time I thought back over all the events and experiences that had brought me here to “the southernmost city of the w orld.” I reflected back to my conversation with Mr. del Sol during my stay at Remota. He said “…travel is a special occasion to be children again. More curious about what happens in the world outside than about what h appens inside oneself.” Only a handful people will ever be afforded the opportunity to experience the magic of Patagonia and Cape Horn. Those who do will be handsomely rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. If you have ever desired to be an explorer yourself, and explore beyond yourself, this certainly is the trip for you.
How To Get There: LAN Airlines (lan.com / 866.435.9526) flies direct to Santiago from LAX. Visit LAN.com for the latest rates on the South America Air Pass for Coach and P remium Business
Where To Stay: Hotel Fundador (Paseo Serrano 34, Santiago, Chile; (56-2) 3871200; Fundador.cl/en) Suite rates starting at U S $163 a night.
Remota Resort (Ruta 9 Norte, km. 1. 5, Huerto 279 / Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile; 866.431.0519; RemotaHotel.com). Rates start from US$ 1,980 per person based on double occupancy for a 4-night stay. The resort is all-inclusive including the d aily excursions.
Where To Cruise: Cruseros Australis (Australis.com / (56-2) 442 31 15) offers a luxury option to cruise Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Rates start at US $2,510 per person for a four night all-inclusive c ruise.
What To Pack: Dr. T’s Supergoop organic water resistant SPF 30 sunscreen (Barney’s $29.50 for travel approved 3 pack or S upergoop.com) Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses rb3026 ($129 / SunglassHut.com) The North Face Dhaulagiri GTX boots ($160 / TheNorthFace.com) The North Face Denali Jacket ($165 – $185 / TheNorthFace.com) with the Serac Jacket ($399) The North Face Venture Side Zip Pant ($89 / TheNorthFace.com)