by Ron McGinty
Patagonia, with barely two million inhabitants, encompasses more than 402 thousand square miles… by comparison Texas has only 267 thousand. At the southern tip of South America lays Argentina and Chile separated by the Andes mountains comprising Patagonia.
Author Bruce Chatwin famously wrote, “Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origin,” and to this day it retains near-mythical status in the minds of the world’s adventurers. Its natural history is evidenced by the discovery of the world’s largest dinosaur fossil ever. Quietness, solitude and incredible beauty surround you. Andean Condors spans the sky with their massive ten-foot wing span.
The condor can fly as high as 15,000 feet, only flapping its wings to gain more altitude, and can achieve speeds of more than 35 miles per hour. Hiking and photography are an explorer’s vision of heaven. The simple vastness and diversity of landscape, with cobalt blue glaciers in the rivers, make it appear as a fairy tale. Riding down a road one day, a dog comes towards the car, stops in front of us and proceeds to run around in fast circles.
What’s going on? Before I could ask, on the horizon, thousands of sheep were approaching. Purely fascinating to watch with only four gauchos driving the herd. Twenty-five minutes later we could move again. Rules of the road are quite different here.
The journey from Naples, FL was long, three flights and a four hour car ride. This was a trivial price to pay for the first sight of our hotel, the Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa. It’s centered in the grasslands close to the snow-covered Andes. In 1955 Che Guevara saw this exquisiteness from his motorcycle and very little has changed since. His motorcycle is currently on display in a museum in Buenos Aires.
My guide was a former gaucho, so I asked him to take me to a working estancia to meet his gaucho friends and learn their ways. Some tough life they have, spending eight to ten hours a day in the saddle drinking mate tea to stay awake. For generations the dress stayed traditional as you would envision from movies with berets, ponchos, large knife in the back of their fajas (waist sashes) and high-top riding boots. Through this mammoth terrain, the gaucho must keep the herd moving to eat grass and stay safe. Predators are always prowling, such as pumas. The Patagonian puma cats were almost eliminated by ranchers hunting them, but now they are protected. This species is the largest cat in the Americas.
Patagonia is a collage of interesting experiences and sights. Available for your enjoyment are penguins, whale watching, unspoiled wilderness of mountains, fjords, glaciers, forests, fishing, historical sites and the unexpected. In the rivers you suddenly realize that icebergs are floating by. The contrast of brown water and blue ice is amazing. Potential Norman Rockwell scenes are everywhere. You wake to the smell of breakfast and peer out of the window at a misty fog. It’s time to start a new day of discovery. This mystical destination will make you long to return.