Set at the base of Campo Del Hielo Sur, The Great Southern Ice field, Torres Del Paine National Park is considered by many as the mecca of hiking in Patagonia and has been high on our travel hit list since the very beginning. The Park offers well over 100km of hiking trails to be conquered, and has a reputation for having Patagonia’s most extreme weather, with hikers often experiencing all four seasons in one day; baking hot sun, flurries of snow, horizontal rain, and hurricane force winds. A daunting four to five day hike, battling the elements, lay ahead. This was going to be tough mentally and physically and we new it, we just didn’t know just how tough. We were ready for the Challenge.
Chile is a long long long country, as it thins out towards the most southern tip at Cape Horn the country breaks up into fragments of isolated mountain ranges and icefields separated by spectacular fjords and lakes. This region is almost entirely undeveloped and uninhibited except for small rural towns sparsely scattered along the Carreterra Austral, the long road which travels from Puerto Montt in the Chilean Lake District into the depths of Chilean Patagonia.
“Are you sure you want to go to South America. I hear these countries are very dangerous”, if only mum could see where we are now! With just a jump over the border from “little Germany” in the Chilean Lake District you will land yourself in “little Switzerland” and the city of Bariloche in the Argentine Lake District. Our “little” slice of Europe just grew tenfold. Not only is this part of South America safe and friendly it is a sophisticated – by European standards – tourist mecca in an enchanting setting amongst bountiful lakes and snow capped mountain peaks. The Argentine Lake District has the best of everything; be it hiking, boating, fishing or indulging in some of Argentina’s finest food. We knew straight away that we would be more than able to satisfy our desire to hike within the world renowned Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. And of course in order to gain sustenance for said hike we arrived ready to eat.
Over the past few months our travels have predominantly been spent in hot, dusty, arid destinations with endless blue skies, so it was a shock to the system when we awoke in the morning on our overnight bus journey from Santiago to luscious green fields and rain, lots of it. We had finally begun our journey south towards Patagonia.
The Chilean Lake District is a large region some 800km south of Santiago. Pleasant towns and quaint villages lie scattered through fertile fields and hugging the shorelines of vast pristine lakes at the foothills of the Andes. In the 1850’s the Chilean government underwent a major immigration drive encouraging German’s to colonise the undeveloped lakes region to exploit the abundance of agricultural opportunities. Due to this there is a strong German influence in the architecture and cultural makeup of the villages dotting the landscape. Coming from the desert, as well as Bolivia and Peru, this wonderful European charm was a welcome change of scenery.