The yellow grass rustles in the wind. It moves around with waving motions – first one direction, then the other. It lets itself being swept around without putting up any resistance. The strong sun is shining down on us from a blue, cloud-dotted, sky. The mighty mountains of the Cordillera del Paine shoot up in the distance. It looks beautiful, it looks serene, and it is. But the wind is howling around us, the strong Patagonian breath makes my hands unsteady when I take up my camera to take a picture, it grabs and stirs my pants, my jacket, my heavy backpack, it makes it harder to walk. It’s not cold, but I put on my hood, tightens it to make sure the wind doesn’t blow it right off again. All I can hear is the wind, the howling, the rustling. We walk in a single line on the narrow path towards the mountains, but even if we had been walking side by side we wouldn’t have been able to speak to each other. All the words would have been absorbed instantly by the wind.
The lamb has been grilling for many, many hours, cooking slowly over the open fire in the backyard of my hostel in Puerto Natales. Omar, the eccentric hostel owner cuts off a piece and hands it over to one of the American girls that have just entered into the chilly evening. The summer days are long down here in the south of Patagonia but the darkness have already crept down on us, only the fire lights up our expectant faces.
She shakes her head, her face distorted into a disgusted expression, as if the little piece of delicious meat she is handed is the most distasteful thing in the world. One of the other girls grabs the piece reluctantly. “It’s got so much fat” I hear one of them whisper as I devour my own piece, eating with my bare hands. No plate, no side dish, no stuffing or sauce, just pure wonderful lamb meat. My hands are getting greasy, but I don’t care, because it’s oh so good. The meat so juicy, so tasteful. A perfect meal before the hike in Torres del Paine.
Welcome to Patagonia!
Small quaint houses painted in all the colors of the rainbow, packs of street dogs roaming the streets. Puerto Natales used to be a quiet little Patagonian city, and if it hadn’t been for the spectacular Torres del Paine national park just nearby, it probably would have remained so. It’s still quite quiet, it’s still quite small, but now there’s a hostel on every street corner, and walking the streets are visitors from far and near, clad in hiking boots and backpacks with tents and mats strapped to them. Heading to or from the mighty towers of Torres. Relaxing after days of camping in the park, or purchasing food and fixing last minute supplies.
I spent ten days in beautiful Ushuaia. Taking spanish classes, walking in the Tierra del Fuego national park, walking around the city in flip-flops trying to get my blistered heels to heal (I used to hate flip-flops for some unknown reason – now I love them) and I went on a boat trip to see penguins.
I had been walking steeply uphill in the forest for what felt like forever when I reached the valley and the tree line. I was in a slightly worse shape than I had feared; the climbing sure had taken its toll on my body, so the flat areas unfolding in front of me where like balm for my soul – and not least for my blister riddled heels. I could see the ocean, and blue mountains in the distance.
Then I took a closer look at the massive heap of stones in front of me and noticed the little trail in the distance – with some black tiny moving spots – making its way to the top. I suddenly felt my world shatter, it couldn’t be. It was so far, I would never make it. My heels were killing me, my legs were tired, but I couldn’t stop quite yet. I hadn’t gone all the way to the end of the world, just to stop half way to the top of a mountain. In the back of my head I kept on hearing Dory from “Finding Nemo” singing “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” (I have seen that movie way too many times, blame it on my younger siblings) in her annoying voice, so I kept on walking, I had to make it.
It’s less than 24 hours since I arrived in Argentina when I board the plane that will take me all the way down from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. El fin del Mundo, the end of the world, the southernmost city on the planet (depending on what you define as a city, Chile has a tiny little settlement further south, across the beagle channel, called Puerto Williams), and it’s where most cruises to Antartica leaves from – now if only I had the money to go there.
I finally have my window seat, but most of the trip I can’t even manage to force my eyes open to look out, I’m dead tired, not that there is much to see anyways, only clouds, clouds, clouds. But then, right before we are to land in Uhsuaia we get below the clouds and snowcapped mountain after snowcapped mountain reaveal themselves. It’s beautiful. I love mountains, it feels like home!
As soon as I’ve taken a picture the little group of kids gather around me. I squat down, set my camera in preview mode, and they all come closer, leaning in to get a peek. I feel a little hand on my shoulder, then another. These kids are definitely not shy. They giggle and smile when they look at themselves and their friends on the camera screen, and then they start posing for more.
Temples, pagodas, as far as the eyes can see. Thousands of them. Everywhere. In all directions, in all sizes. From the tiniest, tiny ones, the size of little one-room houses, to huge, towering ones. White stones, grey stones brown stones.Some you can enter, on some you can walk up to the roof through narrow, dark, internal corridors and stairs, on others you can get to the top by climbing big steep steps on the outside – most you can’t.
We get around on gearless bikes, but unlike Angkor in Cambodia there’s no real loop to follow. There are temples everywhere. We bike on asphalted main roads, small sandy ones where the wheels of our bikes get stuck, almost throwing us off the bikes a few times. We get lost and find our way again. The vastness of it, the extreme number of the temples, is what’s most amazing, on the inside they are almost all the same, more or less.