The following post details the Nowhere Men’s journey from March 28 – April 2:
The drive on Ruta 40 from El Bolson down to Esquel and then on our way back into Chile revealed and validated what we’d heard about the dry, pampas planes characteristic of the Argentine side of Patagonia. It explains why we found most regional itineraries focused on Chile, where the climate is wetter and therefore life more vibrant.
We camped next to Futeleufu River at a site that very well may have been our most beautiful camp site of the entire trip to date. A fury of crystalized fresh water roared past, providing us water we freely used to boil pasta, make coffee, and just drink sight unseen. We set the tent up on an island of sand, surrounded by a sea of rocks, each it’s own size, shape, and shade of earth tone. Above us and up the mountain slope endless evergreens breathed life into the cool air. They were protected from the full force of the mid morning sun by a thick layer of fog that evaporated bit by bit as the yellow ball in the sky climbed higher and grew stronger.
Patagonian water, unlike so much contaminated free flowing river and lake water from across Latin America, is not something to fear in the slightest but to enjoy unabashedly. It was as if the water of the river was drawn by crayon, except the normal blue crayon had gone missing, so the artist had to use some other shade that didn’t quite make sense, but turned the canvas into something far more eye-catching.
Everything is bigger in Chile. It’s like the Texas of South America, even down to the striking resemblance it shares with the Lone Star State’s iconic flag. We felt like Gulliver in the Land of the Giants, Brobdingnag. The people are bigger than anywhere we’d been, thanks to a historical evolution generally devoid of indigenous actors, and nature seemed to be multiplied ten times its normal size. We felt like miniature versions of ourselves driving through these enlarged Chilean mountainscapes.
But now, we were truly and completely in Patagonia. Each dawn would bring us new beauty and something unprecedented to appreciate. Our whole journey had been an expedition to this remote part of the South American continent and we’d embrace it with open arms and attentive eyes. We couldn’t miss a thing.
In order to understand just how magnificent and awe-inspiring Patagonia is, think of the most epic and exhilarating song you know, the one that really gets a rise out of your goosebumps and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Now think of a landscape, place, or even moment in time in your life that matches the music. Stretch that sensation over the hundreds of miles that encapsulates Patagonia and you have a starting point for the emotions this compartment of the world demands.
Entry into Patagonia signified a crucial juncture in the arc of our journey. It felt like our cultural experiences, getting to know the people from the places through which we traveled, was now in the rearview. All of those interactions melted away into the vat of memories we’d amassed, leaving just us three alone with Velita and the silence of our surroundings. It was as if the Patagonian turf was enough on its own that we could not simultaneously handle any cultural inculcation, any interactions with the locals who call it home. The mountains demanded our unperturbed attention. The road was long and winding and seemed to go on that way forever.
One of these surprise turns, however, had not a beautiful mountain to behold but an upraised wooden plank at the start of a bridge that dismounted the radio and sent an earthquake-like shake upon the car. We’d soon learn that this mega-sized jolt also cracked one of the leaves of our suspension; we needed to visit yet another mechanic. The roads would transition between pavement and rocky rubble for miles and miles to come. We could only hope but to minimize further damage before we could get Velita back in the shop.
The suspension work set us back a day and a hard-to-swallow chunk of our remaining cash. It was cold in Coyhaique, but we had no idea what we were in store for once we left. On the upward drive to Cerro Castillo, as faint whisks of air seeped through the poorly insulated rubber linings around the doors and windows of the car, we began to fear the cold. The drive was dramatic, nonetheless. A stubborn fog hung defiantly above jagged mountains, while trees painted in autumn hues covered the terrain.
We slept in a paralyzing freeze. But in the morning the elements repaid us with an unveiling of the splendor of our setting. That array of colors in the trees presented a magnificent contrast with the now alive sky, bursting with a blue brightness that had been hidden behind days of grey. We packed up our tent still aching from the cold under a mountain’s shadow and descended 1000 meters to the foot of Cerro Castillo.
Now that we were in Patagonia for real, we were in need of an inaugural hike. That’s where Cerro Castillo came in. It had been a long time since we’d gone on a serious upward trek, the sting of Machu Picchu still resting in our bones. But we shook off the cobwebs and went for it. As we neared the top, the landscape below appeared frozen in place. Clouds hung static in the sky, the snaking river sat motionless, and the browned rocky ledges commanded all in its wake to sit as still as it. Not a hint of wind disturbed the peace. The laguna behind the peak’s zenith was worth the visit, making up in tranquility what it lacked in arresting beauty, the sun already tucked behind the hurdles of hills that prevented the blue water from glistening at full force. We were happy enough, however, and proud of ourselves for completing what certainly was a much more arduous climb than that of which we’d anticipated.
For dinner we didn’t skimp. It was our one-year anniversary on the road and this called for a celebration. Of course, there was nobody else to celebrate with, so we took it upon ourselves to buy a real dinner and cheers to the occasion.
We drove up to Lago General Carrera in the morning having read that it was both beautiful and behemoth. This purified body of water mirrored the light blue of the sky, but added two shades of darkness while still maintaining an enchanting translucent quality. It was as if the sky poured itself onto the Earth below and was then mixed with liquid sapphire. As we circled around its boundary, through the sharp and rocky green and brown cliffs, we marveled at how the lake managed to steal the stare so deserving of the whitened peaks pasted in its periphery. The view itself seemed as if taken from a photograph from a faraway world and superimposed into a real life place.
We promised ourselves we’d explore the lake some way or another in at least an attempt to split up long stretches of driving. Another boat ride seemed overplayed for us, so when Alex brought up the possibility of kayaking to marble caves in a hidden pocket of this fresh water wonder, we were all on board.
The kayaking itself was enjoyable in so much as it was novel for us. We arrived at a series of spectacular silver stone structures jutting out from the water. This is where our boat driver Juan dropped off our kayaks and us. We paddled around for a fleeting window of time. But after no more than thirty minutes, General Carrera came alive, bombarding us with increasingly enraged undulations. We could no longer steer ourselves on our kayaks, let alone film the experience, and so Juan, taking note of our struggles, called us back to the motor boat he then promptly used to jet us back to the docks where we’d come from.
We were pleased at having discovered and completed something novel that afternoon. So, logically, we loaded back up and cruised Velita around the rim of Lago General Carrera until we found ourselves an idyllic camping spot on the docks of a lakeside town not more than an hour and a half on the road back towards Argentina.
We had grown incredibly casual in the handling of the awesomeness of our days. In the past two days alone we’d climbed to a laguna with such a mythological presence it could have served as Zeus’s own toilet bowl, followed by a bizarre night camping at an active construction sight, proceeded by yet another day exploring the magical world of marble-laden natural caves and cathedrals in a perfectly uncorrupted lake before creating a temporary tent home on its shore. When we thought of this all in the grand scheme of things, comparing it to how those same two days may have been otherwise wasted toiling away behind a plain white desk in an equally uninspiring office building, we easily and again fell under the spell of the spoils of our lives on the road.