Chile: The Two Extremes

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During our visit, the group headed off on various programs, including a trek into the Queulat National Park, a rapturous 380,000-acre collection of virgin forest, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and fjords so pristine it looked like Mother Nature came down and vacuumed the night before. Indeed, she was giving it still another wash job that morning as we climbed into covered boats that looked like surplus lifeboats off an ocean liner, with a misty rain accompanying us as we disembarked and headed into the trekking area by bus. When we arrived, we headed down a narrow trail, slipping and sliding in the mud, before coming to a suspension bridge, crossing just two at a time and peering down into a rushing river scrubbing boulders ferociously as it made its way through the forest.

Finally, we arrived at a lagoon that sat amidst towering peaks, at first shrouded in mist and clouds and then slowly clearing, revealing ribbons of water cascading down along the sheer walls of the mountain and finally, a white sphere began to emerge in a bowl between towering peaks, slowly taking form as sunlight swept away the last of the mist and there was the glacier, sparkling like an enormous diamond on the horizon. It was awesome—an indescribable light and water show that would put the Las Vegas Bellagio’s legendary water show to shame, all brought to you by Mother Nature herself.

After making our way back up out of the valley and across that damn suspension bridge again, we boarded the boats and headed back to the lodge for a Patagonia bbq—a culinary magic not to be missed. Forget the stainless steel grills suburbanites use, this a concoction of just about every meat imaginable—chicken, pork, beef, sausage—all prepared by at least two cooks and their assistants in a deep pit over smoldering logs, along with a huge salad bar and fresh breads—it’s to die for. Later, it’s time to head for one of the three hot springs warmed by the region’s volcanoes. The bravest of us—or the dumbest—wallowed in the warm water and then leaped into the frigid fjord, defying all common sense. Needless to say, the fjord dip doesn’t last long before you gratefully leap back into the hot springs.

The next morning, it’s check-out time and back on board the catamaran for the unforgettable finale of the Patagonia visit—an 8-hour sailing through still more gorgeous scenery, past heart-stopping verdant forests and an overall unforgettable backdrop of unspoiled beauty before arriving at Laguna San Raphael, where we spend the afternoon getting an up-close look at the San Raphael Glacier, a massive field of ice spanning some 286 sq. miles and yet despite its gargantuan size, losing a tragic battle to global warming, making this incredible spectacle recede some 328 ft. per year.

But today, it’s still all here and the group buckles into life vests and breaks up into groups to take their turn to climb aboard one of two zodiacs for an up-close look at this beautiful marvel of nature. It’s an exciting experience to hunker down in these boats and watch and wait for the inevitable calving as both large and small pieces of the glacier break off and crash into the water, while cormorants and sea gulls glide by perched nonchalantly on small ice flows or flitting across the bow as they fish the frigid waters. There’s an almost sci-fi look to the glacier as you stare into it and pick out the various reflecting lights playing out within, almost like a mirror you could walk right into if you tried. In all of its massiveness, up-close parts of it look almost as fragile as glass.

Back on board, tradition demands a cocktail on ice—San Raphael Glacier ice, in fact. And who are we to deny tradition. All too soon, it’s time to head back out of that area of Patagonia and enjoy another delicious onboard dinner serving while sailing six hours back to Chacabuco and a late-night check-in at the Hotel Loberius del Sur, a traditional, charming and comfortable hotel with cable and satellite TV, clean, comfortable rooms and just 15 minutes from Aiken del Sur Park, our destination the next day.