TORRES DEL PAINE (Chile), Feb 23 — When we can travel again, Patagonia is a destination to consider if you enjoy the outdoors and natural wonders.
From jagged mountain peaks to challenging trekking trails, even for experienced hikers, Patagonia feels like a world of its own.
We say goodbye to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina and begin our journey to the great wilderness. But what is the great wilderness when everything we have encountered thus far in Patagonia has been nothing but wilderness?
It feels like in Patagonia every destination involves a day trip of sorts, but the next stage of our wanderings won’t necessitate heading out. When you are surrounded by lakes and fjords, grasslands and forests, sometimes the destination itself is the journey.
What is our destination, then? EcoCamp, an environment-forward dome-based lodgings in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park. Opened in 2001, it was the region’s first fully sustainable accommodation south of the Amazon with the world’s first geodesic hotel rooms.
Yet the camp is hardly run by hipster hoteliers; instead EcoCamp is owned and operated by Chilean adventure tour operator Cascada Expediciones, which in turn was founded by Yerko Ivelic, Javier Lopez and Nani Astorga. These are folks who understand the region and care for the environment.
Consider this a very different sort of staycation.
Getting there means we will first have to end our Patagonia trip in Argentina and travel over to the Chilean side. Early in the morning, while it’s still dark and dawn is still a couple of hours away, we boarded a small van and began our journey.
Soon after sunrise, we reach the border of Argentina and Chile. Then it’s a quick stop, one after the other, at the immigration offices of Argentina and Chile to get our passports stamped.
The immigration office in Argentina looks like a small wooden house from a distance, while the one in Chile is bigger, but the design and furnishings of both are very basic. There is no frou-frou here. The staff mostly come from the region itself; most are friendly and laid back.
We spot fellow travellers including a Japanese cross-country cyclist waiting for the weather to improve — chances of rain is just about any time and any day in Patagonia; the climate is fickle here.
Everyone nods to each other, acknowledging both our purpose in visiting the region and the unpredictable weather.
Soon we are back on our way to the camp. As we get deeper into the national park, we spot more animals. Guanacos and rheas. Raptors in the air, hunting for prey on the ground.
Our driver is very accommodating. Whenever he sees any of these animals, he will stop for us to snap pictures. Tourism drives the local economy, after all. Customer service isn’t a pain; an obliging nature is part of their day to day life.
Even with the helpful people around us, let’s be honest: moving from one accommodation to the next when covering such a large expanse can be tiring.
So we are definitely looking forward to almost a week of staying at the EcoCamp, with it as our base in Torres del Paine National Park, without having to pack, move, unpack repeatedly.
It is slightly after lunchtime when we arrive at the camp. EcoCamp is located on a small hill at the foot of Torres del Paine National Park, where the scenery is simply breathtaking even without us having to trek far on full-day hikes.
We can simply stay in one place and take it all in.
Of course, where we will be staying is inside one of EcoCamp’s geodesic domes. These are decorated in the local Patagonian style with locally made furnishings. The earth tones, the fabrics, the aged wooden planks — they all speak of the region.
Interestingly, the design is based on the “leave no trace” dwellings of the ancient Kaweskar tribes. The philosophy here is that should there be a need to move or pack up the entire camp one day, there will be nothing remaining of these near spherical huts; only the land that was here before.
Inside the spacious Suite Dome — each more than a comfortable 28 metres square — there is a bed, a private bathroom with hot water, a modern low-emission wood stove and even a composting toilet to adhere to the sustainability mission of the camp.
One could say this is a form of glamping (a portmanteau of “glamorous” and “camping”), albeit with a serious green bent. It’s not a resort; you’re not going to be waited on hand and foot, and there isn’t even WiFi (intentionally so) but it is a chance to get back to Nature and perhaps to listen to a part of ourselves we have been too busy to pay attention to.
For it is very quiet here.
Even when we are led to the Community Domes — shared living and dining areas — there aren’t many other campers. Most are outside, exploring the mountains and the lakes, the forest and the hidden trails.
As we have a late lunch and further warm up with a hot cuppa, we gaze outside the windows. The natural beauty, the stunning scenery. It all stretches out in the distance.
We finish our meal and our beverages, and head outside. The fresh air, oh the fresh air.
Occasionally you can see wild hares hopping in the grass and southern crested caracaras soaring in the sky. Wildlife is abundant here, if you keep an eye out for them.
It feels like everything could go on forever.
Later, at night, you can hear the strong winds rustling the tent-like fabric of the domes. The rustling of nocturnal creatures: the sound of grey foxes frolicking, the thrill of knowing even pumas may prowl in the area. It’s a different world out here.
But before settling down for the night, while there is still daylight, the rain lightens from a steady downpour to a drizzle. Almost a mist.
That’s when we see the double rainbow.
Without the obstruction of tall buildings, it hangs naked in the sky, which is really moving. It’s a different world out here.
This double rainbow is almost an affirmation of that. Whatever happens in our world, it can find a way to heal and thrive. We just have to do our part too.
Estancia Cerro Paine, Torres del Paine, Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena, Chile
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