Patagonia - One step beyond by Exodus' Jim Eite
As a long time devotee of all things African I recently started to have feelings for somewhere else, somewhere a little different! Now I am not normally one to dither on a decision, but there is something about South America that is eating away at my insides, a bug - not a parasite or anything like that, but a travel bug, the yearning to see more and to explore, the desire to go back.
On the face of it I've always found my friends and colleagues to be similar to me, harbouring a soft spot for one region over another, for one reason or another, a specific memory or experience that takes them back, that jogs an emotion in their travel memory. On the face of it the highlights of Latin America can stack up versus those of Africa ... the Aztecs and Inca civilisations versus the Egyptians, Iguassu Falls versus Victoria Falls, the Serengeti or Masai Mara versus the Pantanal or Amazon Basin, Atacama or the Namib Dunes, but the one thing that stands alone is Patagonia, and specifically Torres del Paine National Park. Nowhere else that I've been fortunate enough to visit is there a land that blows you away, both literally and metaphorically!
Situated about 150km from Puerto Natales, and the main draw encouraging travellers to head south from Santiago, almost along the length of the entire country lies the vast sweeping vista of the Torres! Renowned for it's rugged unspoilt beauty, this raw yet vulnerable landscape is an inspiring destination. The stunning lakes and mountains draw sightseers, but to explore it's hidden depths you need to pull on your boots, lace them up tight and head off into the wilderness. The landscape is dominated by the 'Paine Massif', a spur of the mighty Andes created over 10 million years ago as a result of lava breaking through the earth's crust, slowly rising up shaping crags and peaks for the wind and rain to then get hold off. It's centre piece is the three granite towers, the Torres Del Paine, rising some 3000 metres above sea level and picturesquely reflected in a small glacial lagoon whose hues change as quickly as the weather.
The park is well marked with some superb day routes, or longer variations including the 'W' and epic Torres Circuit. All have subtle daily variations that with them stunning views of jagged peaks, crashing glacial ice or intriguing wildlife at almost every corner, it truly is one of those places that gets under your skin and will stay long in the memory. Exploring some of the treks, and sights and sounds, further a field in South America will only serve to reiterate that South America is a destination waiting to be discovered.
Does it live up to Africa, most definitely, does it offer more to the visitor well you'll just have to see it for yourself.