It is an eventful journey; an adventure, our experiences undulating between ‘wows’ and ‘whoas’. Nothing in this land is simply ordinary. I had read of the iconic Patagonian image being a proud male guanaco standing on a hilltop with a snowy backdrop mountain. And, sure enough, there he is.
Even the flamingos we see in a lake border on the ordinary in this extraordinary wilderness, and upland geese are far too common to warrant more than one quick photograph. A punkish Magellanic woodpecker, however, is striking enough to draw us into a clothes-tugging spiky thicket in order to try to capture a decent shot of his flaming head.
With beauty comes the beast, in this case a swarm of beasts. As we cross a wide plain of coarse grasslands we’re assaulted by the most vicious mosquitoes I’ve ever had the displeasure of being bitten by. They are able to seek out the smallest patch of exposed skin. Even though we wrap our faces almost as thoroughly as Egyptian mummies in dated horror movies, we find each of us has picked up a few angry welts by the time we reach the sanctuary of a small bridge which landmarks the end of the battlefield.
A melting glacier has left a river crossing our path gushing enthusiastically with water which is bone-chilling blue in colour. There is no bridge, if there ever were stepping stones they’re now submerged. Our philosophy-studying guide finds a spot which is not so much shallow as less deep than other parts. We take off shoes and socks and roll up trouser legs as far as we can before gingerly stepping into the liquid ice. The river bed is rocky and the water pushes forcefully like a bully trying to knock us over. As for the temperature… it’s so cold it numbs legs instantly, making the crossing more bearable than if it were just cold.
Once safely on the other bank we warm our feet on a friendly sandbank before making our way to a small grassy valley. Beside a narrow but deep ravine, our guide sets up a blackened, oft used kettle on a small camping gas cannister and we lounge on the grass, chatting easily about all sorts over a lunch of simple things – dried fruit, nuts, an apple. We are flying high courtesy of this wild, wondrous world inside Parque Patagonia in Chile. But as we yabber, eyes occasionally flick towards the scar of the ravine and a narrow, flimsy looking bridge made of wooden slats which is our only way to proceed.
There are still a few chapters left in this particular Patagonian adventure.