ESCAPESEEKER discovers a mind expanding, soul enriching, and physically exhilarating destination in the heart of Patagonia that lives up to its name!
Written by Mel Gee Henderson / Images by Weston Hall
30,000 feet, somewhere above the Andes Mountain Range – I’m composing this journal while on board LAN Airlines as we soar high above the world’s longest continental mountain range located along the western coast of South America–The Andes. Our destination, Punta Arenas, the “End of the Earth”—a place Chilean poet Pablo Neruda famously christened, “El Cometa Marino.” (The Marine Comet)
As I look out of the small window of this modern jet, cruising at 540 MPH, I am mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the snowcapped horizon below—the Southern Ice Fields so vivid—it’s as if it’s almost close enough to touch. I instantly reach for my computer because I’m filled with so much positive emotion at this very moment. I want to remember every detail of what I’m witnessing for the very first time. After all, there’s nothing quite like the anticipation of visiting a destination, which just weeks prior was occupying a line on my “Bucket List”—yes, a list of the places I hope to experience before, heaven forbid, I kick the bucket!
CHILE is comprised of some of the most amazing geography I have ever seen—sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, it’s a country rich in history and blessed with some of the most dramatic topography to be seen anywhere in the world. The resilient, noble South Americans who inhabit this long, lean country have an incredible history, a culture defined by two very different elevations, and understandably, are a people proud of their unique identity. From the precipitous heights of Torres del Paine, to the infinite ocean panorama at sea level, I’m so excited to have the opportunity to journey to the end of the world that I can actually see my heart beating through my khaki-colored expedition style shirt—after all, I’m about to explore Chilean Patagonia, and by golly, this city girl is going to look the part!
SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND…
“At Explora we offer journeys, not just a place to stay.”
I am known throughout the traveling world as the “ESCAPESEEKER”—and it so happens that I even have a TV Travel Series that bears my name. It seems only appropriate that I would seek out a travel destination whose name is synonymous with SEEK, that is “EXPLORA”…”EXPLORA PATAGONIA” to be exact. Explora’s travel philosophy really resonated with me:
“At Explora we offer journeys, not just a place to stay.”
And, what I was seeking to find are journeys that are mind expanding, soul enriching and physically exhilarating! A rather tall order I know. But listen, when you’re a mother of six, and grandmother of 8, any traveling I do better make being away from my beautiful family worth every minute of my absence!
Truthfully, the minute I laid my eyes on the iconic postcard-perfect, utterly captivating view of the granite massif of Torres del Paine National Park, complete with the sun’s rays bouncing off its equally famous Three Horns—all of which are being reflected in the unusually calm turquoise waters of Lake Pehoe, I totally forgot that it had taken us 5 long hours of driving time just to reach Explora Patagonia’s lodge, Hotel Salto Chico—the only luxury hotel located within the Torres del Paine National Park—and my new-found ESCAPESEEKER exploration headquarters.
Welcome to “Trekkers Paradise”…I decide to pinch myself to make sure I’m not just dreaming!
I walk into my immaculately prepared suite #4, with its wall-to-wall window designed to continually leave you breathless because right before your eyes is the inviting, hauntingly beautiful Torres del Paine Massif. Welcome to “Trekkers Paradise”…I decide to pinch myself to make sure I’m not just dreaming!
MY EXPLORA JOURNEY BEGINS
“Hello, My name is Cristobal, and I will be your personal guide throughout your stay.” This is where the “mind-expanding” and “physically exhilarating” segments begin. Cristobal informed me that each day, during my entire stay, I have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of explorations. And, I can choose to do so on foot, on horseback or via vehicle, a couple of hours or a full day; relaxed or physically demanding, the choice was mine to make. Knowing that the Torres del Paine National Park is home to a diverse and pristine ecosystems, I was determined to make the most of my exploration—and Cristobal guided my selection to ensure that I was signing up for activities that was congruent with my physical abilities—“Yes,” on horseback riding, but we’ll start by trotting through the beautiful pampas, and “Pass” on the more difficult 6-hour galloping rides. “No problem” Cristobal replies! That’s one of the major stand-out qualities of any of the EXPLORA destinations—you always have the choice to do as little or as much as you wish. Each of the breathtaking remote destinations, which I will be visiting, is in such unique environments that it’s hard to refuse the daily opportunities to explore. For me, knowing I would be presented with a delicious full course dinner every night was another major motivation. I knew I needed to exert enough physical effort during the day to earn my just desserts—yes, plural as in more than one. I must confess, choosing just one dessert became too difficult so I succumbed to trying them all! After all, life is short right? It wasn’t long before my hard-working photographer was right there with me, checking the dessert meñu first!
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and these images tell story after story of our unforgettable, exhilarating days spent exploring the most beautifully pristine place on earth!
I always gauge every destination we feature on the basis of what I call “The Longing Factor”—in other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, how often do I recall the travel experience, how much do I long to return?
Besides, I have to keep some of our Patagonia discoveries under wraps, otherwise I’ll be taking away my own thunder before we’re ready to unveil Part 1 of ESCAPESEEKER’s 4-part special series on “Chile: Long, Lean, and Simply Spectacular!”
We hope you’ll stay tuned, but in the meantime, if you would rather experience EXPLORA PATAGONIA sooner rather than later, I would not blame you at all. If it were up to me, I would be returning tomorrow! I always gauge every destination we feature on the basis of what I call “The Longing Factor”—in other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, how often do I recall the travel experience, how much do I long to return? With Explora Patagonia, the score amongst my entire ESCAPESEEKER team was a resounding 10! We would definitely do it again in a heartbeat—but next time, how about no writing, no filming assignment. I, for one, would like to just sit on the dock of Hotel Salto Chico and take it all in…the fresh, clean air, the jaw-dropping scenery, and at nightfall, before the billions and billions of stars, take a moment to thank the Heavens for eyes that can witness such majesty, and for a healthy heart that feels so alive. Ok, maybe I would write just a little…perhaps compose a poetic verse or two, and maybe even channel Chile’s gifted and beloved Poet, Pablo Neruda who said, “I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.”
I challenge you to explore this wondrous country of Chile, and you tell me if it doesn’t bring out the poet in you!
Here’s to wishing you never-ending, blissfully SPECTACULAR ESCAPES…