When a recent photo assignment put me on a plane to Patagonia, I had no idea what to expect. As a photographer, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot the rugged landscapes of Iceland and California’s Central Coast, and I assumed the terrain in Patagonia would contend with these favorite spots of mine. What I didn’t understand, and what any first time visitor can’t comprehend before they get there, is the sheer magnitude of this magnificent region. There is no comparison to be made between this land and anything else I’ve ever seen. Patagonia is truly one of a kind.
My exact destination was Torres Del Paine National Park, located at the southern tip of Chile. The journey to get there is no easy feat. It consists of multiple flights, long layovers, and a 4-hour drive on rough roads. When you finally arrive, there is an overwhelming sense that you are at the edge of the world. The buildings, trees, and landscape all have an indescribable weather-beaten patina.
To survive the brutal winters and an ever-present wind that’s strong enough to cut through rock, resiliency is required. You see this resiliency in the eyes and weathered faces of the Chilean cowboys, known as gauchos, roaming through the mountains on horseback. Watching a gaucho ride down a hillside from inside a car is humbling. They ride straight and with ease while the car zigzags slowly, often skidding awkwardly.
One morning, I hiked up a large hill to photograph the sunrise. As I stumbled to the top, the sun began to peek over the snow-capped mountains in the distance. I was overcome with awe as I watched the morning light illuminate the valley below.
Recounting my morning adventure to the gauchos over breakfast I was immediately scolded and laughed at. “Pumas!” one said. “Idiot!” said another. “Pumas?” I asked. They nodded. Their warnings of exotic predators struck me as surreal, and the gauchos themselves appeared to be otherworldly at that moment, their reality starkly different than mine.
If you share my desire to get off the beaten path, I highly recommend you add Patagonia to your bucket list. Be sure to bold face the type, underline it twice, and circle it with a pink marker. It is weird, and beautiful, and incomparable.