Tag Archives: Fitz Roy

An Englishman in Patagonia: book review

An Englishman in Patagonia: book review

In ‘An Englishman in Patagonia’, John Pilkington beautifully details his eight-month backpacking trip, south from Santiago, winding his way along the Andes, through the heart of Patagonia to the end of the world in Ushuaia, before heading back up the Argentine coastline. Spurred on by the tales of legendary adventurers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Fitzroy, Charles Darwin and contemporary travellers like Bruce Chatwin, Pilkington sets out to lift the veil on the mystery surrounding Patagonia.

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Beginning his journey by immersing himself in the frenzy of Santiago, Pilkington moves on to attend a house-moving ceremony on Chiloé Island (more exciting than it sounds), explores remote estancias (ranches) in Aysen, and hikes amongst the lofty peaks of the Fitz Roy range and Torres del Paine. He delves into the maritime history of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel, runs errands for a Canadian adventure company in Punta Arenas, and catches a US Airforce flight to King George Island on the Antartica Peninsula, before eventually heading north again to spend time with the remote farmers on the Atlantic coast and the friendly Welsh communities in the Chubut Valley. This voyage of discovery finishes by unravelling one of Patagonia’s greatest legends – the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Armed with a lightweight tent and a sturdy pair of walking boots, the author regularly jaunts off the beaten track to discover the true Patagonia. Along the way he meets an intriguing collection of unique characters, many of them with strong British or European heritage. He meets the descendants of Scottish sheep farmers, hippies from Switzerland, emigrants who escaped a crumbling post-war Germany and of course enjoys tea with those brave Welsh settlers. From all of Pilkington’s encounters, it soon becomes evident that Patagonians share a fierce sense of identity, a pioneering spirit and an unshakable fortitude that has allowed these hardy people to forge a living in one of the wildest places on earth.

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Some of the Swoop team have been lucky enough to meet John Pilkington in person and they all speak very highly of his amicable nature. You get the impression that the residents of Patagonia also readily warm to this lonesome British traveller, and as a result the tales of their lives in the region naturally pour forth. He remains impartial and non-judgemental throughout, siding with neither the Chileans or Argentinians when addressing their many differences and causes for quarrel.

By the end of the book, the reader will have garnered a new perspective on Patagonia. It is not a barren land, buried away at the bottom of the world, but a place of wonder and enchantment with plenty of welcoming people to share it with.

Charles and Eva’s Patagonia walking adventure.

Charles and Eva’s Patagonia walking adventure.

Charles and Eva returned in January from a two-week trip to Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and share some tips for other people planning a trip.

Charles and Eva’s Feedback:

We would give you five out of five! Our main worry before the trip was the complicated logistics; especially in Torres del Paine in the middle of the busy season. Swoop handled it extremely well; there was always a spot reserved for us on crowded buses and a warm bed waiting for us in the refugios bursting in the seams on a rainy cold day.

Do not do anything differently; you are doing just fine!

We will recommend you to anybody who likes the mountains, is fit enough for some serious walking and understands that life there is still a bit more simple than in Paris or New York.

Charles and Eva’s Itinerary:

Charles and Eva started their journey in El Calafate, where they enjoyed an excursion to the to the Perito Moreno Glacier before heading off to a 6 day hike through Torres del Paine.  While hiking Torres del Paine they took in the sights of Valle Frances, Lago Nordenskjold, Lago Grey and the Towers of Paine. After that they spent 5 days on some self guided day hikes from El Chalten, where they took in some fantastic views of Fitz Roy and came back to the Hostal Los Nires each night to relax and enjoy the evening.

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How were Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares?

Both Laura in Puerto Natales and Zoe in El Chalten were warm and helpful. We had only one or two very minor issues to deal with and both were handled promptly and with competence. In Dittmar we especially appreciated their detailed day-to- day itinerary with the instructions for the dummies. Whenever we were not quite sure about something, we just looked (in Torres Charles was wearing it in a waterproof plastic bag around his neck) and there was always an answer. Good job!

The itinerary was lovely; again, we would not change anything.

We used guide services only during the trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier. The guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and bilingual in English and French.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

It is hard to single out just one or two things; the overall experience was very special. We had rain and shine; experienced wind that made us crawl on the belly and a whiteout like in January in the Rockies, but also some incredibly perfect, glorious days with blue skies and jaw-dropping views. We saw condors and vicunas, lovely lenga and nire beech trees, orchids, beautiful tiny alpine wildflowers and more. I think every day there was precious.

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Our tips to other people:

  • Use the wonderful Swoop flexibility and get an extra day or two wherever possible, especially in El Chalten as a backup for a rainy day. We did the Fitz Roy hike twice and it was worth every penny.
  • Learn some Spanish – it really helps.
  • Do not go cheap on GoreTex – it is nice to be dry.
  • We spent five fun days in Buenos Aires. We stayed in a nice hotel in the Microcentro (American Towers; ca $100 a night with all taxes included via Expedia) and did all the touristy things we could think of. We also gained ca 6 pounds each.

Thanks for everything!

Want to have your own walking adventure in Patagonia? Talk to us today.