Category Archives: Guest posts

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

In Spring 2016 Harriet, Chloe and Sally will be downing tools and heading to Patagonia. Regular trips like these ensure we stay close to our roots and maintain our in-depth knowledge of the region. We test out new trips, visit new parks, hike new routes and eat in new restaurants – all in the name of research, of course.

Harriet – Trekking, Mountaineering & Aysen Specialist


On a Swoop recce to Reserva Cerro Castillo in 2015

I am focusing all three weeks of my trip on the little visited Aysen region of Chile. I am planning to follow the spine of the Andes from north to south: trekking from Lago Verde to Lago Palena, visiting the Queulat National Park, sightseeing and relaxing on the Lago General Carrera. The final week of my Aysen adventure will be spent in the Patagonia Park, getting to know the various treks and day hikes there.


The Autumn colours of Aysen

I am very excited about the Patagonia Park. It’s an area that is receiving a large amount of coverage in the press at the moment, because of its link with the late Doug Tompkins, The North Face founder. I know a particular corner of Aysen fairly well, as in 2002 I spent 3 weeks in the Tamango Reserve volunteering on a biodiversity study.


Admiring Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) in Queulat in 2010

The Tamango Reserve is now to be integrated into the New Patagonia National park. I am very keen for Swoop to be able to offer some new and exciting adventures within the national park and only by getting into the area and exploring it with our local partners will I be able to truly understand what I am offering our customers.


Pedalling towards Lago General Carrera in 2010

The trek between Lago Verde and Lago Palena is reported to be one of the best in Aysen. I first discovered the trek on a friend’s blog, as the photos he took are absolutely incredible. I am entranced by the apparently enchanted forests and what looks like some great streams to swim in, but also the apparent remoteness and tranquility. I can’t wait to experience it for myself.

Chloe – Wildlife & Cruise Specialist

Prepping for the Patagonian winds on the Devonshire coast

My first ever trip to Patagonia – I’m SO excited! As Swoop’s cruise and wildlife specialist, I’m starting off with a 4 night ‘Wildlife, Glaciers and Cape Horn‘ cruise through the Chilean Fjords from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (pronounced ‘oosh – why – ah’). I will be heading out on a number of excursions to see glaciers and wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Penguins of Isla Magdalena

My next stop will be the mountain town of El Chalten, where I’ll take a 2 day hike to Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre and go rafting, before heading to El Calafate for an ice hike on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

Next – the absolute highlight for me – a Humpback Whale Watching trip in Chile, where I’ll be spending three days studying the whales that congregate in the waters of the Magellan strait from my base at an eco research camp on Carlos III Island.

Breaching humpback Whale off Carlos III Island

On the final leg of the trip I’ll be venturing to the famous Torres del Paine National Park to hike the W Trek, and try out some of the park’s hotels, eco yurt camps and luxury lodges.

The famous Towers or ‘Torres’ of Paine

Sally – Lake District & Bespoke Trip Specialist

Sally Lago Nordenskjold (1)

The flights are booked but unlike Chloe, there is really only a loose plan as to how I’ll be spending my 21 nights! One thing that is for sure though is that I am just as excited.

I absolutely love Chile and having spent so much time there over the years it always feels like going home. On this trip I will have the opportunity to visit the new Tantauco Park in the southern part of Chiloe Island. It’s a private park of 118,000 hectares with a new network of hiking refugios, virgin forests, exquisite bird life and wonderful flora.


The Bay of Ancud, Chiloe Island

I am utterly obsessed with Chiloe Island. It is charming, quaint, relaxing, captivating, intoxicating – time simply slows down. Whenever I visit, I am always filled with the sensation that I simply just don’t want to leave. As I was on the ferry leaving the island after my last visit I wrote a few words in my diary…

There is something about Chiloe that grabs me every time I visit, it sounds silly but something reaches deep down inside and touches my soul. It fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction for having been here, experiencing the tranquility, calmness and simplicity to life. Thank you Chiloe.

I simply can’t wait to discover this new part of the island.

For the second part of my trip I am hoping to white water raft down the mighty Futaleufu river, then cross into Argentina to either hike, kayak or mountain bike (or all 3!), using the small town of San Martin de Los Andes as my base.


If we’ve inspired you with our passion for Patagonia and you’re interested in any of the trips or activities on which we’re embarking, then we’d love to hear from you to help you plan your incredible adventure. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at our Itinerary Selector to help you decide what sort of trip might suit you best.


The history of Patagonian wine

The history of Patagonian wine

Swoop Guest Blog: Richard Power @thewineoceros

My good friend and wine-lover Rich Power has kindly shared some background on Patagonian wine. The main region he refers to lies about 5 hours to the north east of Bariloche and a visit to the vineyards here could be integrated into a visit to the north Patagonian Andes.

History of Patagonian wine:
When confronted by one of the world’s most remote yet beautiful landscapes, or exploring mountain rivers and lakes etched from glaciers with rugged terrain that seems hijacked from another planet, it is easy to get the sense of awe that the early explorers felt when they came to South America. What is not so easy to comprehend is how this country could come to produce such incredible wines given the climate and terrain.

Heading back to the 16th Century, the Americas was unchartered territory, which meant that explorers keen to claim the world for their own would be plentiful. The Europeans – from Spain, Portugal, Britain and the Netherlands, all had designs on new places, and like any good expedition into the unknown, the Europeans liked to bring with them a decent shipment of religion and vines. And so it was that vines came to South America. I am sure that Alfred Dreyfus was one French export that didn’t enjoy being sent to South America, but Malbec clearly has had other ideas, and has flourished like no other grape.

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Within the last 100 years wine is now being produced in many parts of South America, and often to an extremely high standard. I have to admit that it was not until relatively recently that I chanced upon Patagonian wine, and discovered to my surprise the variety and pleasure to be had with the wines from this region. I was eager to learn more…

I, like the original explorers, have been awed by the diverse terrain of Patagonia, and was more than a little surprised to discover the incredible work being done by some of the talented vignerons, putting Patagonian wines squarely on the map.

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Rio Negro South of Mendoza is home to superb Patagonian wines

Competition is hotting up

If Mendoza Malbec is Argentina’s superstar pin up boy at present then Patagonian wine represents the young, slightly more refined, upstart – daring to try something a bit different in order to get recognised. Whilst Mendoza wines can be characterised by their power, fruit and macho qualities, Patagonian wines offer a bit of a twist on the style with cooler minerality and a bracing streak of acidity, perfect for more delicate dishes.

So what should you look out for?

In general, the wines here are usually low production, boutique wines, which has really allowed the wine makers an opportunity to try out new things, with the style and expression of their vineyards. The main quality wine producing areas are:

Rio Negro plateau – 700km South of Mendoza, predominantly Malbec, but with a typicity and sense of place, that other parts of South America struggle to emulate.

Neqúena (1300ft above sea level) – Old vines planted in the 1950s, which create complex wines full of bite, expression and rich in acidity and freshness.

Viedma (on the Pacific coast). At over 1000 km South of Buenos Aires, Viedma is extremely Southern for a wine growing region. It is well worth a visit in October to witness the mass movements of the potbellied silversides as they swim up river in the annual spawning ritual. Locals prepare the fish by simply breading and frying lightly in oil, and of course washing down with a glass or two of the local wines next to where they were caught see below.

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Unique climate

What makes Patagonian wine so unique and capable is the cooling winds that keep the sun at bay on the Rio Negro plateau. It also keeps the nights cool, helping the grapes ripen more evenly. Inventive winemakers have also mastered the use of altitude, which goes some way to creating the bracing acidity and crisp fruit flavours, not really achieved elsewhere in South America. While Malbec is understandably king in this part of the world, there are a number of growers using other varieties that add further interest to these wines. Don’t be surprised to come across Pinot Noir, Cabernet or Semillon on your travels – and of course they make a wonderful accompaniment to the local cuisines.

“Altitude and attitude – get both right and the wines speak for themselves”
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Vineyards with the incredible mountain backdrops

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Traditionally clad horseman can still be found working the vineyard

If like me you are a sucker for incredible vineyards (I could quite happily spend days in them), and you also like seeking out new wines from unusual regions, then you should certainly look into the wines from this area. In much the same way those early explorers found the land to be diverse, full of character and ripe for exploring, you will find the wines exhibit similar qualities. You can usually find a bottle or two at a good independent wine merchant (you may have to try a few off the beaten track) but it is certainly worth making the effort and seeking out. Equally if you are lucky enough to be visiting the region, be sure to look up a few of the wineries in the area, who will no doubt extend a warm welcome and a glass or two of their charming wines!



Pacific Solo Row – Elsa Hammond Interview

Pacific Solo Row – Elsa Hammond Interview

Yesterday afternoon we were lucky enough to have Elsa Hammond visit us in the Swoop office, and inspire us with her extraordinary plans: Elsa will row solo and unsupported 2,400 miles from California to Hawaii.
We thought people would be interested to hear about her challenge that lies ahead, her environmental goals and the opportunity to recognise an inspirational woman in their own lives.

Elsa, you’ve done a lot of exciting things, and visited lots of places. What are the top 3 most inspiring places you’ve been to and why?

Wow – that’s a difficult one to start with! I’ve been to so many different places that inspire me for lots of different reasons. There are a lot of amazing places in this world, so I’ve decided to pick three that both inspired me when I visited them, and continue to haunt my thoughts long afterwards.

New Zealand
For sheer variety and a sense of freshness and excitement. I spent two months travelling both islands back in 2005, and it wasn’t nearly enough. I felt completely at home and constantly excited at the possibilities this modest-sized country holds. From skydiving to kayaking with dolphins, black water rafting to home-made hot tubs, this was somewhere I felt welcomed, challenged and soothed. Of all the places I’ve visited, this is perhaps the one I’d like to return to the most.

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Lake District, UK
This has always been a very special place for me, even though I only visited it for the first time half-way through my life-so-far. For me the whole feel of the place is caught up with stories and poems  that I love, and I find it difficult to separate it completely from these. There is a softness about the light and the shadows, the rain, the shapes of the great hills, and the feel of the water. It’s brilliant for camping, hiking, climbing, swimming, kayaking, and sailing – adventure right on our doorstep.

I was recently looking through some old photos of me as a child growing up in Italy, and noticed that I had a couple of postcards of the Lakes up on the wall. Seeing them in the photo, I remembered those postcards well: I used to look at them for hours, imagining the adventure that lay behind the pictures. The Lakes were alive for me through Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons stories long before I ever went there. My first visit was when I was fourteen. We spent three weeks camping on the shores of Coniston Water and miraculously we didn’t have a day of rain.

Maliau Basin, Borneo
None of the pictures I can find of this place really manage to convey the sense of wildness, greatness, age, peace, noise, growth, damp, movement and stillness. It is a huge wilderness of pristine primary rainforest, a self-contained ecosystem that has never been permanently inhabited by humans. Plants grow at astonishing speed, and the insects are huge. The sound of gibbons making their morning call across the valley is something that still stays with me. I love the way the whole jungle sounds alive with insects, birds, animal noises, branches, rivers and rain. When it rains, it really rains. Rustles in the canopy above mean monkeys swinging through the trees, and flash-floods can increase the height of the river by six feet overnight. It is one of the busiest places I’ve been in terms of constant life, but also one of the most peaceful. You are continually surrounded by wildlife, but hardly ever see it – it is all sounds, rustles, calls, and breaking twigs, with the perpetrator remaining constantly elusive.

Lyme Regis 2014
You’re about to embark on a solo row across the Pacific Ocean. What’s involved and what are you most looking forward to? 

This June I’ll be starting the longest and most difficult challenge of my life up to now – rowing alone and unsupported across the Pacific Ocean from Monterey Bay, CA to Hawaii. I will be at sea for around three months, and will row up to 16 hours a day to cross 2,400 miles of ocean. This will be a different kind of rowing from the sort of river rowing I did at university – the focus is on endurance, survival, and keeping going for hours, days and months on end. My boat is different too – 24 foot long, with two small covered cabins (one to sleep in and one for storage) and enough space to store 3-4 months’ worth of food. People ask me about the fact that it’s a long, long way, and whether this is daunting. It is a long way, and in a very foreign environment, but I think part of appeal is learning to accept and even embrace the difficult parts, and slowly learn to thrive somewhere that I will initially find incredibly difficult. I’m also really drawn to spending a long time completely on my own, taking the time to appreciate subtle changes in the world around me.

Beyond completing the row, what are your goals for this adventure?

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’m mainly aiming to challenge myself and learn to live in a difficult environment. It would be nice to be the first solo woman ever to complete this race. More importantly, however, I will be using this row to raise awareness of plastic pollution and to celebrate inspiration women. I’m supporting two charities: The Plastic Oceans Foundation and The GREAT Initiative, and will be fundraising for them once I have covered my core costs. In terms of practical action, I’m turning into a citizen scientist for the row, collecting samples for a microplastics study throughout the adventure. I will also be speaking about the adventure and the issue of plastic pollution in schools on my return. Finally, I’m also hoping to see each mile of the row dedicated to an inspirational woman, whether that’s someone’s mum, someone famous, or even someone fictional. 2400 miles is 2400 inspirational women – see below for how you can choose a mile to dedicate.

What do you know about Patagonia and what’s it like in your opinion?

I actually know very little about Patagonia, although I’ve always felt drawn to it. It sounds wild to me, bursting with nature, mountains, contrast and extremes, and on the edge of the great Pacific Ocean. One day I’d love to go there – perhaps on a bicycle and definitely with enough time to explore properly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA What do you enjoy doing the most apart from rowing? Ever tried hiking on a glacier or climbed a mountain?

So many different things, it’s difficult to think of them all! I’ve been lucky enough to hike on glaciers both in Norway and New Zealand, although never for long periods of time. I’ve also been up some fantastic mountains. I’m a real amateur in terms of mountain climbing knowledge and skills, but I’ve had some fantastic experiences, from climbing Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia) to spending three days stuck up the Black Cuillin Ridge in Skye during a storm. I think my favourite mountain has to be Tryfan, in Wales – I was twelve on my first ascent, and have summited it about five times in all. Actually, thinking about it, I must be due another visit soon…

There are so many things I like to do – I don’t imagine I’ll ever be a specialist in one area. I love variety and trying new things. I’ve enjoyed adventures short and long on foot, by bicycle, swimming, up mountains, by unicycle, sailing, climbing and hitching.

Although I love the physical challenge and the freedom of undertaking an adventure under my own power, I also really do enjoy hitching. The sense of freedom is different but still very much there. The journey is an adventure, as you never know how long it will take, what route you will follow, who you will meet, when the next lift will come along. If you’re feeling at all cynical, hitching is a sure-fire way to reignite your faith in people’s kindness and generosity. Don’t be limited by cars, either – the longest lift I’ve had lasted a week and crossed an ocean!

So once you have finished rowing the Pacific, what’s next?

That is a continually tempting question at the back of my head, but also one I’m trying not to think about too much…at least, not until I’ve actually begun this one! I know how easy it is to get carried away with maps and lists and ideas, and I need to keep the focus at the moment, as it is mere weeks before I row into a huge ocean completely alone.

Ideas that have crossed my mind include some long-distance cycling, more hitching, kayaking, or maybe even a combination. I’ve always been drawn to the frozen wastes of the Arctic or Antarctic as well, but am determined that at least the next adventure will cost less than this one, so I might have to put snow and ice on hold for a while!

We understand it’s a solo endeavour, but is there any way we can get involved?

Yes! Go to and dedicate a mile of the row to a woman who has inspired you! Her name will be on the website and will be written on the boat, and she will also receive a certificate of dedication. An ideal gift, with a twist of adventure.

Let all your friends know about the opportunity to dedicate a mile, and follow the adventure on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog.

For more information you can watch My TEDx talk about the row.

If you’re a business and reading this, please contact me on [email protected] to discuss sponsorship opportunities.

Black Cuillin, Skye (before the storm) 2011

Meet Sally, the Latest Swoop Member

Meet Sally, the Latest Swoop Member

Sally, the latest member of the Swoop team, is a true Patagonian enthusiast. Having worked as an English teacher and Tour leader in Chile and Argentina throughout the last 8 years, Sally has a wide and diverse knowledge of Patagonia. Take a few minutes to find out about her Patagonian adventures and her top tips on where to go.

Mt. Tronodor, Argentina

What is it that you love so much about Patagonia?

It is impossible to name just one attribute, but a combination of many is what makes it such a unique place. Here is a list of a few of the reasons why Patagonia has really got to me…..

  1. The Landscape – a bit of an obvious choice, but the Patagonian landscape really is simplyincredible, surprising and at times completely unexpected. For example, I have been fortunate enough to visit the Torres del Paine National Park many times, and it never once looks the same; the light changes, the clouds frame the peaks in different and unusual ways and as the colours change through the seasons, they are landscapes that are hard to tire of.
  2. The birds – as an avid bird enthusiast (a true twitcher at heart), Patagonia is an exciting place to be. From the mighty Condor to the tiny Wren, the Patagonian steppe and forests have a surprisingly large variety of birds. The stunted growth of trees in the Southern Beech forests make the birds easy to spot and even a novice can become a birding expert by the end of a trip.
  3. The food – I’m sure many people don’t think too much of food when they consider Patagonia, but it can be quite the gastronomic experience; from roast lamb to hearty stews, fresh Trout to delicious King crab, Patagonia really is a place to get the taste buds going. And obviously, with a large range of vineyards in both Chile and Argentina, there is never a shortage of wine to wash it down with.
  4. The history – Patagonia has a huge wealth of history and the incredible part of it is that much of it is relatively modern; whether to do with the indigenous peoples, Colonial wars, Darwin, Missionaries or Gauchos, knowing a little will add a whole new dimension to your visit. Drop me a line if you’d like some recommendations.

Do you have a favourite place in Patagonia?

A very difficult question to answer – I love it all! But to name my top 5, I’d have to go with:

  1. Chiloe Island – come rain or shine the beauty and magic of this place always leaves me wanting to stay.
  2. I still can’t decide which I find most impressive, Torres del Paine or El Chalten – both are incredibly breathtaking and great  for trekkers of all abilities.
  3. The Argentinian lake district – a great place for cycling as every tough up hill climb is always rewarded with a another stunning lake view.
  4. The Beagle Channel – a place full of history that really gets your imagination going as you sail up the channel accompanied by soaring albatross.

What is your best memory of Patagonia?

It would have to be reaching the glacier line of Mount Tronodor, reached from Bariloche, it literally translates as ‘The Thunder’ due to sound made by avalanches from its many glaciers. After a steep 5 hour hike through a glacial valley and up through virgin forest, I popped out onto a high plateau where I was faced with one of the most incredible views I have ever seen. I was surrounded, 360°, by the snow capped Andes and I was higher than all of them (or so it seemed!). Mt. Tronodor sits at 3491 meters above sea level and I was at about 2400 meters, at the snow line, where there was a little refugio to spend the night. A moment I will never forget was, as the sun set it turned the 3 peaked Mt. Tronodor a shade of pink that was so intense and surprising, when seen in a photo, you would never believe it to be true.

‘A Few Memories of Our Own’, Tim Moss Walks Patagonia

‘A Few Memories of Our Own’, Tim Moss Walks Patagonia

We were very excited indeed when, in early December, Laura and Tim Moss contacted us about their plans to walk all the way across Patagonia from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Not an everday request at all, but for Tim and Laura this expedition is the latest in a long line of extraordinary adventures.
I was lucky enough to meet them in Bristol and look through the maps with them, however many places on their itinerary were new even to us. It was a pleasure to help out such bold explorers, and I’m delighted that Tim has taken a moment to share his story here.
The word “Patagonia” will mean many different things depending on who you ask but I suspect in any game of free association, it wouldn’t take long before the words “beautiful” and “mountains” sprung up.
So why then had we decided to spend our precious time in the region marching along a dirt track away from those beautiful mountains?
Well, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
 Or, for a less trite explanation, it’s because I enjoy approaching things from a different angle to get a novel perspective. Let me give you some examples:
After living in London for many years, my now-wife, Laura, suggested that we explore some new areas of the capital by following the route of all the London Underground Tube lines. We did it by running (above ground!) and not only did we get to visit new parts of the city and connect those coloured dots from the map, but we formed many new memories for places already familiar.
A few years prior, I went on a climbing expedition to Bolivia – a country with four major mountain ranges. Rather than going for the biggest and best mountains, we deliberately picked the smallest and least popular of the four areas because we knew no Britons had been there before. As a result, we were the first team to wave a Union Jack on their summits (metaphorically speaking, you’ll be pleased to hear).
Then, last January, my wife and I set out to walk across Patagonia. We didn’t know anything about the area. We selected our start point – Rio Bravo – not because it was a well known tourist destination with things to see and do (on the contrary, no one seemed to have heard of it) but simply because it was the only way we could reach the Pacific coast without crossing the ice cap.
It’s a pretty boring place – nothing more than a single building and a dusty trail – but it was disproportionately exciting for us as the start line for our adventure.
Similarly, we spent many days slogging alongside roads that could just as easily have been driven at 20 times the speed. Sometimes this was debilitatingly demoralising, undermining any purpose for being there. But it also provided a challenge and a sense of achievement at the end of each day as we rose to it.
We weren’t completely blinkered though. We did see some of the better known areas. We diverted our route to spend the first week walking parallel to the mountains on the recommendation of others and spent a few days in the stunning Torres del Paine National Park too – some truly beautiful areas. But it was nice to add to these well-known beauty spots, a few memories of our own, wild camping and walking on paths less trodden.
Restaurant in Puerto Natales: Afrigonia

Restaurant in Puerto Natales: Afrigonia

If you find yourself in Puerto Natales before starting your hike in Torres del Paine National Park but don’t have much time to find somewhere for fine dining, head towards a great restaurant in the centre of town called Afrigonia. We speak to Rolando, who visited the restaurant in 2011 as he explains and shows why this African/Patagonian fusion really does work. It’s not hard to see why this is Puerto Natales’ best rated restaurant.

‘I had heard about Afrigonia before I arrived to Puerto Natales. As it turns out, this restaurant is owned by a charming Zambian and his a Chilean wife, both chefs and hence the reason for Afrigonia’s name.

You soon notice the African table décor, soft lighting and a enormous green bank safe transformed into a wine cellar.  Afrigonia is not your average restaurant, the food is  creative, flavoursome and topped by impeccable service. The atmosphere is relaxed with a mix of locals and foreigners. The menu is not extensive but it is focused on local produce and the prices are more than reasonable, you can get a starter from approximately £5 and a main course of up to £14.
Out of the foods I have tried there my favourite dishes have to be: King crab ‘trilogy’, the spicy seafood soup, (a Patagonian Bouillabaisse), salmon ceviche with lemon, mango and coconut milk and roasted lamb rack with mint sauce. For dessert it has to be ‘Kilimanjaro’, a warm chocolate cake topped with a white chocolate and berry sauce. I was also impressed with the wine list, which offers an excellent selection of good Chilean and Argentinian wines.’
                                                   Owners Kamal Nawaz & Nathalie Reffer
Guest Blog Post: We talk to Patrick Usborne, Architect, Skiier & Ice Cap Adventurer

Guest Blog Post: We talk to Patrick Usborne, Architect, Skiier & Ice Cap Adventurer

I was fortunate enough to meet Paddy, an architect, skiier and mountaineer, when we were on the same expedition onto the IceCap earlier this year. Paddy is exactly the kind of guy you want in your expedition team: incredible endurance and endless good cheer. He’s been kind enough to share some of his thoughts and photos of Patagonia.

Paddy, tell us a bit about yourself.

That’s a big first question! I guess I have two main passions in life; architecture and being in the mountains.  I’m just finishing my architectural training after a long and exhausting eight years at the drawing board.  Combining both architecture and mountaineering is proving a challenge, but hopefully I’m achieving a good mix.

I always find it difficult explaining to friends how I feel about both, but there are a lot of similarities between them.  We’re becoming much more aware of the effects we have on the environment, and even though we constantly hear doomsday reports in the news and television programmes, that can so easily numb us, it is right to be concerned.

We, as architects especially, have such an enormous responsibility to design and build not only to protect the environment, but also to work with it.  I live in London and am currently sitting in front of my laptop looking through my window at a ‘Freshly Clicked’ Tesco van delivering bags of food to a neighbour that was, I imagine, ordered at the confines of their laptop.  We are already so detached.

So, this is why being in the mountains for me, and having an adventure within them is so important to give a sense of attachment to the enormous scale of our environment around us. It might sound a cliché, but it is only here, that I really begin to feel myself.

Where else have you visited before visiting Patagonia?

I’ve been really fortunate as both my parents met in the mountains. They both were mountaineers at my age now, but our main passion has always been through skiing. Skiing has really defined us as a family and we have visited so many incredible parts of the world through it.  It has been a passion that has given so much to us, but has also taken so much away from us.

Tragically my father was killed in an avalanche whilst skiing ten years ago.  The first few years we’re very difficult, but instead of turning my back to the mountains as many of my friends thought sensible, my sense of adventure in the mountains grew much stronger.

Soon after the accident I visited Nepal to climb a mountain called Mera Peak, which remains one of my most memorable adventures. It was ‘only’ a trekking peak, but I realised then, the adventure wasn’t just to reach the top, but was instead the experience either side.

On the decent, our local Nepali guide invited us all into the house of an old friend of his. The owner was a farmer who worked her small plot of land to feed herself and her family. The blackened timber house had room for her small herd of cows on the lower floor and living upstairs.  I will never forget her enormous smile as she greeted our guide and us into her home. Without pause, she began to plunge repetitively a long thin tube, to prepare for us her best buttermilk.  She wanted no money, but instead you could see how immensely proud she was.

What made you decide to visit Patagonia?

The third largest icecap in the world after Antarctica and Greenland; the Patagonian Ice Cap. Just looking at this vast expanse of ice on the map makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand tall.  The thought to be able to walk on this frozen river of ice and look across at its endless scale was something I couldn’t pass up. And apart from the odd mountain hut on the edge, the ice cap is a place that has seen no human intervention, just pure nature at its rawest.

I also heard the Argentine beef and red wine was rather good (the Argentines are well known for banning the export of their finest wines)!

Where abouts did you go in Patagonia and what did you do?

Most visitors to Patagonia will hear of Torres del Paine National Park and its famous ‘W’ trek; a beautiful spot to the South of the ice cap.  Not as many will have heard of the Fitzroy range to the East. Here, you have such peaks as Mount Fitzroy, Cerro Torre and all their sister peaks nested on the edge of the ice cap.

My time there was to squeeze in as much climbing as I could as well as the adventure of getting onto the ice cap itself. In the end I also found that waiting for that elusive Patagonian weather window was second to none!

What were your top three highlights in Patagonia?

There were so many, it’s hard to know where to begin! The memories of the adventures I had when leaving far exceeded my expectations before arriving. The mountains, people and culture together created such incredible highlights.

The first though must be the people I met.  After my partner pulled out, I found myself a solo traveller; a liberating experience that allowed me to meet so many people that I wouldn’t have done in a team of two.  My base was a small town called El Chalten; a trekking Mecca that draws people from around the world to a ramshackle town of corrugated roof buildings. The owners however were always so proud of their town and what it had to offer.

For the more demanding climbs I was part of a team with a brilliant American mountain guide called ‘Coop’ of Andes Mountain Guides, Charlie from the Telegraph and Luke of Swoop Travel. Together we had a real adventure of attempting to reach the ice cap, and climb a peak on its edge. The adventure was due to last nearly a week and was certainly another highlight.

The team spirit was high, but the weather was not on our side. We made it through cascading ceracs, that were constantly falling from above, to a windswept blanket of white. Even though we had to turn back, it became clear that retreat in the mountains is never a failure; instead, it becomes a chance to try again another day.

The third highlight was the most special. I had a week to explore the mountains on my own, and I chose a five day loop around the peak Mount Huemul.  In those five days I only met five people.  The remoteness and being alone amongst the mountains was inspiring.  On the third day the weather opened to blue skies and a gentle breeze. My tent was pitched on sand near a melt water lake on the edge of the ice cap and that morning I decided to venture alone onto the depths of the ice cap.

Now, this is of course a dangerous adventure! Indeed, even today a friend over lunch claimed I was reckless.  But the draw of being amongst the ice; the emptiness and vastness was too strong not to.  With crampons, an axe and ample chocolate I walked for hours to the centre of the ice cap, jumping over crevasses and avoiding patches of snow that obscured hidden dangers.

Eventually I found a lonely rock that must have fallen from a cliff many miles away that had since been carried by the ice to where I was. Sitting on the rock having lunch whilst admiring the snow clad peaks around and to know there were kilometres of ice below my rock will be a moment I will never forget.

After taking a few photos I turned back and followed my footsteps to the edge of the ice and my tent. I saw nobody the whole day.  The experience really captured the vastness of the world we live in and certainly puts into the context that ‘Freshly Clicked’ Tesco van!

What’s on your cards for your next adventure?

I’m currently finishing my architectural training, so will be busy preparing for the final exams over the next year. I would love to return to Patagonia one day, but there is so much more to see in the world. I hope my career in architecture will take me to explore many new places.  Indeed, my interest in how we can build a better way of living for our future that works with our environment and not against it will be an important part of what I do next.

More immediately however, Greenland and its ice cap has been on the mind. Not to be done solo, but as part of a team to traverse its length on skis whilst measuring the changing conditions of the ice and finding out how the local Inuit community are coping with their changing environment.

A big adventure, but through exploring, if I can play a small part in improving our relation to the environment and allow others to share the sense of inspiration the world has to offer as I have done in Patagonia and elsewhere, then all the better.

Guest Blog Post: We talk to Pamela Villablanca from Andes Wines about Wine Tasting in Patagonia

Guest Blog Post: We talk to Pamela Villablanca from Andes Wines about Wine Tasting in Patagonia


Many people visit Patagonia to sample delicious Chilean and Argentinian wines in the region’s best vineyards. We actually offer some trips that allow you to not only to trek the highlights of Patagonia but also visit some of Patagonia’s famous wine regions to sample the local products:

Patagonian Lake District Adventure – Sample Cabernet Sauvignons in the Colchagua Valley

South America – Wild Patagonia – Visit the Maipu and Colchagua Valleys en route to beautiful Pucon

Below we speak to Pamela Villablanca about wine in Patagonia and about her role in marketing wines abroad and at home.

So Pamela, tell us a bit about yourself, when did you start working for Andes Wines?

I joined the Andes Wines team early 2011. and before that I was a Veramonte Ambassador for Huneeus Vintners in the US for six years. I was based in California and in the last 2 years was the California Sales Manager for an importer & distributor of South American wines. With vast experience in wine tourism designing and conducting, I educated travel agents in the US to generate a strong image of Chile and understanding of the many possibilities Chile offers for exploration. Andes Wines has 10 years of experience in developing new wine & adventure tours around Chile and Argentina.

So Pamela, what makes Chilean wine so great?

There are so many Chilean wines and all of them have contribute to recognize Chile as a great value and quality. Overall i would say the wines are clean, expressive, sharp and ripe. In the U$ 10 range you will find beautiful expressive fruit. I would recommend to look accurately at the labels and use your judgement to find specific denominations instead of the general. The wines I drink and enjoy come in conscious weight glass bottles, an easy to read label and priced between U$ 13 to U$ 40. In the high end wines, you can find wines that cost over 200 dollars per bottle.

What’s your favorite wine?

My favorite wine has a beautiful bright ruby color, is deep and has a great density. Should include ripe fruits but also flowers and forest. A multi-cultural personality and a great speaker while i swirl the wine in the glass. Velvet in the mouth and long finish. Hard to mention a brand, but for sure the Denominations of Origin like Aconcagua, Rutherford, Alexander and Barosa Valley are recurrent for me.

Where are the best wineries in your opinion?

It’s no secret that Chile posseses amazing world recognized premium DO (Denominacion de origen meaning ‘place name’) like Apalta & Puente Alto, but for me there are extreme areas like Limari that open the spectrum of the tasting profile and offer a great challenge in diversifying the potential of the varieties planted in the country. The wines coming from San Antonio and even the Maipo Alto are becoming quite interesting.

If you had 2 weeks to spend touring wineries in Patagonia, where would you go?

I would go first to Bodega Noemia de Patagonia. The contribution of Condesa Noemi Barone Cinzano  to the wine industry in the area has been crucial. She took the oldest vines in abandonment in Patagonia and recovered them. For me its remarkable how women take these type of challenge in this Latitude/solitude. My next visit would be Familia Schroeder for two reasons: wine & archaeology. The vineyard is an emerald shining in contrast with the dry land escape; long days and amazing clear nights to enjoy wines. The gossip about a dinosaur discovery is not a secret anymore, and I want to see it!

How popular is wine tourism in Chile?

I remember when I first designed my wine routes in Chile back in 2002, I was pioneering working for several tourism companies designing these routes. Most of the wineries were not open, drivers & guides did not know about wine or routes. Wine tourism is popular today and so is Chilean wine. Good wine tourism is a hidden secret, same as the good wines. There are big challenges in service and facilities implementation for wineries, restaurants, hotels and b&b, and tour agencies/operators. Colchagus valley in this case was titled few years ago the most important wine region of the world by an important wine magazine and people from all around the world come to visit not just Colchagua, also Casablanca and Maipo Valley.

What are the future plans for Andes Wines? We see that you’re going to run tailor-made wine tours.

Our future plans are endless since our team of professionals is growing, we just founded the first wine private equity fund and opened a highly specialized consulting area. If i shall apply the saying “Bird by Bird”, i could say that our next step is to position the South America tailor-made wine tours. We have fun and very educational wine trip proposals in South America for wine lovers, collectors, enthusiasts and for those from the wine industry who want to travel undercover. We are wine professionals who offer guidance in your wine explorations in South America so you get the best out of it. We will launch the next couple of weeks the “Malbec Wine Route of Argentina and Chile” where visitors will be able to visit wineries that produce Malbec in both sides of the Andes. Also, The “Carmenere Wine Route of Chile” will be a unique tour open for foreign and national visitors and wine lovers.



White water rafting on the Futaleufu Guest blog post with Adriana Radwanski from H2o Patagonia

White water rafting on the Futaleufu Guest blog post with Adriana Radwanski from H2o Patagonia

H2o Patagonia is a white water rafting company based on the edge of the world-famous river, the Futaleufu in the Chilean Lake District in Patagonia.

H2o offers white water rafting for all ages and abilities and an all-inclusive adventure lodge where you can relax in the hot tub and enjoy a cocktail or two after a hard days rafting. They also offer trips for families and student groups, that can choose from a ranging of rafting, horse riding or trekking activities.

Adriana has spent considerable time in Brazil, Uruguay, The Netherlands, Panama and the United States. Always looking for a new challenges, Dri arrived at H2O Patagonia for it’s first season as Massage Therapist & Spa Coordinator. She is now responsible for coordinating trips and she’s in charge of administration. I asked her about H2o and the Futaleufu:

What’s special about the Futaleufu location?

Futaleufu is a small town located on the foots of the pristine Andean mountains in Chilean Patagonia. Patagonia is of the least explored regions in the world, making this a very special place and providing an incredible landscape in which guests can enjoy the different activities.

Sum up this region in 3 words
Magestic, breathtaking, inspiring
Why do you think H2o is rated no.1 on Trip Advisor?
A personalized adventure is what you’ll get with H2O Patagonia. The dedicated staff and guides work to make your stay comfortable and memorble by creating a friendly, inviting atmoshphere full of smiles and cheers. All your needs, and more, will be met while relaxing in rustic luxury at “camp.”

The same attention to personalization is given during all the adventures. Professional guides demonstrated expertise in their trade and knowing just how much to push guests in order to provide maximum enjoyment and personal feats through adventure.

And let’s not forget the food! Great breakfasts with variety for all, amazing picnic lunches during the adventures, and dinners that surpass expectations! And once again, personalized to your dietary needs.

What do you offer that other rafting operator’s can’t?
The lodge is located on 175 Hcts of land in which one has a view of the Andean mountains and at the same time overlooking the river.
How long has H2o been running for?
2011-2012 will be our 8th season.
Is rafting on the Futeleufu available for everyone or just experienced rafters?
It’s for everyone over 16 years of age and the only requirement is to know how to swim
Which is your favourite programme at H2o?
Relaxing in the hot tub and drinking a cold beer (That’s my personal choice! I’m not much of a rafter!)

How can you relax at H2o?
Hot tub in the afternoons, cocktails, massage, reading in front of the fire in our Patagonia style Quincho, strolling around the farm, we provide yoga mats for those who enjoy stretching on their own.
What’s the best way of getting to H2o?
The best option is coming through Argentina via Buenos Aires and from there taking a domestic flight to the Patagonia town of Esquel which is just a 1.5 hour drive from H2o’s riverside lodge. We highly recommend spending a night or 2 in Buenos Aires which provides many cultural activities and entertainment, aside from great steakhouses!