With my anticipation building as I fly towards the Andes, the panoramic views from the flight down the chain of mountains to Patagonia is a great appetiser for my trip. I arrive amongst the bald peaks and forest filled valleys of Aysen by flying into Balmaceda airport. This tiny airport is out on the steppe and as you drive to Coyhaique, Aysen’s capital, the mountains grow around you until you are surrounded by rocky outcrops and glacier rounded hills. Aysen is a region the size of England but with just 100,000 people and 60,000 of those live in Coyhaique.
I love this place and it feels like I am coming home. This is my Patagonia: with its warm-hearted people, who greet you with a kiss and take time to talk and to get to know you. This is my Patagonia: with wooden houses in all shapes and sizes, covered in shingle and with an enormous wood burner at their heart, where delicious jams are bubbled up. This is my Patagonia: with its dry steppe, its mishmash of ice and granite, with wild enchanted lengas in the valleys and a green, fascinatingly forested, coast.
I had just three weeks to get to know this area better and this is a taste of what I did:
My Swoop recce was three weeks of the most spectacular adventures, making new friends and being treated to incredibly ‘un-Patagonian’ good weather. I finished exhausted (both emotionally and physically), smelling bad – having not really had time to do my laundry properly, and with ideas darting around my brain like viscachas. The warmth of the Patagonian people and the time people have one for another and for visitors is what makes Patagonia so special, perhaps more than the ice, the forests and the mountains. This is what brought tears to my eyes as I headed back to Balmaceda airport and back to the UK.
Many people hire a car and hurry along the Carretera Austral but I hope this summary of my trip will make you explore the valleys either side of the road, meet local people and share a maté with them and remember the Patagonian saying:
“Quien se apura en la Patagonia, pierde el tiempo” – He who hurries through Patagonia wastes time.