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Travels en la Patagonia

See that little ridge line on the left breast of your favorite fleece? The one above the white P A T A G O N I A letters? Well, that ridge line really exists. That high point on it is called Mt. Fitz Roy, and from the picnic-style table where I’m sitting now, if that big grey blobby cloud would just nudge a bit to the left, I can see it perfectly – an imposing tower of marbled granite watching over the small Argentine mountain town of El Chaltén like a guardian angel.

In a world far, far away from Buenos Aires, sprawling across the most southern tip of the inhabitable world, lies a wild land of mountains, ice, wind, and llama-esque guanacos called La Patagonia. Gauchos (Argentine version of cowboys) with wind-warped features, dread-locked hippies, climbers, and mountain lovers alike mingle in the shadows of its peaks to share stories and maté. It is truly a place of wonder: one that captivates the imagination, invigorates the spirit, and fills the air with buena onda.

 The Milky Way from Chilean Patagonia

When my studies in Buenos Aires came to an end in the first week of November, a few of my compañeros and I set off to explore this hidden corner of the world. That was 2 weeks ago, and in that time I’ve trekked 50 miles, hitchhiked 250, and bussed another hundred. The days have been full - so full that they probably all deserve their own blog post. But who has time to read all that?

So, here are some highlights/lessons/thoughts/happenings from my short time on the road.

  • Anyone from Patagonia named Mario is good people. I’ve based this off of three Mario’s I’ve met in the two weeks. Mario #1 let me and 3 friends ride in the back of his truck across the Argentine/Chilean border. Mario #2 saved us from 60 mph winds and driving rains and drove us 100 miles in his semi-truck. Mario #3 is currently letting a friend and I stay in his hay barn.
     Mario #1
  • During a 5-day trek in Torres del Paine national park in Chile I had to redefine the most beautiful place I’ve ever been three times.
     This one took the cake - 'Los Torres del Paine' at dusk.
  • Meet people, talk to people, get off the beaten track. Be a traveler, not a tourist.
  • For nearly every daunting price of travel, there is usually a travel hack. Ask for the nearest hay barn, befriend locals and get them to buy your bus ticket in their name at the significantly cheaper local price, eat pasta, pasta, and more pasta (with cheese and tuna and other goodies of course).
  • Memorize a cool go-to quote to write down in places where other people have written down their cool go-to quotes.
     Insert cool quote here - La Cueva, Calafáte
  • I think “Into the Wild” has inspired a generation of South American travelers hitchhiking towards Alaska. I’ve met 3 couples attempting to do so. I tell them good luck and try not to ask what their plan is once they get there.
  • Hay barns are comfortable and economic places to sleep. Just make sure that you ask the gaucho in charge and help him bale hay in the mornings.
  •  Don’t start a fire in Puerto Natales, Chile. Their fire station is burned down.
  •  In Patagonia’s unpredictable weather, do like this pooch and soak up the sun whenever given the chance
     Doggie-lounging in Rio Gallegos

With that, I leave the rest to you imaginations. Tomorrow, my travel buddy and I hit the road headed further north, into what I hope to be warmer weather and tamer winds. Maybe we'll even find a cool hay barn.

Cheers from the road,


 Perito Moreno Glacier in Calafate, Argentine Patagonia

Mathew Cerf is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is currently a junior at the University of San Diego.
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