Blown Away in Patagonia
Surprisingly, it did not take long to acclimate to the Jekyll and Hyde weather. One afternoon, my wife returned from a drenching horseback ride along the Patagonian steppe, smiling, saying it felt "like a cleansing session." It didn't matter that she hadn't saddled up in 17 years. "Surrounded by mountains, you feel as if you are in this immensity, this pampa grande," she declared.
We even managed deep nightly sleep as gusts gathered beneath the Andes on the other side of Lake Pehoe and slammed into our room's picture windows. It sounded and felt like the deep thumping of agitated surf crashing onto the shoreline. Our hotel's lenga wood structure creaked, creating the feeling of a ship rocking at sea. To my surprise, the double windowpanes survived the wind's assault to offer indescribable morning views when the shrouds lifted off the mountains.
This journey to Chile's Torres del Paine National Park marked our return to the southern Andes after prior memorable trips to South America. In recent years, we'd driven through Argentina's Mendoza vineyards to the base of 23,000-foot Aconcagua, the hemisphere's highest peak, and skied in Chilean resorts La Parva and Valle Nevado, only an hour's harrowing drive from Santiago.
This time, though, we opted not to rough it because we were toting precious cargo: our seven-month-old daughter Emma. When first planning our travels, I was wary of staying at the four-star Explora Hotel, fearing that the refined lodge would prove to be too insulating for experiencing raw Patagonia. The decision to book the hotel was made when I realized that bringing a toddler to the tip of the southern hemisphere would be an adventure in itself. Few other guests had ever journeyed to Torres del Paine with stroller, baby backpack, diapers, and Winnie-the-Pooh in tow.
We were forced to accept, as well, that Emma's nursing and general comfort would dictate a different pace than our previous journeys. Of the hotel's daily outings, we chose to forgo trophy seven- and ten-hour walks to alluring destinations like the scenic French Valley. Fortunately, hikes to the Blue Lagoon and along the South Patagonian Ice Field were a part of our special itinerary. And then there were the unexpected benefits of those half-day outings: returning to the warm hotel with gourmet lunches of risotto with porcini mushrooms. Having Emma with us opened a door to a different side of travel.
Although Explora is undeniably refined, its guests are definitely unconnected, too. From Punta Arenas it is a six-hour van ride through brown, red, and gray Patagonia, with the final two hours on gravel roads. Upon arrival, the only communication with the outside world is via a costly satellite phone. We relished being incommunicado in this remote national park.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication