A Driving Adventure across Patagonia in a 4×4

 

Part 1: The start of the journey to the end of the world

 

After months of planning, we were all ready for the adventure at the end of the world. No words can actually describe the feeling of getting to see the expedition come to life. It was just a concept, and the day finally arrived when the adventure was all set to begin.

“Patagonia! Here we come…”

The escapade began even before we reached there.

What was ahead of us was a daunting 20-hour flight between Dubai and Santiago (add another 3-hour flight between Mumbai and Dubai and a few hours of layover at Dubai). One of the longest flights I had ever flown before. How many movies one can watch back to back? If that was boring, I even tried to catch up on work and drained my laptop battery completely. Couldn’t get sleep maybe because of the excitement of driving to the end of the world. The journey was overwhelming but we had a bit of respite after 16 hours as Emirates had a planned stopover at Sao Paulo (Brazil) for 1.5 hours. The plane was cleaned and the main door leading to the tarmac was opened, bringing some much-needed fresh air into the chasm of body heat and recycled human breath.

Soon, we were back in the air for another 4.5 hours of flight to Santiago. This was a breeze considering the earlier journey. Within no time we arrived in Santiago, the capital of the narrowest country in the world (Chile). After crossing 3 continents and multiple time zones, we really needed some rest to get over with the long flight and to adjust our body clock to the local time.

Our expedition members were flying in from different parts of the world. Some members visited Peru before flying into Santiago. We had recommended a trip extension for those who wanted to visit the world heritage site of Machu Picchu and few interesting places like Cusco and Lima in Peru. We helped them with all the hospitality and logistics needed at Peru while we were parallelly getting ready with the arrangements for their arrival in Santiago.

We had arranged the accommodation at Hotel Le Reve. Located on a quiet street in the heart of Santiago’s up-scale Providencia district, Hotel Boutique le Reve is set in a beautiful French belle-époque style building offering luxurious boutique-style accommodation and friendly, efficient service in a relaxed, intimate ambiance. Perfect for relaxing stays in this vibrant city.

The reason why we chose this property was that it’s a short metro ride from many of Santiago’s most important landmarks and attractions, including the Plaza de Armas, Palacio de La Moneda, Pablo Neruda’s La Chascona, and countless museums, art galleries and theatres. The streets around the hotel are filled with an excellent selection of cafés, restaurants and clubs, along with fascinating boutique shopping. Providencia is a charming, safe area, inviting relaxing strolls along its tree-lined streets and avenues.

On Day 1, we got to meet all the fellow expedition members. It was a free day planned for everyone to get some rest and to allow them to explore Santiago. Surrounded by the Andes mountains, it’s one of the most beautiful capital cities on the planet. It’s also a fun place to visit, with a rich history, vibrant culture, and great tourism infrastructure.

Unlike some other famous capitals in South America like Rio De Janeiro or Buenos Aires, Santiago isn’t exactly known for its abundance of famous landmarks or architecture.

Be that as it may, we couldn’t help ourselves falling head over heels in love with Santiago! This city is alive in an eclectic way. Sometimes it felt like we travelled through time – the clothes, the markets, the culture, – and in some ways it felt like a modern metropolitan city.

We started the day with “The Plaza de Armas”. It felt like a time capsule. The old and the new, living together. We loved the feel of the 19th century neoclassical architecture. Add a dash of art deco here and there and a sprinkling of grit and bling of any world class city and that’s Santiago for you, a perfect summary right here at the Plaza de Armas.

Around lunch, we went to La Vega, one of Santiago’s busiest food markets, where you can find national foods at their freshest. This place is frequented by locals and not touristy at all! This is one of the main reasons we love La Vega so much, it’s a peek into the Chilean life in Santiago.

Later in the evening we went on for restaurant hopping. Since some of the famous South American wine valleys were just 2 hours away from the bustling downtown district, Santiago was the gourmand getaway of our dreams. We eventually ended in Bellavista, that houses a major concentration of restaurants where eating well and spending pleasant moments is an everyday custom. With tradition Chilean dishes, lots of wine and wonderful people around, we ended the beautiful day at Santiago!

We used Santiago only as a transit gateway and the expedition was planned to start from Puerto Natales. On Day 2, we took a very early morning flight out to Punta Arenas, which is about 3000 kms south of Santiago. This journey was one of the most scenic flights we’ve ever been on, with incredible views. We were extremely lucky to see the sunrise from above, which gradually illuminated the Andes Mountains. And the clear weather made it possible to enjoy the stunning, uninterrupted views of the lakes, volcanos and countless fjords.

And we arrived at Punta Arenas, the southernmost city of Chile and also the access gateway into Chilean Patagonia. It was a bit nippy and extremely windy. After we collected our bags, and hoped into our private transfer, heading straight to Puerto Natales, a 200 kms drive from the airport. After 3 hours, we reached Remota Hotel, our stay for that day at Puerto Natales.

The name “Remota” could not be more on point for the description of this unique boutique hotel. Once you enter the doors of the hotel you feel like you are completely remote from the outside world. We arrived before the start of season so there were only a handful of guests staying on the property and it felt like we had the entire hotel to ourselves. The hotel was designed in a way to bring the outside in. The buildings were built with the environment in mind and are sustainable to bring little impact to the ecosystem.

Everyone checked in to their respective rooms to relax for a while and some went on a stroll along the sea. Later in the evening, our Founder and Expedition Leader – Venky started with the expedition briefing, and introduced our expedition management team to the expedition members. The expedition members were a couple from Cleveland (Ohio, US), along with their son who lives in San Francisco (Nomadic Road to Third Pole 2018, Expedition Member), a couple with their 2 daughters from India (Nomadic Road to Gobi 2017 and Nomadic Road to Third Pole 2018 Expedition Members), and two solo travellers – one from Bombay and another from Goa. And our expedition management team consisted of Rodrigo and Charles.

Rodrigo was born in Santiago de Chile where he got his degree as a Forest Engineer. He was always an outdoor person and was interested in World geography since he was very young. He co-founded an air-adventure company, offering fly-around trips in Torres Del Paine National Park & Southern Patagonia. Later, he continued to host adventure trips in Chile, managing boutique hotels and acting as a guide in some of the most incredible natural and cultural settings in the country. We were lucky to have him as our local cultural expert. Inside story is that he was the personal guide to the famous actor and producer Matthew McConaughey when he and his son had come on a private expedition to explore Patagonia.

Charles has been working with us since the beginning. He is our official expedition photographer and filmmaker. A 22-year-old, super talented and multi-skilled in creating great content and memories from every expedition of ours. He is also very good with people, and he too comes with great travel stories. Since some of expedition members were interested in learning photography, he had planned for special hands-on photography lessons during the trip to give them interesting tips on photography. You can find all his work on our YouTube Channel and Instagram.

After running through the detailed expedition itinerary, we familiarized everyone about safety and emergency protocols. Since this expedition involved overland border crossing into another country it’s pertinent for everyone to understand the do’s and don’ts. We had to sensitize people on expedition hygiene as well as time bound activities which had to be strictly adhered too.

Then we had the expedition vehicle walk through. We had chosen the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 as the expedition machine for this expedition. Equipped with everything you need to truly experience Patagonia’s rugged and remarkable landscape! This includes a top-of-the-line navigation system, satellite tracking, handheld radios to communicate between each expedition vehicles, and satellite phones. Even though we were in one of the most remote corners on our planet, we had organized a 24/7 assistance and support throughout the duration of the trip.

The keys of the expedition machines were handed over to the members and we stepped out of the hotel for a quick spin to familiarize everyone with the vehicles before the start of the trip. And once everybody got comfortable, we came back to the hotel for a special welcome dinner that had the best local sea foods, exotic meats, organic vegetables hand-picked from nearby ecologic gardens, all accompanied by the best Chilean wines.

By then everyone got bonded well and the conversations were around their expectation from this expedition. As an expedition management team, we tried to keep the conversation going without divulging much details especially the surprise elements we had in store for them. As a company we firmly believe that the experiences are in the details and every experience has to be timed so perfectly for the right impact. Though some clients were really curious to know every detail about the program, we managed it pretty well. After the chat, we all decided to hit the bed so that we can all be fresh and ready for the big day tomorrow.

Continue reading our adventure. Part 2 – Self-Drive Expedition through Chilean Patagonia.

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