Just before taking off on our little plane for the afternoon return trip to Punto Arenas, the co-pilot turned around and made this announcement: “Same instructions as this morning.” This kind of informality comes with the territory. Patagonia is very much frontier country.
Magellan called this land Patagonia because of the size of its people: Patagonia – the Land of Giants. When the Europeans arrived here and met the natives, they hardly came up to their waistline! The natives are gone now. Along with Jesus, the Europeans introduced war and diseases to the local people. It decimated the native population. The missions were closed after all the natives had died. Strange logic: convert them first, and then slaughter them. We Europeans have much to be ashamed of.
Anyway, every aspect of Patagonia is fascinating to me. Only 1% of the Chilean population live in Patagonia, which covers 20% of the country’s land mass. Life here is not for wimps: Summer temperatures average around 9o C (48o F), while winter temperatures range from 0o C (32o F) to -15o C (5o F) and the wind blows constantly.
This morning we boarded a small plane in Punto Arenas to fly to Puerto Natales, about 160 km (100 mi) away from our destination: Torres del Paine National Park. Torres del Paine is known for its spectacular rock formations, breathtaking scenery and notorious weather patterns. Our trip was very much a hit and miss excursion with prospects of high winds and fog enshrouding the famous 2,800 m (9,200 ft) high mountains we came to see. As it turned out, we were lucky. For brief moments at a time, the mountains showed their beauty, long enough to stand in awe and take pictures.
The Torres del Paine National Park scenery reminded me very much of the landscape in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Waterfalls, unpaved roads, precarious river crossings and mountain scenery not yet disturbed by human activity were common sights during our visit to the park.
Experts still argue if the Torres del Paine (paine = blue) massif is a part of the Andes mountain chain or not. The arguments, that these mountains are too different to belong to the Andes, seem to outweigh the arguments in favour of it.
The Torres massif is 13 million years old
The Andes are 30 – 40 million years old
The Torres massif was created by slow cooling magma being pushed up through weak spots in the earth’s crust
The Andes folded up by colliding tectonic plates
The Torres mountains are east-west oriented
The Andes are north-south oriented
So why are the experts still arguing? I have no idea. Why don’t they ask me who doesn’t know anything about geology but can still apply some common sense? I think scientists sometimes are handicapped by too much knowledge. The less you know, the less conflicted you are! Just look at Trump and climate change.
During our expedition to the national park we saw so much wildlife - it was wonderful. In Vietnam we were told: “We eat everything, except unicorns and dragons.” We saw no wildlife in Vietnam. Chile is different. Here, you could barely drive a kilometer without seeing a strange creature or a giant bird. Chile seems to protect everything that moves! I took 700 pictures that day.