Tak­ing pause in Patag­o­nia

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - ALISTAIR CHEAL TOWNSVILLE, QUEENS­LAND

Time passes swiftly when filled with the de­mands of work­day life, not in an un­happy way, but some­times it can all seem too hec­tic. Travel pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to set your own pace. So why have I rushed around dur­ing over­seas hol­i­days, try­ing to fit in high­lights that have been so care­fully re­searched? Well, that has all changed after an epiphany of sorts dur­ing a multi-day hike in the moun­tains of Patag­o­nia.

On the bus to the trail-head in Chile’s Tor­res del Paine Na­tional Park, my wife and I chat with fel­low hik­ers. We are all par­tic­u­larly keen to view three im­mense gran­ite tow­ers, the Tor­res of the park’s name, but are aware that win­ter’s grip has barely eased and the risk of im­pass­able con­di­tions and poor vis­i­bil­ity is high. Of the eight groups that set out, only we and an­other cou­ple from Is­rael have pro­vi­sioned for more than the min­i­mum four nights.

Pre­dictably, the weather is bleak. Thick clouds hang low over the val­leys and the pre­cip­i­tous peaks we have mar­velled at in travel guides are ob­scured. Then it snows, heav­ily. For four days we and the Is­raelis camp in an­cient beech for­est, down from the Tor­res, hop­ing for the weather to clear, while other groups leave dis­ap­pointed.

Those days could have been dull, but with time on our hands we are able to cre­ate a rudi­men­tary hide from which to spot the crea­ture that leaves fresh prints in the snow early ev­ery morn­ing (a Patag­o­nian fox as it turns out) and find the clos­est po­si­tion to view the mag­nif­i­cent con­dors that fly low through the val­ley.

We work up the courage to bathe un­der a half-frozen water­fall; fash­ion chess pieces from dif­fer­ent coloured stream peb­bles and play a long Aus­tralia v Is­rael game that dis­solves into laugh­ter after too many red wines (yes, we have lugged some ro­bust Chilean caber­net) as we forget which pieces the stones sym­bol­ise. All the while warm friend­ships slowly de­velop.

On the fifth day, the sky clears and we crunch through fresh snow to see the Tor­res in all their glory. But, when we re­call our trip to Patag­o­nia, those un­planned days spent camp­ing in the for­est in­spire the fond­est mem­o­ries, all due to tak­ing time to em­brace the here and now rather than rush­ing to meet a pre­de­ter­mined sched­ule. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive an el­e­gant Cross Classic Cen­tury Medal­ist Ball Point Pen, in pro­duc­tion since 1946, with a pol­ished chrome cas­ing and 23-carat gold-plated trim; black or blue ink; $89.95. More: lux­u­rypens.net.au.

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