CHILE: PHO­TOGRAPH­ING PATAG­O­NIA

EX­PLOR­ING THE END OF THE WORLD IS BEST DONE WITH A CAM­ERA.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY DAN AVILA

Ex­plor­ing the end of the world is best done with a cam­era, es­pe­cially when seen through the lens of Dan Avila.

It was a per­fectly planned morn­ing. Be up be­fore dawn, take my po­si­tion on a hill­top out­side the gor­geous Ex­plora Patag­o­nia lodge, set up my medium-for­mat cam­era on a heavy tri­pod and cap­ture the first golden rays of morn­ing as they paint the strik­ing Tor­res del Paine Mas­sif. How­ever, Patag­o­nia cares not for the plans of men. The morn­ing was freez­ing cold, cloudy and blow­ing so im­pos­si­bly hard, I was on my knees to avoid cas­cad­ing down the hill.

The Tor­res del Paine Na­tional Park is no canned hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ence. It is raw, some­times hos­tile, po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous, yet – just like ev­ery­thing in life that is truly at­trac­tive – it is this un­tamed pu­rity that is so cap­ti­vat­ing.

Ner­vous, but not beaten, I set out in the pre-dawn dark­ness the next morn­ing. Patag­o­nia smiled on me with glo­ri­ous con­di­tions that yielded the full majesty of the dawn across the peaks, turn­ing into one of those spe­cial days that drives my pho­tog­ra­phy ob­ses­sion.

So much about this UNESCO bio­sphere is oth­er­worldly. A sin­gle hike through the wilder­ness took us though grassy val­leys guarded by sheer cliffs, through to dense hid­den forests bi­sected by icy cold rivers and wa­ter­falls. Herds of Al­paca-like gua­na­cos cau­tiously me­an­dered by, as large hares darted through the un­der­growth and enor­mous con­dors wheeled above.

Any jour­ney to this an­tipodean wilder­ness is not com­plete with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Grey Glacier. Patag­o­nia con­tains the third largest ice mass in the world and even the iri­des­cent ice­bergs float­ing on the freez­ing Lago Grey barely pre­pared me for the sight of the 30m-high glacier wall, which loomed like a set from Game of Thrones.

Chilean gau­chos (horse­men) are famed for their skill and Ex­plora Patag­o­nia of­fers breath­tak­ing guided rides. Feel­ing the rush of blood as we gal­loped across the plains and through shal­low wa­ter­ways, egged on by the gau­cho

– laugh­ing at this grin­ning gringo – I later hob­bled to my stun­ning digs at the Ex­plora Lodge, curs­ing my horseg­rip­ping in­ner thighs, con­vinc­ing my­self they would be fine for the big trek the next day. And with Mother Na­ture’s finest work out­side my door, no amount of mus­cle pain could keep me away. •

Dan Avila shot these im­ages on the Fu­ji­film GFX50S Medium For­mat Cam­era, with the GF120mm f/4 macro, GF32-64mm f/4 and GF23mm f/4 lenses.

Open­ing im­age: The moon il­lu­mi­nates the Tor­res del Paine Mas­sif in the pre-dawn light with the frozen tim­ber paths lead­ing back to the Ex­plora Patag­o­nia Lodge.

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