By Zachary Moses
Last January I left on one of my most ambitious expeditions to date. A gay Patagonia tour; a tour at the bottom of the world. The last touch of greenery before the vast frozen white and deep blue landscapes of Antarctica. I flew on New Year’s Eve and practically had the airports to myself. While everyone was out partying, I was toiling over my “work”. I was one of just ten people flying on a 50-passenger jet (usually sold out) from Key West to Miami. In Miami the airport was a ghost town. Everything reminded me of Steven King’s made-for-TV-movie The Langoliers.
The flight from Miami to Santiago was practically empty as well, so I took one of twelve completely empty middle rows and stretched out to go to sleep. Nice!
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago Chile
The city of Santiago is bordered on the east by huge mountains that reminded me of the Wasatch Mountains back home, surrounding Salt Lake City.
I didn’t know what to expect of Chile, but I’ve always assumed that it was a third-world country. I couldn’t have been more surprised! The airport was super modern, and the city was very clean. We drove past what looked like some very poor shanty towns, but my driver explained to me that the residents there refuse to be relocated into modern houses, preferring their traditional way of life and the comfort of knowing their close-by neighbors.
Santiago, I learned, is home to a fascinating underground freeway which we rode through – very cool, very futuristic. There are palm trees all over the city. This surprised me, since I was traveling to frozen Patagonia not that far away (I thought), but then the driver pointed out to me that Chile is so long that it stretches from tropical to tundra along its length.
The city of Santiago is really cool. It reminds me of a grungier younger version of Paris, without the iconic monuments. I had lunch in the garden of our hotel. I got the fruit platter, which was absolutely fantastic. The produce in Chile is really high quality. Apparently the fruit that they export to the US is not even the best fruit they produce!
I wandered around the city on foot checking out the views. This was what other people were doing as well. In fact, some guy nearly got in an accident trying to slow down and whistle at me…ego boost! I took some evocative photos and made a couple of promo videos.
At 5:00 Patricia and Fabian (our local ground operators) showed up to take me on a bike tour of Santiago. I’m used to Key West sunset times, so I figured this would be some quick, hour-long sunset ride. This was high summer in South America and the sun didn’t set until 10:30 pm, so the ride turned out to be 4.5 hours of really thorough touring. We rode all over the beautiful modern parts of the city as well as the quaint old downtown. Everything was empty and quiet because it was New Year’s Day. Normally 2 million people a day filter through the streets.
We rode up a mountain in the center of the city. At the top Patricia and Fabian bought me a Mote, which is a sugary drink made with rehydrated peaches and boiled wheat. When I bring our tour group through here, all our guys will have to try this Chilean specialty. From on top of the mountain we got the most amazing view of “Sanhatten” – Santiago’s high-rise financial district.
Day 2 Glacier Hike
This morning we drove 2.5 hours into the Andes Central Valley for a hike up to Morado Glacier. On the way, we stopped in San Jose, originally a mining town that was settled by the Spanish after discovering silver in the area. The Spanish would use the local indigenous people to harvest the ore for them. We stopped and picked plums in the town square before continuing on to our mountain range.
The smooth pavement changed over to dirt roads after a little way. There were huge trucks heading to the base of the volcanoes, where they mine gypsum out of the rock wall. We took a left and headed up an uninhabited valley. The mountain peaks became massive monuments in front of us. These are easily the biggest mountains that I have ever seen. On the way in, there were lots of road crews using backhoes to clear away dirt from recent mudslides.
We drove up as far as we could take the truck, and from there we hiked for two glorious hours through pristine mountains, before eventually rounding a corner to see Morado Glacier. I had not expected the huge lagoon and icebergs; it looked like pictures I’ve seen of Alaska. The glacier itself was amazing, with its huge wall of ice. I witnessed sections of the glacier breaking off and plunging down the mountainside.
We had a lovely lunch that our guide Alberto prepared for us: sandwiches, fruit juice, and chocolates. Alberto is a Spaniard now living in Chile, originally from Barcelona. We hiked down to the water’s edge and washed our hands in the icy water… It seemed so perfect and wonderful… until I had an allergic reaction to something in the glacial water, and suddenly my hands had rashes on them. I suppose it could have been that, or something I ate, or another lagoon that I washed my hands in… I should stop washing my hands in all these lagoons!
At the end of our hike we ate again (fresh bread, French cheeses, cured meats, wine, and more chocolate). I washed my hands in this lagoon, too, by the way.
On the way back into Santiago, we stopped and I had Chilean empanadas, which I far preferred to the Peruvian ones. So moist and tender. I want another one! (Of course the Peruvian ones I have had, have never been at any restaurants that are actually in Peru, so I may change my mind when I have a chance to try one in Peru itself!)
When I got back to the hotel, Jim Laughlin was there. He is one of our Tour Directors who also helps us develop new tours. We had gin and tonics (or Jim and Tonics, as Jim’s tour groups like to call them) then went out for dinner. We spent a lot of time talking shop and exchanging ideas. When we got back to the hotel, we both conked right out.
Day 3 Off to Patagonia.
Jim and I met Fabian at the airport, and we all checked in for our flights. We had coffee and chatted about our mothers forcing us to clear our plates (something none of us did today). Our plane was delayed so we sat in the airport chatting for a long time. The flight over the Andes was long and beautiful. They fed us twice, and we had to make a stop in Puerto Montt, but we stayed on the plane and continued to Punta Arenas.
Our guide in Patagonia was Alvaro and he is beautiful. He’s rugged and handsome, and a lot of fun, with big brown expressive eyes…. And… oh right, expansive knowledge of the region. We stopped at a penguin colony. I made a cute video, and got to see piles and piles of penguins. We then drove forever… Patagonia is HUGE!! The trees were really cool looking, all bent over and in one direction from the constant winds. We drove past Fire Island (not the gay one) that got its name from sailors who spotted fires that the indigenous tribes were burning, when they thought the place was uninhibited.
When we arrived in Puerto Natales I was blown away by the beauty of the town. The fields were full of wild flowers, and the houses were painted in vivid colors. Our hotel for this night was The Singular, which was amazing – and indeed a singular hotel. This hotel is remodeled from an old textile factory, and much of the old equipment is still present. They have built glass rooms and glass bridges for guests to move throughout the hotel. We stayed up way too late after dinner watching the vivid eternal sunset evolving right outside the giant windows. The alcohol in Patagonia is poured steep. When you ask for a Jim and Tonic, they bring you a bottle of tonic to go with your 12 ounce glass of gin. But the real adventure begins tomorrow. Our guys are going to love Patagonia!
[to be continued…]
To read about the tour inspired by this trip CLICK HERE!