Picture this: a half-crazed kid with a maniacal smile and just-eaten chocolate all over his face. This, my friends, is what we call “choco nino.” It’s an expression our fellow campers in Chaiten, Justin and Matt, came up with to describe a situation that is just out-of-this-world awesome. It’s also how I feel about the trip ever since we stepped foot in Patagonia.
Basically, everything that you’ve heard about Patagonia is absolutely true. The mountains are gigantic, with snow-capped peaks and foliage somewhat reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. The ground is squishy and spongy. There are zillions of waterfalls, large and small, pouring out of holes in the mountainsides. Blue glaciers glisten in the summer sun. The scenery has literally brought me to tears many times, in part because of its majestic beauty but also because it’s so untouched. Unlike most places on Earth, much of this land has been mercifully left alone (for now) and is inaccessible to most people without a horse or clear knowledge of the landscape. As it should be.
As Mark mentioned earlier, the Carretera Austral is definitely a state of mind. It attracts a certain kind of traveler—one who doesn’t mind that there’s only one dirt road in or out, and that getting from Point A to Point B might take just a bit longer than planned. All the coming and going lends a definite movement to the land and also the journey, one that I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing before while traveling. It’s subtle, but it’s there if you know how to listen.
The last couple of days have been pretty special, I must say. Baking bread from scratch over the campfire with Matt and Justin was pretty stellar (and tasty). Hitching a ride to the Enchanted Forest with Aisling was an experience I’ll not soon forget (yes, hitching is fairly popular here on the Carretera Austral). And although we didn’t get to spend as much time as we would’ve liked in said Enchanted Forest, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said it might be one of my Top 3 Most Favorite Spots On Earth. If a leprechaun shimmied out from under a moss-covered rock and handed me a pot of gold, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.
Maybe a switch has been flipped, allowing us to feel truly rooted in our adventure. Maybe it’s the deep reverence we have for the land around us. Or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been meeting folks of all ages and circumstances who are actively asking important questions about what they want out of life, at least for the time being. But one thing’s for sure: Chilean Patagonia is downright choco nino.