A new binational circuit proposes to visit two natural parks in the Patagonia of Argentina and Chile. From the steppe, plateaus and cave paintings of Santa Cruz to the wooded valleys, rivers and lakes in the Region of Aysén.
We arrived to know a new route that proposes this Patagonia as immense as rich in landscapes, histories, contrasts: the new Patagonia Park route, a binational circuit that combines two parks, one in Argentina and another in Chile.
On this side of the Cordillera, the youngest of the Argentinean parks: Patagonia National Park, created in 2015 to protect more than 50,000 hectares at the top of the Lake Buenos Aires plateau. On the other, a reserve that bears the same name -Patagonia- and today is private but hopes to become a new Chilean national park. Both, initiative of the TLC Foundation, created by the entrepreneur Douglas Tompkins, who fell in love with the region, so much that here he left his life, and here he is buried.
We leave the blue sea to the west, opening the way in the steppe by the provincial route 26. The hills curls, the arid plateau, the oil wells of Pampa del Castillo, the oasis of Sarmiento, the route that climbs towards the Cordillera. Our destination is the city of Perito Moreno, in the northwest of the province of Santa Cruz, 398 km from Comodoro, 450 from Puerto Deseado, 625 from El Calafate. Deep Patagonia.
First scale: The Ascension, a typical Patagonian estancia that, like so many others here, left the breeding of sheep and turned to tourism. To pass, see and enjoy: a beautiful old town, a classroom where the sons of peones and chargeants studied, the materal – circular, with the stove in the middle – and an impeccable shearing shed, with the burden of the last work hanging from the ceiling. All on the banks of the immense lake Buenos Aires, which on the other side of the imaginary line that divides countries is called Gral. Carrera.
Hands on the canyon
The ford of the cañon snails, reddish, with white soil by a saline and a mallín where the pink flamingos pecked, is just a big advance. A few minutes later, we look out over the spectacular canyon of the Pinturas river, an impressive 300 meter-deep pit on the arid plateau, at the bottom of which the river streams with evergreen willows and grasses. The landscape strikes its beauty, but there is something more … a kind of background rumor, «something» that generates a sort of strange uneasiness, and in what I realize later, that restlessness, I understand, comes from The feeling of being «peeping» into a primitive world, to a planet that has not yet cooled, in which man has not yet set his feet. That disturbing and at the same time fascinating sensation of being the explorers of a trip to the past. In the green valley there are many cows, but it does not sound far-fetched the idea that at any moment a velociraptor or a huge milodón can appear dragging its heavy body.
But it was mostly the man who left his old footprints here. Among the dozens of paintings of hands, guanacos, arrows and hunters that decorate the Cave of the Hands, the oldest ones are dated in about 9,300 years. It is not known exactly who made them – the Tehuelches’ is the most accepted theory – but it can – and worth – admire them. They would take some rock of color, grind it and mix it with water or urine, fill some bone with the liquid, place the open hand on the wall and blow on it: a perfect negative.
There are those of adults and children, in different colors, and curiosities like a hand of 6 fingers or animals and insects that are not well known what they are, as well as admirable hunting scenes. «The newest paintings date back to about 3,500 years,» says the guide Natalia Morrone, and the beauty of this primitive art complements perfectly with the beauty of the landscape under the golden sun at dusk. The estancia Los Toldos, to which these lands belong, was also recently acquired by the TLC Foundation, to ensure its preservation.
When to Chile we are going
The green valley
With the aim of creating the Patagonia National Park, the Patagonian Conservation Foundation acquired more than 70,000 hectares in this valley, which for decades was a huge estancia where overgrazing of thousands of sheep caused great ecological damage. Since its inception, the foundation has implemented a grassland restoration plan and dismantled more than 600 km of fencing to allow the free circulation of wild animals, especially guanacos and precious huemules, which are in danger of extinction. We are told by the local guide, Sergio, while watching a video in the super comfortable living room of the lodge, with large windows through which the mountain seems to enter.
The Southern Highway
There are more surprises along this lap. Like the beauty of Puerto Guadal, with its wooden houses and colors; The impressive canyon of the Las Dunas river, which overlooks the house of Leonardo San Martín Aviles, who guides us on a hike to see dozens of fossils embodied in the stone and a cascade of tale; Or that long natural viewpoint in which Route 265 is transformed as it snakes to the edge of the abyss on the shores of Lake General Carrera, the peaceful welcome to Chile Chico, with its Plaza del Viento and its coast. Suddenly, as if by magic, the steppe returns, the sky clears, the wind blows again. Welcome back.
Back on the lake
Just a few meters away, the border again, and a few meters further, Los Antiguos, a green oasis on the shores of the lake, with rows of poplars protecting apple farms, strawberries, currants and especially cherries, the star of the place: every year Here is the National Cherry Festival. By the way, write and book: the next will be January 13 to 15.
With the complete turn, the soul does something similar: it is full of landscapes, aromas, infinite skies. Impressive everything seen, but there is more. There are still the Caves of the Hands of Chile – yes, there are also, on this side, near Chile Chico -, is more of the Carretera Austral, there are the surreal Marble Chapels – extraordinary caverns that are reached by sailing on the lake- . So much to see. We look at each other and we know what we are thinking, even if we do not say it: we will return!