Parent Trip Patagonia & Beyond: April 2014

Because sometimes you need to travel without kids. It’s true.

We love traveling with our family. We value the closeness and perspective these trips bring. But when you commit to having a family, it’s even more important to commit to the family that came before the kids arrived: the couple. To keep the sparks alive, we occasionally travel without the whole family, recharging our relationship and our reserves. We love the time together, and are eager for the company of our kids when we return.

Couples trips have become a vital part of my marriage, even though I’ve discovered that these vacations take more work prior to departure. We don’t do couple trips a lot and I wrote an entire dispatch explaining why.

WARNING: If you don’t like breathtaking photographs, do not visit this travelogue. Patagonia is a photographer’s playground. Dramatic, intoxicating views were found in every direction all day long.

Special thanks to all the properties that made this trip possible.


Day 0: 4 April - Day before flight to Santiago, Chile

We received several pre-departure phone calls and emails from loved ones who knew we were headed to Santiago. Two intense earthquakes in the north of the country caused some concern.

Chile has had more than its fair share of earthquakes, but they’ve done a good job engineering and building in anticipation of future quakes. The latest earthquake occurred in the north, hundreds of miles from Santiago and the southern part of the country where we will spend the majority of our time.

Amie was among the people who asked whether the strong earthquakes had caused us to reconsider and cancel the trip. I answered, “We’re still going.”

“You mean it will take more than an act of God for me to get out of watching your kids?”


This is one of many reasons why trip insurance is a good idea. I’ve had really good experience with a company called Travelex. It’s easy to purchase and easy to make claims if necessary.

Day 1: 5 April - Arriving in Santiago, Chile

We arrived in Santiago early this morning after a restless night. I did, however, watch a couple movies I had absolutely no interest in seeing.

Today’s highlights:

Visiting old friends. One of our favorite Santiagueños is Rodrigo Giadalah. We met him 12 years ago when we were all backpackers in Thailand. By unbelievable, mundo-pequeño coincidence, he greeted us as we checked in at Lastarria Boutique Hotel in Santiago in 2012. Rodrigo, an owner of that hotel, just happened to be sitting near the reception when we arrived.  He and John recognized each other, but not immediately.

“I dink…hmmm…I dink I know you,” he said, waving his finger at John and letting his English flow slowly.

“Oh, yeah? Did I meet you last year in Florianopolis, at a convention?”

“No, no, I dink, hmmm. Thailand?”

“RODRIGO!” John exclaimed. He was stunned! We couldn’t believe it. We’d ridden elephants and slept on mats in a hill tribe hut more than a decade earlier. He was one of the main characters of that vacation–the funny one who bought plastic shoes for the hike, lost one shoe in a river, had a short argument with an elephant, and talked so slowly. We’d laughed remembering him over the years. Now, with no way of keeping in touch in the meantime, here he was laughing and hugging us as if we were still in Thailand.  If there are any statisticians our there, please provide some probability context. Recognizing the mathematical significance of our reunion, we vowed to stay in touch. We had, and John toured his new project (The Kuhl Hotel, coming 2016?) while I caught up on missed sleep.

Other highlights include revisiting the La Vega market, and touring the new downstairs exhibit hall in the Pre-Columbian museum. What an amazing museum. The mummies there are said to be the oldest on earth.

We finished the day at Borago Restaurante with a sample of nine different amazing courses. My favorite was the rica-rica macaron with rica-rica ice cream. John loves rica-rica, an herb that grows roadside in Atacama but is unknown in the capital’s markets. The final course was a frozen cookie that filled your mouth with vapor. I wish I’d had my camera ready to capture John blowing puffs of smoke from his nostrils like an angry bull. What a fantastic meal. The display kitchen’s staff have the precision of an Indy pit crew. Pure artistry. We’d eat there again without hesitation, but this wouldn’t be a place to take our youngest kids.

Day 2: 6 April - Puerto Natales, Chile

The Singular Patagonia. Wow. We flew to Puerto Arenas and drove two hours to this jewel. It’s an Edwardian period cold-storage plant that’s been converted into a stunning five-star hotel. We’re generally lucky when it comes to weather, and our streak continued here.  Hardly any of the famous Patagonian wind, and none of the rain we’d been warned to expect.  We relaxed at the property, enjoyed the spa, and ate our fill of fresh fish and perfectly-grilled vegetables.

Day 3: 7 April - Puerto Natales, Chile

Weather continues to be very clear, warm, and calm. We kayaked near the hotel this morning. Laughed ourselves silly while paddling, but couldn’t really say what got us giggling. In the afternoon, we rode horses with Carlos, a gaucho who’s engaged to a Californian and planning to move to the USA soon.  He seems so free, that I have a hard time imagining him in traffic on the 405.  It seems that every fifth Chilean guy under 40 is engaged to a Californian.

Tonight we talked to each other all through dinner without interruption. If I were home right now, I would be consuming half my calories in the form of food my kids left uneaten on their plates, or on the floor under the baby’s chair.

I checked in with Amie to see how our little ladies are doing.  This is her reply:

Dear Erynn -I am alive! And so are you children! holy cow. Proof of life photos attached.

I can’t believe how much Min can eat and drink. I am no longer surprised about the very green surprise in her diaper this morning — and this afternoon!Philippa is hilarious. She thinks faster than she knows the words. Poor kid, it drives her nuts!

Hero loves to play this game on my iPad. The goal is to save dogs. She’s also nice to the dog across the street. What is that? A tumor? Bless Hero, I think she wishes she could hug and cuddle that dog, but she’s kinda afraid of its underbelly growth.

Cora is in charge. She hates being told what to do. Mainly that’s ’cause she knows more about what’s going on around here than me. So telling her what to do is kinda insulting.

It’s nice weather. We played olympic relay in the front yard until everyone was sufficiently hungry and tired. It took two hours of hard core running and push-ups! Cora found an orange flag in the garage we can go to the park tomorrow for hard-core olympics. I might have to mix in a little cross-fit too.

Dude, I’m addicted to that salty kelp in the cupboard! what is that stuff? It’s amazingly salty goodness is better than the most tangy salt and vinegar chips. I’d buy you more, but I can’t even read what the package says. it’s all Chinese and/or Japanese. Philippa, Min and I might have to make a journey to buy more this week.

Having a blast. Signing out for the night! Keep up with the recreation and fun.

I am so lucky Amie was available! Also, that green surprise was courtesy of sugared cereal. I seldom buy it, but wanted them to have something else to look forward to while I was away. Every kid chose a box. In Min’s case, TRIX was the culprit.

Day 4: 8 April - Torres del Paine, Chile

After breakfast, we met our guide from Awasi Patagonia.  His name is Diego, and we think he’ll be another lifelong friend. After leaving the Singular, we drove a short distance (a Patagonian short distance) to a group of three caves. One of these is where mylodon (giant ground sloth) fur, skin, other remains were discovered in 1896. These animals are said to have survived in South America until the last ten millennia. The cold, dry Patagonian climate preserved the soft tissues, which were found by sheep ranchers exploring the caves. John is crazy about mega fauna, especially anything from the Pleistocene or earlier. We hiked to all three caves, and Diego, who studied as a Jesuit for years, sang hymns in the final chamber. Then he and John had a pull-up contest a cave roof projection. John ended up landing flat on his back.

After three hours of driving, we are now in the crown jewel of Chilean Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park. The scenery is eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly stunning. If we’d come here before the days of digital photography, John would have broken his film budget today. Arriving in the park, we saw 11 condors together, rheas (like little ostriches), guanacos, and foxes.

The weather continues to hold and I’m becoming skeptical that all this talk of Patagonian wind is a bunch of hot air. This lodge, Awasi Patagonia, is so right.  Each of the cabins has a wood-fired hot tub looking out over the park, toward the Paine Massif. Now I have no doubt that I’m on vacation.

Day 5: 9 April - Torres del Paine, Chile

Another amazing day in Patagonia. Clear, blue skies and comfortable temperatures. This place is gorgeous.  We love Banff and the Tetons and Interlaken, but this place is something in a class of its own. We rode horses across the pampas in front of Lago Pehoe, had lunch at Explora Patagonia, and hiked with Diego in the afternoon.

I’d remembered hearing about a camper-caused fire in the park in late 2011. At the time, I recall thinking of Yellowstone, and how the fire can replenish the forest in the long run, allowing new growth to take hold. Patagonia is a different story. Because lightning is so rare here, the plants aren’t adapted to fire.  They are also slow-growing; many of the trees here–the nothafagus lengas and nires–are small for their age; many that appear no taller than a 20-year old oak in the US are more than 200 years old. We were told that reforestation will take decades or centuries, if it ever occurs. Fires are outlawed in the park, and saplings have been planted, but the climate is changing to be drier; native species are having a tougher time even in places where they’ve thrived in the past. When you camp, be extra careful with your fire, Prometheus.

Day 6: 10 April - Torres del Paine, Chile

Thanks to an outlet store near our home, we’re covered in Patagonia-brand cold weather gear. Finally, I have a sense of why Yvon Chouinard named his brand for this region. Today is inescapably cold. The wind has arrived, along with rain. The Paine Massif is covered in fog, so instead of climbing to the towers, we decided to mountain bike and hike. Diego took us on six segments–sections of the national park that he calls “the gems.” We loved it.  The only trouble was, the riding trail is deep and narrow. Every time I rotated the cranks, my pedal would get caught in the low, clumpy, thorny bushes known as Cojin de la Suegra (Mother-In-Law’s Cushion).  More than once, I flew off the bike and spent minutes picking the thorns from my backside.

The land is full of guanaco bones, uneaten rabbit legs, and animal scat. Diego has a habit of analyzing the puma poop. Our examination of one sample included a claw, a small thin bone, hair, and some little bone chunks. When John and Diego got too far ahead (while I was removing thorns) I kept imagined Diego finding my wedding ring, contact lens, and tooth filling during next week’s analysis.

I never remember what I’m suppose to do if I meet certain wild animals. Do I run? Do I make myself big and scary? Do I play dead?  I’ll never get this right when it matters.  Apparently, the big-and-scary approach is the right one for pumas.

Day 7: 11 April - Torres del Paine, Chile

What luck: another clear day. We woke up at 5AM in order to reach the summit of the Paine Massif with time to enjoy the sunrise and watch the clouds dissipate. Nature cooperated perfectly with our plans, revealing the Towers shortly after we reached the glacial lake at their base. The Torres del Paine are one of those sights that you can’t process properly in the moment–too awesome for full appreciation. Also, we were freezing.

Diego had packed cookies and herbal tea. We warmed our hands on the cups of tea and laughed at the beauty around us. We were in another postcard.

In the late afternoon, I relaxed at the lodge while Diego took John to the Baguales range.  The afternoon light was ideal, and John captured these.

No puma yet, but what a gorgeous day in Patagonia.

Day 8: 12 April - El Calafate, Argentina

Thank you and goodbye, Awasi.  Today started with a long, scenic drive to El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park. If Chile and Argentina could agree on the border crossings, the drive would have taken about an an hour on an existing road. Instead, it took five hours of backtrack and roundabout. That’s okay.

At least we got a couple great shots from the Middle of Nowhere, Argentina. We enjoyed the company of our driver, another gaucho.  We also had fantastic box lunches from Awasi. An hour outside of El Calafate, a viewpoint allows you to see Lago Argentino, the Fitzroy Massif, and the Paine Massif.

Welcome to Eolo. This lovely Relais & Chateaux lodge is located on a private estancia about an hour from Los Glaciares National Park.  This place is warm, it’s welcoming, it’s beautiful. But it’s not for kids under age 12. I don’t always see the logic of age restrictions at resorts and hotels, but the policy makes sense here.  I was grateful that I wasn’t trying to manage the behavior of my little ones at this peaceful retreat. John was here a few years ago on a trip with his father. The food is even better now.

Day 9: 13 April - Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Day 10: 14 April - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Only one day to visit friends in Buenos Aires.

Most of our afternoon was spent with one of John’s photo heroes Diego Ortiz Mugica and his family. Diego is a master in the darkroom.  He prints everything on paper, with enlargers, the way John prefers. That’s increasingly rare, but it shouldn’t be. The up-close quality differences between a photographic print and a printer print are subtle, but clear.

Diego (are we over the limit on Diegos in this story?) is one of the most sought-after artists in Argentina. He’s also kind, generous, and genuine. Diego works really long, difficult hours in the field or on assignment, and they run a photo school and gallery from their home. Go Diego, go. But he’s a committed husband, father, and grandfather. He and Gaby split their time between Buenos Aires and Bariloche, traveling back and forth with the seasons. Diego insists that family travel has kept his family close.

He is also working on a project with monk and interfaith scholar, Brother David Steindl-Rast. The video piece that will accompany Diego’s photography book moved me to tears. You might have seen the TED Talk by Brother David. Here’s the video:

Day 11: 15 April - Montevideo & Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

We took a morning ferry to Montevideo, Uruguay. Sadly, the fast ferry (a hydrofoil that makes the trip in one hour) isn’t working.

We had a brief tour of Montevideo and then headed to Jose Ignacio, a tidy little beach town about an hour up the coast from Punta del Este. Although we’ll be staying on the beach for two nights, our home for the night is Estancia Vik. If you’ve ever imagined living in an art museum, come do so here. We had an afternoon ride, and then drove to Punta del Este for dinner with friends Max, Natalia and their lovely children. Meeting up with friends makes travel so much sweeter.

Day 12: 16 April - El Garzon, Uruguay

Occasionally when traveling, I find myself imagining that I move my family to the destination I’m visiting. I love Uruguay. Here are a few reasons why:

      • Friendly, relaxed people
      • Clean, safe country
      • Stable economy
      • Jose Mujica, the “poorest” president in the world. He donates about 90% of his income to charities that eliminate poverty in Uruguay. He continues to live on his small farm and still uses his 20-year-old VW Beetle for transportation.

After a leisurely morning, we took a drive to the little town of Garzon for lunch. Then, we visited an olive and almond farm. All this, and then we checked in for two nights at Playa Vik, the estancia’s seaside property. Unbelievable. For half it’s length, the pool juts out over the hillside. You’ve seen infinity pools. This is beyond pool, courtesy of James Turrell. Another great dinner tonight, this time with the sand between our toes at La Huella.

Day 13: 17 April - Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

Today was the rarest kind of travel day for us–a do nothing day.  No plans, no appointments, no expectations.  We slept late, ate well, and enjoyed each other’s company. We climbed a lighthouse, swam, ate by the pool, walked on the beach, and had dinner at the estancia with friends. A perfect finish to the last true vacation day of this trip.

Day 14: 18 April - Uruguay to Brazil to USA

Today we head for home. It is time, and I’m really missing our kids. This kind of longing arrives each time the vacation is nearly over, before the journey home begins. It doesn’t matter if the trip is three days or three weeks, that desire to see our little people comes on strong once we know we’ll see them soon.

Unfortunately, we have over thirty hours of travel ahead: one long drive, three flights, and plenty of time in airports.

First stop: Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay. The terminal is a work of art. Surprisingly, the gift shops have some good options, and the restaurant food is tempting. Another reason to move to Uruguay.

Second stop: Guarulhos International Airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil.  This is not my favorite airport in South America. The layover was long, but not long enough that we could beat the traffic and have dinner in the city.  Instead, we cobbled together a reasonably healthy dinner in the terminal and made a game of taking abstract photos. Overnight flight back to the USA.

Day 15: 19 April - Home Sweet Home

Morning stop: Detroit, Michigan. Thankfully, we breezed through customs. I checked to see if there were any earlier flights to our hometown. There was, but it was leaving in 30 minutes. We rushed to the gate.  What did we have to loose? We pressed our luck and were told that the flight had room. It would cost $50 per person to make the change, but seemed worth it. Otherwise, we’d need to wait an additional four hours before I could cuddle my kids.

Final destination: As soon as our earlier flight hit the tarmac in my hometown, I turned on my phone and received an email from Delta explaining that our original flight would be delayed an additional three hours. The early flight was likely the best $100 I spent on the whole trip!

This was a fantastic trip: just what we needed to remember why we’re married–why we love and like each other. Travel like this can recharge the spirit. I’m so glad we have these beautiful little people to come home to.


One response to “Parent Trip Patagonia & Beyond

  1. Such a joy scrolling through all these beautiful photos and hearing about your trip. Thanks for sharing!

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