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1-20 November 2013. Three weeks of adventuring in Patagonia, that vast empty land that is the southern part of the South American continent. It is mainly endless plains bare of vegetation broken by breath-taking vistas of the Andes Mountains.

Patagon is the Spanish word for big clumsy feet. There’s a similar Greek word meaning roaring, or gnashing of teeth. The original inhabitants of this land were apparently very tall (hence big feet), and ate raw meat (hence gnashing of teeth). Maybe they also roared. There was also a 1512 book with a savage character called Patagon. Either way Magellan named the people of this land Patagóns, and the land Patagonia – for big feet, or roaring and gnashing, or after the character in the book, or all three. Take your pick. Europeans arrived in greater numbers the 1880’s and it took them less than fifty years to render the indigenous people extinct, mainly through diseases but sometimes by actually hunting them down.

The endless plains are now mostly covered in great estancias, like Australia’s sheep and cattle stations, or the cattle ranches of Texas. Half of Argentina’s fifteen million sheep are in Patagonia.

Lest you think of Patagonia as this:

or this:

know that what is mainly seen through the bus window is this:

and this.

Mile after mile after mile, hour after hour. I loved it. If you watch carefully, in amongst the sheep you get to see llamas and rheas (like emus or ostriches) and, if there is water, pink flamingoes.

And occasionally a gaucho chasing after a lone cow.

If you don’t mind the isolation, and have a fondness for sheep farming this would be the place to live – on the plains of Patagonia beneath Mount Fitz Roy.

Closer to the mountains everything changes. There are lakes and rivers,

spring flowers, and birds,

^^Don’s photo

^^also Don’s photo

the ubiquitous black-faced ibis,

and the equally ubiquitous, and always paired, Upland goose.

And orchids! Who knew? Not me. I always think of orchids as tropical flowers.

It’s cold in Patagonia, even in the spring. Even in the summer. In Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world, on the banks of the Beagle channel, the average summer daytime high is ten degrees (about 52F). A little further north, in El Chalten, someone left the lawn sprinkler on overnight and it cascaded and froze all over this little tree.

In the mountains the glaciers flow down from one of the largest ice fields in the world, shedding great chunks of ice into the lakes

and way down south in the Beagle Channel, and on the island of Tierra Del Fuego, there are seals and penguins and wild wild weather.

This is just an overview. Ice trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier, trekking in Los Glaciares National Park, the glorious Torres Del Paine, Magellan penguins, Gentoo penguins, and, best of all, King penguins, and the shrieking shack, all to come.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.