Sunday night we came back from what I can only qualify as a mind-blowing four days in Patagonia. We headed down to cover a new gastronomic program called Tasting Chile with the “extreme” fly-fishing/ecotourism cruise called Nomads of the Seas. The objective? Experience the magnificent wildness of untouched Chilean Patagonia, which is largely roadless, through explorations into nature using adrenaline-producing toys. Try 2 helicopters, a couple zodiacs, several jetboats, and every other raft device you can imagine.
Tag onto that meals in locations by three World-class chefs like: dessert by a glaciar or an asado an hour up stream in virgin rain forest . On this trip, our chefs were host Guillermo Rodriguez, Yun Sakamoto from São Paulo , and Massimo Funari of Rivoli, probably the best Italian restaurant in Santiago. Valdivieso winery also coordinated wine pairings with winemaker Brett Jackson and Ricardo Bruna from Jack Daniels, was on board.
Since I have to turn in an article I won’t divulge too much of the trip–just some highlights to whet everyone’s appetite.
Thursday, we sailed all night south to the area referred to as the “continent”. After crossing the huge Island of Chiloé, Patagonia breaks up into a maze islands and channels down through Tierra del Fuego. This was my first time on a cruise. Although the Captain assured me it was calm, out in the open waters of the Corcovado Gulf, the up-and-down rocking in the middle of the night made me uneasy.
In the morning, we anchored in a beautiful misty bay where porpoises greeted the boat. There is no civilization here. Only dolphins, whales, penguins, sea lions, prolific bird life, and a myriad of trout-holding emerald rivers, lakes, and lagoons. The sounds of nature were our stereo. The waves crashing; the whisper of the wind; ok, the hum of choppers taking off for excursions; but mostly, a lot of blessed silence. After 12 hours, miraculously I had forgotten where my blackberry was.
–Meals. Super talented chefs knocked out multi-course meals so that each night was akin to dining in a different gourmet restaurant with paired wines. Lunch was “surprise” far flung locations like mountain tops where they flew everyone out.
–Sailing. Ultimately, I came to adore the rocking of the boat. I slept like a baby in a cradle. The intimacy of the Atmosphere created a tight group dynamic. By the time we departed, it felt like camp with old friends. And ahhh, the thalassotherapy jacuzzis with sparkling wine and sweet strawberries. Nothing like some pampering after a hard day of “work”.
–Activities. This was not a fly-fishing trip so we jetboated or kayaked to explore. Definitely though, some serious trekking would be good to keep the calories at bay.
–Helicopter. This for me was worth the whole trip.
Prior to Nomads, I had never been in a chopper. Flying in one is not something I could really wrap my head around until I had experienced it. My favorite part of flying anytime is take off. I love the potency of a machine creating lift and then violá, we have this amazing, beautiful force we call flight. With a helicopter, take off is vertical pushing up onto the air cushion. In that precise moment of transitioning from hovering to forward flight, this woosh sensation overcame me everytime as the chopper moved forward and the ground fell away. Needless to say the views were stunning: fjords and bays, snowcapped volcanoes, waterfalls and rainforest, rainbows. Flying in a helicopter is not just about seeing the landscape. You sense its texture and energy–and totally meld into it.
I had the privilege of flying twice with the Nomads owner, Andrés Ergas, an accomplished pilot. He took us on “joy rides”—all coordinated to U2 and The Cranberries (I will never listen to the songs, End of the World and One the same way again). Low flight following crashing waves, hairpin turns hugging the coast’s black sand beaches, shaving along the rocky bluffs. The energy of the ocean poured into the cabin and there was silence among everyone. Pure magic.
I got to “co-pilot” with Andrés another morning further north in rain-forested fjords. We followed turquoise rivers so low I could see the pebbles; rose up from forest floors to ponder cascading waterfalls that fell rhythmically; we soared to 6,000 ft. cutting through the serrated peaks of the Andes; and swooped over eternal blue glaciers so close we could see the dirt in its gleaming crevices. Time stood still. I had never been as present as I was while flying. As Andrés put it, “It’s like being in the zone.” Most definitely. For me, a spiritual AHA and total adrenaline rush. I was/am hooked.
The whole trip—and any with Nomads—is a must if you want to experience Patagonia in a way you never thought conceivable. I still feel like I starred in this amazing movie last weekend called Nomads of the Seas.
Then I remember, “Wait a minute. That was real!”