Sunday 8th November 2015 evening
Once upon a time there was a man with a dream. His name was Orelie-Antoine de Tounens. He was French and his dream was to become the King of Patagonia. He first spent 2 years in Santiago and Valparaiso and in 1860 he met Mapuche people, traced the borders of his kingdom and created it. He created a flag, a constitution, an hymn, appointed fictitious ministers to his kingdom and developed an entire vision. He went back during his life several times to his kingdom.
Patagonia…For some, it is just one more destination. Another tick on a travel list. Just another place to visit, among so many pretty places on this Earth. For others…it is something else. Something beyond reality. Although Patagonia is a physical land with a reality, it is also the representation of the most imaginary kingdoms one can dream of. A kingdom we all can invent and live in, everyone`s unique kingdom. Before to head to Patagonia, I visited a few hours earlier the Valparaiso house of the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. He used to collect toys and place them in various spots in the three houses he had in Chile.
For him, playing was very important because adults need to not forget the child in them. Patagonia as a fiction is this Peter Pan`s kingdom we can be citizens of if we want to. I discovered this aspect of Patagonia thanks to Henri, a friend of my dad, that I bumped into in April 2014 when visiting France for a month. He introduced me to the literature of Jean Raspail. That writer, Jean Raspail, is a passionate lover of Patagonia. In 1951, he went with 5 other friends to Patagonia and was lucky to see the last Alakalufs, this Indian Tribe now extinct. Jean Raspail went back in 1999 and wrote a book which talks about the difference between the present Patagonia and the past Patagonia. His book is called “Adios, Tierra del fuego”.
He also wrote two books about Antoine de Tounens, “Le jeu du roi” and “Moi, Antoine de Tounens.” which are incredibly well representing the kingdom he had created for himself.
Patagonia…The end of the end of the world. The last stop of humanity. There is actually a journalist currently walking the Earth for 7 years, Paul Salopek, who started his journey in the cradle of Africa where humanity started. He will finish his “Out of Eden walk” in Patagonia in 2020. You can follow his journey here: http://www.outofedenwalk.com
Patagonia…The country of the crazy winds and the crazy rains. Known as one of the most beautiful land on Earth, with incredible landscapes, valleys, glaciers, lakes, volcanoes. But also known as having one of the harshest environment on Earth in which to live. And still. People moved there. Irish people for example. In Buenos Aires, I went to see a documentary about the Tehuelches and the Irish having to live together to survive, it was called “Yenu Kade”. It was in Spanish with no subtitles, so I didn`t understand much but it was really interesting to see the images. There are so many interesting documentaries about Patagonia. There used to be a few different native Indian groups living there. The Tehuelche people is often referred to as a collective name for some of the native tribes. Distinctive groups are the Mapuche, the Yagans or Yamanas, the Onas or Selknams, the Haush or Manekenk and the Alakalufs or Kaweskars. A few Mapuche survived but most got swallowed by blending inside the Spanish and white men settlers society. Within the last 400 years, the others all got killed or died of diseases they got in contact with the newcomers or died because their resources and land were being taken and their lifestyle got threatened. A famous French sailor, Isabelle Autissier, wrote a book called “The lover of Patagonia” about the love between a young Scottish girl who fell in love with a Yaghan and left everything and went to live with him the Yaghan`s way.
Patagonia..The most awesome travel writers have been attracted to it and wrote about it. Paul Theroux who took La Trochita train in 1979, which is not functioning anymore, travelled all the way from Massachusetts to Esquel. He wrote the book “The Old Patagonian Express”. I love his book because it is like reading a travel diary, he just writes whatever he fancies writing, he writes so many details about his journey. Bruce Chatwin also went and wrote a book called “In Patagonia” telling about his trip and the people he met. One of the most awesome Chilean writer I have read so far who strangely is not very famous in his own country, Luis Sepulveda, wrote “Ultimas noticias del Sur” (Last news from the South) in which he also comes back to places he had been in the past and compares and talks with details and nostalgia about them, the same nostalgia which inhabits Jean Raspail`s books.
Patagonia…Ah Patagonia. I remember chatting with Luis passionately about Patagonia when we were hanging out together in La Paz and he was telling me: “But why would Patagonia be so special? Why would it be more different than any other place in the world? Other places also are special, Iceland, Namibia…They have incredible landscapes too. They are full of mysteries and history too. Why would Patagonia be so special?” And it is true. There are many places in the world which are special. Why would this one be more special? Like he said, ultimately it becomes some place that is special to someone. Like Bondi Beach in Australia became very special to Uge, who has been photographing it almost every morning the last 15 years and makes his passion for it contagious through his newsletter from http://www.aquabumps.org.
But somehow…Patagonia is special to many people. I was chatting with Helene while walking down to the bus going from Valparaiso to Pucon and she was telling me how exciting she was to go. Then , just before to board the bus to Pucon, we ran into Fredricks, a Swedish guy I had seen at the free walking tour in Mendoza and he said: “I am so excited. For me, it is kind of the real beginning of my trip!” Where does this excitement in people for Patagonia come from???!!! So hard to say.
Nowadays, for us tourists who have never been to Patagonia before, and who don`t know much about its history and places and people, Patagonia is legendary mostly for its landscapes and for its hiking opportunities. This is the modern Patagonia. It has become this hikers Mecca in the South that Huaraz can be too in the North of Peru. We all have a couple of destinations resonating in our head, the most popular one being Torres del Paine. If I think of all travellers I met heading to Patagonia, there is not a single one who didn`t know about Torres del Paine and most had this destination on their list. The other destinations that resonate in our heads are Perito Moreno, Chiloe Island, El Chalten, Fitzroy, El Calafate, Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Montt, Ushuaia, Tierra
del Fuego…So many names I have kept hearing when chatting to travellers the last 4 months.
Here is a map of Patagonia to help locate some of them.
There is something else about Patagonia. People talk about it with deep respect, and humility. We know it is the land of the crazy wind and crazy rain and that it can be freezing and foggy. We know that distances are so huge and that the transport can be scarce and difficult with sometimes a bus or a boat leaving only every few days. We know that in some areas you could be walking for days without seeing another human being.
Patagonia has been calling. For so many weeks now. Like the ring. You get this thing growing at the bottom of your mind. A call. Something telling you that you have to go there, now. That it is time. You keep postponing a bit longer, and the call grows bigger and bigger. Until you are in that bus on the way there. At the time of writing this from the bus heading to Pucon, my heart is beating harder, it is bouncing. I am so excited, like so many others on this bus, and so many
before us who have been one day heading to Patagonia.
We had a barbecue that last day in Valparaiso at “Nido del Caminante” hostel. It was an awesome chilled out lunch with a dozen of us there, very good vibes. I remember Odile, a French girl volunteering at the hostel for a month, asking me: Are you going to go to Patagonia? And I replied “Yes, I am actually going there tonight.” Oh how beautiful that moment in the present a few hours before to board the bus to Pucon. I told her: “This is so cool to be able right now at this exact moment to be saying:”I am going there tonight.” I know that before I know it, I will be saying “I was there a few weeks ago…a few months ago.. a few years ago…” Time flies so fast.
So here I was, on my way to Pucon, the entry door to Patagonia. Let`s go transform this fiction place into a reality, one more reality among thousand other faces of this legendary place.
PATAGONIA here I come!!!! 😀