Welcome to the bottom of the world. It certainly is beautiful. Patagonia is drop dead insanely grand. It's difficult to describe its magnificence until you are standing as a tiny molecule in the middle of its vast remoteness. Patagonia is worth the investment and the haul. We flew to Punta Arenas from Santiago, which is about a 3.5 hour flight. From Punta Arenas, we had a 2.5 hour drive to The Singular in Patagonia. And then the adventure continued.
Where to stay:
The Singular sits on a channel and is a historic meat packaging plant turned into a beautifully rustic hotel. Our rooms had sweeping views of water and mountain ridges. The aesthetic was equal parts rustic, cozy and exquisite. Every detail was accounted for in developing this hotel. The staff was exceptional delightful. Service was overall outstanding. One night I forgot to close a window. Not a big deal, except a lamp was also on. When we came back from a late Saturday night, there were mosquitos EVERYWHERE. It’s 2am and literally hundreds of mosquitos swarmed the lamp inside. Thankful to the helpful Ignacio at The Singular, they found another room we could sleep in for the night until housekeeping could clean the room in the morning.
What to Eat:
Aldea was rated the #1 restaurant in Puerto Natales. Local ingredients made for meals rich in flavor and decadence. From roasted octopus to lamb to wild hare, Aldea’s motto is ‘slow food’. We sat at 7pm and we left around 10pm. Dinner is made with time and care and there is such beauty in this patience and simplicity. Aldea houses about 7 tables and closes at 11pm - it’s main focus is not table turnover. It felt like we were eating in the kitchen of a good friend.
Main tasting menu:
Wild hare filet
Wild hare shank
Lamb filet roll
As if this amazing meal wasn’t enough, two nights later we ate at Lenga, recommended by the chef at Aldea. Another charmingly delightful tiny establishment, it was clear that ‘slow food’ is a way of life. I could get used to that. The gnocchi and hake were sublime, as was the roasted octopus [amazing flavor and tenderly roasted], but the show stopper was the lamb ribs. I had never cared much for lamb until coming to Chile. We were used to seeing lamb shank and filet on most Chilean menus, but Lenga prepared lamb ribs. It. was. fantastic. Brilliant. The flavor. I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect these riblets were. The way the fat rendered. The tender and juicy meat. All of it, savory. Bravo to this husband and wife team. While in Patagonia, we certainly ate well.
Main tasting menu:
Gnocchi and sea scallops
Pumpkin and anise soup
Lenga and Aldea are an amazing display of cooking with love and eating local. Slow food. Not fast food. Cook with intention, eat with enjoyment and in good company. Take your time. My only regret was not having photos from Lenga.
What to Do:
Fly fishing in Patagonia was something I was pretty excited about. After trying fly fishing a couple years ago in Wyoming [and walking away unsuccessful in catch], I was hopeful the day would bring us some trout. We went out with Patagonia Line, owned by Ben Vial. About a 75 minute drive from The Singular, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere [which I suppose isn’t hard in Patagonia] and fishing on a river that runs through a private estancia [ranch]. Ben is only 1 of 2 outfitters with access to this river.
After a slow morning [for me], we took a break for lunch that Ben’s wife made. Grilled beef, smoked salmon, grilled veggies and quinoa. Oh, and of course, cervaza. We sat and talked story with Ben. What’s so wonderful about music is it can unite people together in commonality. After hearing Ben play The National in the car ride, we each talked about when we saw them live. He saw them live at a festival in Santiago a couple years ago. I showed him video from the Chicago Theater.
Spending an entire day in the fresh country mountain air was incredible. No cell service, no distractions, the only task at hand was to live in that moment fly fishing. Ben is a phenomenally knowledgeable guide and finally I caught a sea trout! Couldn’t ask for a better day.
Having a slow day turned out to be perfect, because the next day’s hike was some work. We entered Torres del Paine [say it like PIE-nay] national park and a boat dropped us off at Lago Pehoe. We hiked through the ridges for about 2.5 hours [honestly I thought this was like 4 hours - it felt like it]. The terrain was rocky and steep in some places. It was so hard to not look up and around, but as soon as I would, I would stumble on a rock. These mountains are not just grand, they are breath takingly full of awe. We reached our destination and a catamaran took us out on the lake to see the glaciers up close and personal. I’ve been on a glacier in Banff, but it’s not the same seeing these natural marvels from the water. We didn’t get to see any sheets of ice drop into the water, but we did enjoy a few pisco sours while heading back.
Across the 10 day trip, we flew on three different airlines totaling about 40 hours. We slept little and adventured a lot. The laughs were countless and the experience priceless. The only thing I’d change was staying for 1-2 more days. South America is lovely. Surely, I’ll be back again some day.