In a country as long as Chile, in a continent as big as South America, my concept of what a ‘long journey’ is has changed significantly since leaving England. Previously, the 4 hour trip up to Uni in Leeds seemed like a big deal and I always made sure I was equipped for this monstrosity with snacks, pillows, music and whatnot. I also never went home during term-time as ‘the journey was too long to be worth a weekend visit’…! I thus think at any time in my life up until now I would have flat-out refused the idea of visiting somewhere 8 hours away, just for the day. I would think the person suggesting it was either crazy, or had an unusual affection for being cramped up in a vehicle for the majority of their precious day. However, in the Coyhaique Province in Northern Patagonia we somehow managed to sign up to two consecutive days of this nonsense. Day one: San Rafael Glacier.
We arrived late at night into Balmaceda airport, ready to spend a few days in the beautiful Aysen region… hopping off our second flight in a row where we were given the seats with extra legroom by the emergency exit, for no reason at all. Perhaps they thought that because we are European we must be super tall. Well, I suppose we are taller than the average Chilean at any rate.
On our first day in Coyhaique, the capital city of both the Coyhaique Province and the Aysen region, we were up at 4.30am for our trip to the San Rafael Glacier, one of Coyhaique’s main attractions. Only in Chile could a capital city’s main attraction be so far away from the city itself… Imagine one of London’s “Top Ten Things to Do” being in Edinburgh. I don’t think so.
After boarding ‘one of the fastest boats in Southern Chile, we left Puerto Chacabuco and soon reached our top speed of a lightning 20 notts (less than 40km/h)… hmm. We had purposely booked through a Chilean company for a more authentic experience… and it sure was that. We were the only foreigners on the entire boat. The staff didn’t seem to think we understood anything, even though we reassured them that we did. The funniest moment of all was when, after announcing the numerous Marias, Franciscos and Claudias that were to be in the various ‘small groups’, they struggled a little with our alien names… Chloe somehow became ‘Shlow’… fantastic. They obviously thought these three European girls with unpronounceable names on a boat full of nationals were super weird. It didn’t help matters that both Becca and Freddie had given up meat for lent, so we had to awkwardly send back the meaty lunch we were provided with and request three vegetarian meals. Totally normal in a meat-obsessed country such as Chile… not.
After a 6.5 hour journey through beautiful misty scenery, we finally arrived at the glacier. Classic ‘celebration’ music was played and the Chilean flag was waved. Cheering and applauding ensued, of course. Our little groups were called one by one and we went out in dinghies to get closer to the glacier. It was truly breathtaking. An immense stretch of powerful blue ice stared down at us… huge chunks of it coming loose and unceremoniously crashing into the uninviting icy water every few minutes. We stared up in awe at this immense natural beauty, swathed in our scarves and hats and coats, trying to get our nervous systems to send enough information to our frozen fingers to press the shutters on our cameras.
After an hour or so at our destination, it was time to head back. A Chilean-style boat party soon commenced. With an open bar (and ice from the glacier being used in the drinks!), it soon turned into a hilarious affair. After a few pisco sours, the karaoke began. The three novelty Europeans were in high demand to sing some songs in English it seemed. Before we knew it we were yelling along to ‘I will survive’ and ‘YMCA’… our Chilean crowd absolutely loved it.
After a long afternoon of singing, dancing, drinking and eating we arrived back to the port late at night and jumped back into the minivan for a few hours’ drive back to town… the last leg of the 16 hours of travelling that the day had provided us with. We crashed straight out when we got back to the hostel, ready for our comparative lie-in of a 6.30am alarm the next day, for round 2 of #whyisnothingeasytogettoinaysen?
For more on glaciers, snow and ice, check out Allied Feather & Down athlete, Eric Larsen: