Patagonia Fit For A King
King is friendly, playful, excitable and adventurous. He’s also 21 months and has a very short attention span. So admittedly, when my husband and I decided to take our son to Patagonia on vacation, we were a little anxious. The honeymoon has been over for a while, along with the carefree travel that came with it. Now, I have a family to consider.
As a single traveler, the call of adventure was too much for me to resist; wine tasting in Mendoza to driving the Keys from South Beach to Key West and doing yoga with sea lions in the Galapagos. My passion for seeking new travel experiences didn’t perish when I became a mom. Even in the anticipation of King’s arrival, I was determined to share my love of travel with him. More than that, I wanted to offer him the experiences of being exposed to fascinating cultures, beautiful landscapes and genuine people.
I've visited Patagonia once before in 2009. While reveling in the natural splendor of Torres Del Paine National Park, I knew that I had to come back and explore more of South America’s southern frontier. During that trip, I learned about the Cruceros Australis cruise ship. I immediately became captivated by the idea of navigating through the uttermost end of the earth with its snowcapped mountains, majestic fjords and pristine waters. Patagonia is full of treasures well worth seeking. But ultimately, we had our own ambitious reasons:
1. Patagonia's remoteness
2. Reaching "the end of the earth" at Cape Horn
Kensington’s Patagonia Holiday Family Adventure tour covers all these major highlights plus much more. In addition, since King isn’t two yet, it was FREE for him!
When we told our families and friends they were supportive but still thought we were crazy. Their resistance to the idea was expressed by a variety of quizzical looks and questions: “He’s so young, what will he remember? Have you any idea how much hard work it’s going to be? Do you realize you’ll have to pack for two climates?” We considered all of their concerns but we remained confident in our decision. We knew we wanted to take King on an adventure like this while he was still young enough to enjoy being with us and not be bored. His short attention span and vivacious curiosity would ensure that even the little things would interest and WOW him. We were right. On a beach in Tierra del Fuego, King delightfully picked up rocks to admire the different shapes and colours. In a park in Buenos Aires, he spotted ducks and followed them around shouting “quack, quack”. We soon found other advantages to traveling with our little loved one. King comfortably fit in a child carrier back pack and this meant we could virtually do as much as we wanted. If he got tired there was no whining or complaining. We simply put him into the pack and off to sleep he would go while we could continue on.
As part of garnering a whole new angle on my traveling, I did some research before I left. I spoke to other families and read family travel blogs. The most useful tip I received was to buy lots of toys (you can get them at the Dollar Store) and introduce one every day. It added to the luggage (which was already doubled) but it was worth it. King looked forward to having something new to play with and it was a daily distraction for him which kept us at ease.
We were pleasantly surprised at how accepting and accommodating the locals and the ship crew were to our traveling family. It was not unusual to see generations of South American families traveling together. They participated in activities together, ate meals together and helped each other out with the kids. I found it to be a cultural normality that is more prevalent than it is in North America. Everyone loved King – they immediately took to his outgoing and lively personality. He would have his cheeks tugged and kissed. He would be swept off in to the arms of a crew member or fellow cruise passenger who would walk around coddling him the entire time. Astonishingly, my defenses as a mother were restrained. I undoubtedly put my trust into the welcoming arms of a culture that celebrated the importance of family. As a testament to their unbridled devotion, King spoke a few of his first words (he was already saying mama and dada) while we were away – “Hola” to greet friends and strangers and “Una” to request just one Krypoz (the Chilean equivalent to Pringles).
King had a lot more first time experiences on this trip. As a mother, I was touched that they occurred while we were in such a magical place. These were all moments of appreciation for King and although he may not remember them when he's older, he was certainly enabled and thrilled at the time.
Here are a few of King’s epic first times:
1. First time King played in snow. Although it was spring, there was a brief snow fall while we were in Ushuaia.
2. First train ride. King is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine so it was fitting that his first train ride was on a steam engine! He skipped up and down the platform shouting “toot, toot!”
3. First bike ride. Snuggly fitted to Carlos’ back, King joined us on our bike tour in Buenos Aires.
4. First real life encounter with a penguin. Prior to the trip, we persistently showed King pictures of penguins while saying the word “pen-guin”. So familiar was he with the animals that he tried walking right up to the Magdalena penguins – they weren’t having any of it.
The 130 passenger Via Australis combined the luxuries of a cruise with the adventure of an expedition. We lapped in the comforts of 5* cuisine, daily maid service, open bar, an incredibly attentive staff and much more. There were two daily excursions accompanied by educational lectures of the area. Passengers were allowed to choose from a low/moderate/difficult excursion options which made each port of call a unique experience catering to interests and ability.
CAPE HORN & WAILULA BAY
Biting, 140km winds and 653 steps is a precarious combination. But it was a challenge we eagerly accepted to get up the 425m cliff at Hoorn Island in Cape Horn National Park. Carlos managed the feat with King strapped on to his back and it was worth the effort. We visited the lighthouse at the Chilean Navy Station which is maintained by a naval family. They graciously invited us in to their home and we spent time chatting and drinking tea. We had reached the “End of the Earth” and although it exhibited such unforgiving natural traits, we found compassion in the kind-hearted hospitality of this family.
That afternoon we went ashore in historic Wulaia Bay, once the site of one of the region’s largest Yamana aboriginal settlements. Charles Darwin landed here on January 23rd, 1833, during the voyage of the HMS Beagle. We went on a short hike, admiring the mesmerizing beauty of the vegetation and landscape. At the end of our walk we were offered Johnny Walker (Red Label) with coke and glacier ice as refreshments. I thought I couldn’t be happier with such a lavish treat – then I found out that the same treatment followed every hike!
We disembarked near Pia Glacier after navigating along the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel. We took a short hike to a vantage point with a spectacular view on the mountains in the distance and the prevailing glacier before it. The active Pia Glacier commands attention with its frequent ice falls. We sat on the rock surface and watched seven falls occur in a mere 45 minutes. It was difficult to judge the size of each falling piece of ice until the reverberating sound would become more audible as it approach us. From a distance, the ice-falls looks like large, rolling snow balls but when the sound finally made its way to us, it boomed like a large, collapsing building. Sitting in the zodiacs, we could interpret the scale of the icefalls even more by intensity of the waves it produced.
My son loves to suck and eat ice. While we were completely mesmerized by the thunderous claps of this slowly moving glacier, he had found paradise in an endless supply of little pieces of ice around us! Carlos had apprehensions about King eating the ice off the ground. I didn’t mind so much. I thought it was pretty cool that my son was eating million years old glacial ice!
The Piloto and Nena glaciers can only be observed from zodiac. We approached a sizable piece of free floating ice that had fallen and travelled a bit of a distance. We got close enough that, with the help of the guide, I reached out and touched it. In that moment, I had found the remoteness that I came to Patagonia in search of. Such an awe-inspiring experience could only be earned in such a vast, natural wonderland as this. These glaciers are only accessible for half the year and not many people I know have been in its presence. As we drifted on pristine waters and dwarfed by immense glaciers, I realized how lucky I was.
ISLA MAGDELLENA PENGUINS
The immense colony on Magdalena Island offered an impressive sight of Magellanic penguins and their nests. I’ve never seen so many penguins in my life! The trail around the island took us to a lighthouse from which the panoramic view of the island and surrounding areas is outstanding. We had to keep a fair distance from the penguins but we were still close enough to notice their behavior. King’s bold antics of running up to the penguins and scaring them off were quite amusing! He had come a long way from the pictograms we consistently showed him.
TRAIN TO THE END OF THE WORLD
King’s obsession with trains had finally cumulated in the steam engine ride we took to the “End Of The World.” As a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine, King’s overjoyed reaction to seeing the train pull in to the station was endearing - to say the least. He skipped up and down the platform shouting “toot toot!” and when we climbed onboard, King’s expressions translated his awe and excitement.
The train was originally built as a freight line to serve the prisoners who chopped timber and returned with it to Ushuaia to construct buildings. It now operates as a heritage railway into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It’s a popular tourist attraction but one completely worth experiencing. We passed mythical scenery of rivers, mountains, waterfalls and campsites of the Yamanas, a native tribe that lived in Ushuaia for thousands of years. The eerie “Dead Forest” was a reminder of the solemn history of the prisoners who were sent here to cut down trees.
We were met by our private guide at the end of the train ride who then took us for a walk on the shores of the Beagle Channel. Knowledgeable and attentive, he proved to be an asset to the time we spent in Terra del Fuego National Park. He elaborated on the history of the Yamana people, pointed out different types of vegetation and even made us a tea from the leaves he picked off a Canelo tree. The experience of having a Kesington Tours’ private guide was an invaluable one. So much more of the place and history was revealed to us through his expertise and experience. Guide and King were immediately friends. As a parent, I felt more at ease knowing that my son was being watched over by someone familiar with the new environment we were in.
The highlight of our stay in Buenos Aires was a half-day bike tour we did of the norther areas of the city. We visited the Rose and Botanical Gardens, explored the neighborhoods of Recoleta and Palermo and visited the mausoleum of Eva Duarte (Peron). The plentiful, wide and well maintained bike lanes of Buenos Aires make biking an ideal way to get around and explore the city.
Click here to see more photos of our family adventure to Patagonia.
ABOUT BRANDI MERCHANT, SOUTH AMERICA EXPERT:
Brandi Merchant, South America Expert, approaches travel like she does life – a mixture of the passionate, the serious, the curious and the excited. When Brandi enters the room, it buzzes with energy. She’s taken this dynamic and adventurous spirit along on all her travels. From the islands of the Galapagos to the jungles of Costa Rica and the vineyards of Mendoza to the ruggedness of Patagonia, her travel experiences are widespread and extraordinary. Her sense of adventure grabbed ahold of her and held tight when she picked up and moved to Mexico. She spent two years teaching English to children and enjoying the Mexican culture, history and landscape. But it wasn't enough. So, she hopped on board and worked on cruise ship in the Caribbean. After completing a tourism program she began her career, relaying her enthusiasm for travel and sending her clients on adventures around the world! Brandi can safely testify that of all of the things she’s passionate about, one of her truest affections is Latin America. If you’re dreaming of the Andes, colonial towns, the Amazon, white beaches, empanadas or anything else in Central/South America that excites you – Brandi can make it come true!