Joan Larsen’s Travel Stories: Far Off the Beaten Path in Patagonia

Posted on November 14, 2012


By Joan Larsen

I am so sure that I speak for all of us when I say that we come to a point when we need a change of scene… and we need it now.  “Please,” I will say, “let the world go away!”  Whether we go far or near, we need time and we need space as well to re-group and to “recharge our batteries.”  For good reason, in these times particularly, we need the change-of-pace that a journey – large or small – can provide.  The faraway places are a sometime thing… something to dream about, plan for, save for.  For far beyond material things, we find that it is the memories of those places – places that so unexpectedly touch our hearts – that are the “forever” ones.

In my own small list that stands apart,  I feel that I will never feel as alive again as when I return to the indescribable beauty of one of Earth’s most spectacular landscapes in Chilean Patagonia near the tip of South America.  Its photos in National Geographic drew some of us as children, making it appear near the top of any wish list we might have in our lives.

Set off with snow and ice, the towering massifs of Torres del Paine – rose-colored with impressive jet tips – resemble a sculpture.  The singular murmur of wind and the incredible stillness – silence that is broken only by the sound and sight of condors overhead and the lapping of gentle lakes of glacial blue with floating icebergs on their surfaces.

Small herds of llama-like guanacos, rheas (think ostriches), red foxes and large hares – even flamingos and parakeets – call this wonderland home.  Not one is afraid of the occasional pilgrim like me whose sense of adventure and awe has drawn them this far.

How can such a place be described?  This place is primeval, almost untouched, as if God had chosen one of his most beautiful settings to unload his Ark and then erect these inaccessible spires as his private cathedral in the wilderness.  I have seen no other like it in all of my travels.

We climbed upward that day on more of a line than a path, buffeted by almost hurricane-force winds, but hoping to reach the base of the spires – that sanctuary that for me was the landscape of the soul itself.  Once there, crouching low, heads bent by the force of the wind to what was actually a prayerful pose, I placed two stones at the base of those spires.

The stones – each engraved with my name and the name of my love – a person so in tune with the spiritual – would, I knew, be there for all eternity in this remote sanctuary that was close to heaven.

There is never a day that I cannot bring up in my mind this place that has brought me a sense of forever.  There is always a secret smile I have, knowing that even from afar, the two of us are there.  How could there be not a sense of peace – of completeness – in the knowledge we have?  How much better could life be.  .  .for we know that a piece of ourselves will forever lie beneath those granite spires in a wilderness paradise that is the heaven of our dreams.

On my desk today is a beautiful framed quotation that seems to say it all.   Something makes me want to share it with you today, and so I will:

The real treasure, that which we all seek,

is never very far:

there is no need to seek it in a distanced place,

for it is buried within our own hearts.

And yet, there is this strange and persistent fact,

that only after a journey

in a distant region, in a new land,

that the way to that treasure becomes clear.

–         Heinrich Zimmer

Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home”.