Few people have been further around the world than Amyr Klink. The feats of the Brazilian sailor have elevated him to celebrity status and inspired even the most sedentary to explore the world. His first great maritime voyage, depicted in the bestseller 100 Days Between Sea and Sky, took place in 1984, crossing the Atlantic Ocean alone in a rowboat. Organized and bordering on obsessive in his calculations, he had just 50 ounces [1.5 l] of water left when he finished his journey. “Something went wrong with the numbers. I was supposed to come home with nothing.” he stated.
Klink is a tall, quiet man. The perfect captain for his many journeys on the ocean – that include over 40 voyages to Antarctica and a trip around the world via the shortest and most defiant route possible, sailing near the south pole. He came to Torres del Paine to visit Ecocamp Patagonia, a hotel that is almost 100% sustainable in the middle of the national park. The experience is part of a series of documentaries (the first one is set for an October release) about innovative projects that help people to travel in more environmentally conscious ways.
The Ecocamp is comprised of geodesic domes, structures which Klink has been building for years. “Due to the way the triangles, pentagons and hexagons fit together, the result is a skeleton that distributes the weight. You can hang a 22-ton [20,000 kg] car from one point, and its weight will be shared equally by all the points on the dome. It is the highest expression of geometric sustainability,” he explains, fascinated.
When looking at the tents covered in plastic and green canvas (in order to cause the least possible visual impact in the contrast with the landscape), you wonder if they'll make it through the night, given the strong winds and icy rain. But, once inside the dome, the mixture of wood flooring, logs burning slow and fabrics in earth tones gives you the impression you're in a comfy Scandinavian lodge.
Glamping (a trendy term used in the tourism biz, a cross between “camping” and “glamour”) is not the best way to describe the Ecocamp. There are no luxury features around here, but there are details to make guests feel like they're comfortably in touch with nature while making a minimum impact on the environment. The hotel has no internet or cell phone reception; the mandatory disconnection from technology helps to create an intimacy with the surroundings. Time outside of the excursions is filled with yoga classes, elaborate breakfasts, dinners and a bar where guests and guides can recount the day's activities over glasses of wine.
In the land of howling winds
Patagonia challenges you constantly. The winds are strong, the uphill climbs are steep and all four seasons of the year can appear in the same day. You'll need patience, the proper clothing and a level of physical preparation to face the harsh conditions along the way. But rewards are guaranteed at the top of each summit: the turquoise lakes, snow-topped mountains and a kaleidoscope of light that brings the colors alive every morning will convince you that Torres del Paine is more of a painting than reality .
“This place has always amazed me,” says Klink during a walk. “It's a fascinating region, being so inhospitable and having such vigorous nature. Perhaps this is why tourism has taken so long to develop here and, so far, it's not as sought after as other places. People who come here want to face challenges and leave no footprints.”
Adventurous travelers opt for the two most classic circuits: the “O” and “W,” known as such for the design their courses trace. And on both, you need to camp overnight along the way. On the other hand, the day trips allow you to see the most beautiful parts of the park and return to a warm bed at the end of the day.
One of the most traditional excursions, the trail to Valle del Francés is a hike that runs through closed forests, passing dry, silver-colored trees and snow-covered mountains. On a different day, you can embark for the Grey Glacier, a bluish-white giant with icebergs that break off along the way. The hike to the base of the towers for which the park is named takes a full day and is one of the most challenging activities. Whether on foot, horseback or a bicycle, the forests and reflecting lagoons are unveiled one by one.
“My expectation,” Klink comments, “is that this sort of low-impact tourism will expand more and more. That people will seek more authentic experiences, see beauty in the functionality, find loveliness in the useful.” Surrounded by nature, knowing that nothing we do during these days will harm it, the sacrifice seems insignificant.
When to go
You can visit the park all year round. High season coincides with the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. September and October are the dry months with temperatures over 50 °F [10 °C]. In April and May, it rains more, and from June to August, the cold is a bit harsher.
How to get there
During peak season, in the summer, the port of entry is the airport in Puerto Natales, 62 miles [100 km] from the park. The rest of the year, it's accessed via Punta Arenas, around 186 miles [300 km] away. There are buses that run to Torres del Paine.
What to bring
Your luggage should reflect the climatic variations in the region. Light clothing for hiking, waterproof boots and a windbreaker.