I have been working too hard. Strapped to my desk and plugged in, my eyes are permanently blurred. My head has even started to pound a little bit; I feel drained. Today, though, I am booked in for something a little more extreme, a little more immersive. I am on my way to EcoCamp Patagonia, a camp/hotel hybrid that has been setting the eco-travel world alight, including being heralded by Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure.
It is right off the beaten track, the culmination of five hours travel from Chile’s capital, Santiago. The camp appears like a mirage, an oasis of domes that pop out of the leafy tundra of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. It is one of the few tourist accommodations set inside the park itself, a strictly regulated process that was made possible for EcoCamp because they are–as their title suggests–a completely sustainable endeavour.
Born in 2001, the Camp is the result of three friends’ (Javier Lopez, Yerko Ivelic and Nani Astorga) frustration and despair. As former rafting and kayaking operators, they witnessed the devastating effects that occurred after the Biobio River was dammed in 1996.
¨This was one of the most traumatizing events I have ever known.¨ Laments Javier Lopez, ¨It was a huge environmental catastrophe. The local people, the Pehuenches, were completely displaced. It destroyed our business – emotionally as well as economically.¨
After a friend tipped them off about the incredible and opportunities in Patagonia, the trio headed down to the Park to see the options. Once there, they found themselves horrified at the way other tour outfits were operating in the park, noting their lack of attention to detail and customer safety, and a rampant disregard for the park’s ecosystems.
So EcoCamp was born. Today there are 33 domes of three categories: Standard, Superior, Suite and Loft, accompanied by the Community Dome and the dedicated Yoga Dome.
Arriving in my home for the next few nights, I immediately head along the raised walkways to my Standard Dome, which I am sharing with another solo traveller. Its a green-roofed bubble beside small Patagonian shrub and with a clear view to the Paine Motif, those ancient granite towers that dominate Chilean postcards and keyrings across the nation. The door is triangular and wooden; an unusual entrance for an unusual space. I go inside and feel an immediate wave of calm.The room is tiny, just two single beds flanked on all sides by comforting folds of fabric that wrap around the entire space save that left for the window, an opening that takes me straight to the mountains. It is a deeply comforting space, and as I lay on the bed to listen to the hum of the wind and birds, I feel like I am being embraced and in the bosom of something I don’t quite understand.
The Standard domes have been designed to be like this, a place to rest your head after a long day’s adventure in the park. The attraction of coming to a place like this is not the soft bed or interior decor nor the dishes with local flavour (caveat: these are all excellent) but the opportunity to disconnect from the modern world and immerse yourself in nature. There is no electricity in my Standard Dome, which means that I have to rely on the movements of the sun, and there is certainly no wifi. Each evening is spent in the Community Dome, partaking with the wider group of visitors who hail from across Chile and the World. We choose our excursion for the following day, sleep well then rise the following day ready for action.
I have chosen the Wildlife Safari, a package comprising of our daily activities. I spend the following four days soaking up the incredible vistas of the Park: biking to Laguna Azul, viewing the phenomenal Grey Glacier, hiking the Sarmiento Fauna Trail, and even tracking Patagonian wild horses (baguales).
My 6th day at EcoCamp is spent feeling strangely excited. I feel different – taller, stronger, braver, more open – with a mind that seems more alert. A lone thought enters my head, ¨My inbox is going to be overflowing¨ and I feel a surge of dread. Although I am ready to leave, I feel a strange sense of melancholy sadness. There is a magic in Patagonia that is hard to express, and the beauty of a place like EcoCamp is that it doesn’t even try to compete with it. It exists as its perfect compliment and the best place to base yourself while you immerse yourself in Patagonia.
About the author: Helen Cordery is a freelance writer and guidebook author from New Zealand. Her blog can be found at www.queridarecoleta.com.
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