Tag Archives: Snow

End of the World Coffee – Puerto Natales, Chile

I gazed out the window at the snow-capped mountains in the distance as I savoured the warmth of the coffee cup in the warm coffee shop. I realized I was practically at the end of the world.

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We had travelled back from Torres del Paine National Park that morning after four nights of camping in some of the most beautiful landscapes you could imagine. I had given the group two hours of free time in the southerly town of Puerto Natales in Chile following a food shop.

We had to buy 4 days’ worth of food for 26 people in cold weather, so it’s fair to say we nearly cleaned the shop out. I remember other cashiers in the store gradually gathering around our till like the Nativity scene at Christmas.

When I enquired after their behaviour as the counter ticked over, they responded in hushed tones that we had set the store record for highest spend – just over $600,000 Chilean pesos, approximately US$1,000.

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I ventured outside into the elements. The biting wind nearly cut through me, but once I had got going I warmed up, as long as I didn’t stop! Even though I loved being around the group, I found it nice to get away from people now and again, to refresh and relax. I liked to roam where my mind took me, taking photos of the town’s landmarks as music pumped through my headphones.

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Battered by wind driving in off the sea, I wandered around the town, stopping into a modern-looking coffee shop called ‘The Coffee Maker’ on the seafront. The interior was warm and cosy, a welcome respite from the exposed outdoors, accentuated by the log fire burning in the corner.

I waited for my strong black coffee and chose a strategic perch by the window counter – which had one of the best views I had ever seen. The jagged grey mountains were framed widescreen across the icy sea inlet, swans paddling at the dock in front, embodying the best aspects of Patagonia. It was like watching TV through a high-resolution screen for the first time.

I realized my luck at experiencing one of the best scenes of this planet’s beauty.

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The Land of Ice and Fire – Villarrica, Chile

In Chile, you can hike to the summit of a snow-capped volcano in the morning, and enjoy beers sunbathing by the lake in the afternoon. Despite the Game of Thrones reference in the title, this is no fantasy. Villarrica volcano (2,860m high) is the real-world setting for this adventure, situated near Pucón, referred by guidebooks as the ‘Switzerland of South America’. Switzerland with added volcanoes, maybe.

The hike starts early, in shorts and t-shirts, but you quickly add on the gear as you adapt to the elements. That ice pick comes in handy when you hit the snow and ice at altitude, especially if you get stuck (see photo). It’s a fairly challenging slog up but the view into the active crater is worth it. The escaping gases can be overpowering so our time at the summit was limited. Now the real fun started – sliding down on a flimsy piece of flat plastic down the volcano. This sounds dodgy but it was hands-down some of the most thrilling fun I’ve ever had. Someone suggested making the 6-hour trip back up purely just to slide back down again.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that in Europe, for example, this kind of activity on an active volcano would be off-limits. Two months to the day after we climbed Villarrica, it had violently erupted and caused the evacuation of nearby towns, making the headlines around the world. But when it’s calm, it’s worth exploring one of the best adventure activities out there.