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Nature & Freedom: Guiding in Patagonia

Isla Navarino / Patagonia Guide / Puerto Natales / Torres del Paine / Wildlife

Carlos is a guide in Torres del Paine National Park. He works on a freelance basis for one of our closest local partners, and has guided many Swoop customers over the years. On a recent trip to Patagonia Swoop Specialist Tom interviewed Carlos to find out whether life as a guide is really as good as it’s cracked up to be.

Why did you decide to start guiding?

I lost my job at the ‘perfect moment’. I was getting fed up with my life in the city: everyday was the same. My house was near to the office so I’d often take work home with me. I needed a break so I took a month’s holiday, travelling along the Carretera Austral. I ended up in Torres del Paine and hiked the Full Circuit. I got chatting to many of the guides and porters and got on really well with them all. There’s no way I could go back to working in the office after my adventure so I started applying for guiding jobs with different outdoor companies.

“There’s no way I could go back to working in the office after my adventure so I started applying for guiding jobs.”

I ended up landing a job as a mountain trekking guide on Osorno Volcano in the Chilean Lakes then started guiding on Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine. After gathering enough experience, I eventually started to work freelance, hiring my services to different operators in Torres del Paine.

What are your favourite parts of Patagonia?

In Torres del Paine, my favourite area is the Bader Valley. It’s easy to get to, nobody really goes there, it’s all granite faces with little forest, and you see different views of the peaks that everyone else on the W trail would never get to experience. It’s usually a very windy adventure!

Beyond Torres del Paine, I love Isla Navarino in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. The Dientes de Navarino trek is my absolute favourite. It’s a real adventure with no other people and has a nice mix of mountain trekking. There are no real trails or facilities, just lots of beavers and dams! The weather can be very bad and you have to carry a heavier pack with all your food.

The Chilean government wants to develop Isla Navarino to make it into a ‘Grand Antarctic Gateway’, similar to Ushuaia in Argentina. I think it’s a good idea: we grew up listening to stories about “Chilean Antarctica”, but for regular Chileans it’s still relatively unknown and very difficult to visit. I was there in 2008 working for six weeks – Antarctica is amazing. In my opinion, a better Chilean gateway to Antarctica is going to be good for Chile, as we’re not currently known for our scientific research. It will also be good for tourism: it will benefit the local people, they can develop personal projects in Puerto Williams. But I hope Dientes de Navarino doesn’t become like Torres del Paine, it’s not that kind of place, not yet crowded with people. But this is still a project, let’s see if the next government will turn the idea into a reality.

What are your main interests and hobbies?

I want to be happy, to live without pressure, to enjoy the nature and its wildlife. Money is not the most important in my life. I have a few hobbies: in winter I play football and I love to admire pumas in Torres del Paine. There’s no cinema in Puerto Natales so I watch movies on my computer, or do Sudoku at my own pace. I enjoy taking trekking and mountaineering trips in Southern Chile, hiking off trail and escaping the crowds – in my opinion Chile has everything I need.

“I want to be happy, to live without pressure, to enjoy the nature and its wildlife. Money is not the most important in my life.”

What is it like living in Puerto Natales?

For me it’s much better than Santiago, where I come from. Puerto Natales is much smaller, and here I can breathe clean air without pollution. I like to go out and see people who I already know, and live in a place free of crime. It’s not necessary to use public transportation and I don´t need a car: I can do everything walking or on my bike and I can still leave it outside during the night and the next day I’m sure it will be there waiting for me. In Puerto Natales many families still don’t lock their doors.

Do you enjoy being a freelance guide?

Since I’ve worked in Torres del Paine I’ve been my own boss. I can choose the travel agencies I’m going to work with every season, my trips always are different and I can do more and more off-trail excursions. Here I don’t have a routine, one of the reasons I left Santiago behind.

Tell us about your first puma encounter?

When I saw the first puma for the first time I said “at last”, and I was very happy. It’s hard for me to explain it and sometimes I think nobody can understand it.

I remember three or four years ago I went to Torres del Paine to see pumas. I was camping alone and it was late so I was using my headlamp. I finished my dinner and I was packing everything and putting it inside my tent, when I turned back to the table at 10 metres – more or less – I saw a puma looking at me next to the table. I could see just its silhouette. That time of the evening is hunting time for the puma and it could have been dangerous for me. I moved to the table to have some protection on my back in case it decided to attack and the puma moved behind a small bush, just 5 metres away, still looking at me with a very long neck, until it disappeared in the darkness. That was a very exciting time for me. Pumas are very curious animals, exactly like a domestic cat.

“I turned back to the table and saw a puma looking at me. I could see just its silhouette.”

The next day the puma and I saw each other again when I was walking in the mountain. We had a nice talk about the night before, it was like meeting an old friend.

What are your plans for future adventures?

I want to be guiding for a long time, as my knees are still working very well! I want to keep working in Torres del Paine, mainly in the autumn and winter. In the north of Chilean patagonia I’d like to travel the Carretera Austral, my first vacations were backpacking there alone or with friends and now I want to go back to visit Villa O’higgins, a town which I still don’t know. I also want to go to Villa Cerro Castillo, there are many good mountain treks to do there, but my priority, before the spring comes, is to explore Navarino Island, home to Cape Horn.