Chile, Destinations, Featured Places, Patagonia, South America

Birthday Magic in Patagonia

March 7, 2012

La Casa Escondida: “The Hidden House.” With less than one day to spend in Punta Arenas, Chile between arriving by plane and departing by bus, we put our trust in a quick bit of internet research, made a booking, and hoped for the best.

It’s a tall order to ask to visit a region and get a feel for the people, the food, the architecture, the industries, history, and unique beauty of the place in one week, let alone a twenty-four hour whirlwind visit. It’s a taller order still to ask for a meaningful birthday celebration in the midst of transportation flights, connections, and transfers.

What a gift when outlandish travel hopes and wishes come true!

Our stay at this charming guest house nestled in the woods between the airport and the city perfectly kicked off our eleven day adventure in Patagonia.

To quote Ted’s notes from the day:

“…surreal first hour in Patagonia. Staying at a beautiful cabin surrounded by beech trees (native to New Zealand). Took a walk and captured up close pictures of a majestic owl perched a mere 10 feet from us. The establishment upgraded our room to a private bath and queen bed and a bottle of Chilean red wine for Bethany´s birthday. A warm fire blazing, and beef, lamb, chicken, sea bass, and shrimp for dinner. Happy Birthday my love. We´re here!!!”

We touched down at the Punta Arenas airport at 8pm after an all day affair, flying the length of Chile and watching the incredible wonders of Patagonia pass below. Pamela greeted us with a comforting welcome sign and a smile then whisked us off five kilometers down the road to a gravel drive leading to The Hidden House.

The moment we drove up the hill and entered the Beech Forest my heart began to race, and Ted was amused. The Nothofagus genus of trees grows in the Southern Hemisphere, and it had been eight long years since last I’d seen those curious little confetti leaves adorning windswept branches. While living in New Zealand in 2004, the endemic Silver Beech (Nothofagus menziesii) become associated with personal growth and adventure, and to this day they are a vivid picture to me of robust ecosystems in the wild lands of my favorite country.

Here in Chile, related Beech trees grew tall and high, reaching for the summer sun and holding fast against the wild winds. (Winds easily reaching up to 120 kilometers an hour…)

Pamela’s industrious husband, Luis, built the establishment from the ground up, using lumber from Beech trees growing on the property. The structures, the siding, the hand-built tables and chairs, the window frames, the picture frames…every detail of construction is tied to the land.

Once shown to our room (just resting our eyes on the bedspread was pure and complete bliss, following hot on the heels of a no-frills, multi-day 4×4 journey through Southern Bolivia), we placed our order for dinner then ventured out into 9pm daylight to enjoy peaceful seclusion.

My brothers know well, I love classic Winnie the Pooh. If I had to be so far from home and family on my birthday, what better magic than being transported to the Hundred Acre Wood?

Beech Trees, a Wise Old Owl, and a hanging rope ladder just beckoning to be climbed…

This birthday girl couldn’t have been any happier.

The rest of our wanderings that night and the following morning led us to appreciate the details and care that Luis and Paula infuse into every part of their family-run establishment.

For relaxation: perfectly worn leather couches, a bottle of red, and a humming fire. For dinner: a multi-course feast of beef, lamb, chicken, shrimp, and local Chilean sea bass, masterfully (and single-handedly!) prepared out back on the rustic wood fired grill. For learning: an hour long conversation with Luis about the history and politics of Chile, experiences in Patagonia, and chuckles about Argentinian neighbors to the east. For reading: a book exchange where I gleefully snatched up C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. For sweet dreams: thick and fluffy down comforters…

Pamela and Luis run their guest house as a full time family business, living just a few kilometers down the road, alternating periods of the week staying on site, cooking meals, and building friendships with guests. Extended relatives take on a few weekly shifts to give them a bit of shared time away, but even spare time seems to end up spent on lovingly improving their property.

Luis maintains the forest year in and year out, tending the trees, harvesting old wood, constructing new outbuildings, guest cottages, and furniture with choice pieces. His water harvesting system feeds the garden, where he grows food for home-cooked meals.

The final hidden jewel at La Casa Escondida: a cozy wood-fired sauna and outdoor shower, set among the Beech Trees, leaving us to wish for a return visit someday in the future…

Luis gave us a personalized mini-driving-tour as we made our way 15 kilometers into town for an all-too-soon bus station departure from Punta Arenas. The city of 120,000 grew from a legacy of exploration, industrious endeavors, and brave new starts. Luis explained that speculators seeking their fortunes and World War I refugees seeking shelter made up a large number of the area’s early settlers in the earlier 1900s. Now, oil, gas, fishing, methanol, agriculture and commerce provide the life blood of the region, while history and natural resources draw tourists from around the world to come visit this city at its perch near the end of the continent.

As we drove the coastline looking out over the Strait of Magellan, we spotted the full size replica of La Victoria. The original ship first entered the straight on November 1st, 1520, during Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. Amazing to think of the men of spunk willing to venture into the vast unknown in such diminutive vessels, guided by stars and charts and a burning desire for discovery and conquest.

Standing at our farthest point south on the journey: 1418.4 kilometers from the coast of Antarctica.

The end of the world, for us.

Below the expansive sky, across the water: Tierra del Fuego. Beyond that, the South Pole…

We bade farewell to Luis of The Hidden House. Farewell to its forest of trees shaped by Whipping Winds. Farewell to the calmness of Wise Old Owls and to the Strait and its Tales.

A bus to Puerto Natales waited for us near the square, ready to move us another step closer to our Torres del Paine trek. We looked north toward a land of ice and water, fire and forests, burning with our own desires for discovery and conquest, ready to enter the wilds of Patagonia.

Note: this is not a sponsored post. We simply adored Luis and Pamela and their beautiful guest house and sincere hospitality. Our stay at La Casa Escondida felt like nothing less than home…

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  • Reply Paula March 7, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Keep thinking about once-in-a-lifetime experiences….You guys are having the most fantastic trip ever. That hidden house could be a thought for anyone who has an acre of land around their home -a special place to ‘camp’ when you need Pooh’s world to comfort you.hugs from the West Portico P

    • Reply twoOregonians March 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks, Paula! Really, Luis did such a fantastic job building the main house and all of the cabins and out building… Each one has so much character. : )

  • Reply Kim March 7, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Wow, what an amazing place! Happy birthday!!!

    • Reply twoOregonians March 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks, Kim! If you two happen to make it that far south, you must try to book a visit. So much green, so many comforts of home, such a good resting spot after days and days and days of hectic connections on the road. And such good birthday wine : )

  • Reply Billie Jo March 7, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Man we miss you guys! It’s just not the same around here without you :) It’s so great to see your many adventures you two are having together!! We are praying for you both and can’t wait for your safe return!! God Bless you both richly!

    Billie Jo

    • Reply twoOregonians March 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Billie Jo!! We miss you guys, too. I’m so glad you left a note. : ) We think about all of you so often and trust that this year God is bringing good things and great people to Stepping Stones. Stay tuned for more pictures — you’re about to see Ted with a tent! ; )

  • Reply Andrew Buck March 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    “Artistic talent runs through my family. In fact, it practically stampedes.”

    You must be related to Owl somehow. ;)

    • Reply twoOregonians March 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

      Haha. I wanted to work in the quote, “HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY.”
      Guess I’ve now succeeded ; )

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica March 8, 2012 at 5:40 am

    Great find! And a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday.

    • Reply twoOregonians March 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Yes! Wish it were close enough to make an easy return visit next year ; )

    What say you?