|EcoCamp Suite Dome|
"We don't want you to cause a fire", so went Rafa with his warning. Rafael, his real name, is one of EcoCamp's guides and he personally escorted me to my suite dome after arrival to let me know about certain house rules. After all, this was to be my home for the next five days at the Torres del Paine National Park. In 2005, a Czech backpacker camping in a non-designated area accidentally knocked over his stove which ignited a fire that spread to almost 15,000 hectares of beech forest. The fire crept dangerously close to EcoCamp that they evacuated guests.
Rafa wants to make sure that I know how keep the fire burning in my tent's wood stove. Cut woods ready for stoking were neatly piled nearby. But when he saw my blank face, Rafa once again showed how I should move a lever to allow air to come in or how to vent it without my tent getting all the smoke. It wasn't really rocket science but my mind couldn't focus properly - this suite dome thing just awed me the moment I entered it. I was chest thumping deep inside, if you know what I mean.
Camping is something close to my heart even if it can get rough and dirty but this one at Ecocamp truly tops it. Ever heard of glamping? In other words, glamorous camping as the girls declared on our dinner table later on. Glamping is something I have never experienced before but I'm not one to complain now about pampering in the wilderness. Talk about regular comforts at home or in any major urban hotel and EcoCamp has its own version. Even the likes of Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie - should they decide to try hiking for a change from bar-hopping - might even consider staying here.
|partial view of the Torres from my bed|
The tents, shaped like a dome, is based on the traditional geodesic designs used by the Kawesqar, an indigenous people who used to live (long before the Europeans came) in the fjords and channels of South America's most southern tip. While this ancient nomadic tribe have animal skins covering their dwellings, the current reincarnation at EcoCamp is all about minimal impact on the environment. Energy is supplied by both micro-hydroelectric power and solar panels. All non-biodegradable wastes are brought outside the park for processing. Even the toilet inside my tent has its own composting chamber that will process my poop into fertilizer (I just don't want to think of it contributing into my salad!). While the notorious Patagonia winds can exceed 180 kms/hours, I'm glad the tents are built sturdy enough not to blow me away to Antarctica.
Once settled in my tent, Rafa invited me to join the others for dinner at the Core Domes, 3 large domes interconnected to each other, one of which is where we eat our meals. There's a very social atmosphere going on as I got myself a seat amongst complete strangers already seated. I immediately struck a conversation with the people within ear shot from me, a group from Brazil and Canada who had just finished a big day of hiking. This is their last night but I've realized that in the backpacking world, people weave in and out of each other's adventures. Who knows who I'll meet next?
Dinner is usually preceded with pisco sour, a Chilean cocktail drink, on the bar area in the adjacent dome tent. For dinner, we start off with asparagus soup, really creamy and warm enough on this cold and windy evening. It was followed by the main entree: vegetable crepes that were delightfully filling. A dessert of chocolate mousse capped this wonderful meal. And of course, since we're in Chile, dinner would never have been complete without imbibing on excellent Chilean red and white wines.
Meanwhile, Rafa reappeared to tell me about the activity the next day. Usually, it's a choice of two but they only have one which disappointed me since the one I wanted wasn't offered. Anyway, I'll just go with the flow - we're doing the trip to Grey Glacier the next day. He also asked if I wanted someone to go to my tent early next morning and set the fire in my wood stove (another person does that while I'm having dinner!). Following the advice of other guests, I said yes of course - the idea of waking up to a crackling fire when it's cold outside is very appealing. To warm me further before breakfast, a thermos will also be delivered along with a selection of teas and coffee.
After dinner, we all went to the bar area for some more wine. Rafa introduced me to my trip companions the next day: Katie & Neil, a couple from the UK, and Canadians Michelle & Cynthia. Using a wall map of the park, Rafa pointed the areas we will be visiting. Except for the unavailable activity, I was very pleased at this point how EcoCamp prepares us for their excursions and allow for the social mood among its guests to prevail. Even a solo traveler like me felt never alone in the company of like-minded people.
After bidding goodnight to my new friends, I went back to my dome tent and was pleasantly welcomed by a crackling fire in my wood stove. The whole tent was warm and cozy that I just plopped down myself on the comfy bed, lulled to sleep by the effects of Chilean wine, the sounds of a crackling fire and the gusty winds outside. There's even a window up in the ceiling for some star gazing but I was already adrift in dreamland. Ahhh, so this is what glamping really is all about.