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Sweat And Repose

Becca Hensley Goes Beyond The Hike In Patagonia

Muscular trail guide Juan Carlos Queirolo plays mother—that is, he pours us freshly brewed tea from a delicate porcelain pot and passes out scones and triangle-shaped sandwiches. We’re not in an English tea parlor, tucked into chintz-covered chairs, as the delectable meal would suggest. Instead, we’re hunkered down on sturdy rocks on the banks of Argentina’s dazzling Nahuel Huapi Lake. Our well-deserved feast, neatly arranged on blue tablecloths, contrasts with the coal-colored pebbles that dot the beach. Beyond, the lake rolls into the horizon like an infinity pool, its water so clear it reflects our soil-smeared hiking shorts and lopsided sun hats with mirror- like precision. Averting our eyes from our visages, we’re mesmerized by the grandeur and largesse of the seemingly endless view. Entranced, we stare into the sunset, speechless, moving only to sip from impossibly dainty teacups or wipe bits of clotted cream from our lips.

Lured to Patagonia for its jaw-dropping national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, I choose Blue parallel, an outfitter that describes itself as a “bespoke travel boutique,” to show me the ropes, so to speak. And while we do use some ropes as we rappel above Los Palotinos, an unforgettable lookout point over the Tristeza arm of the lake, we also delve into this windswept land of glaciers and fairy-tale forests culturally. A given destination for fitness and nature enthusiasts, this wild landscape of snowcapped peaks, rushing rivers and dense forests has historically brought visitors most intent on conquering it physically. River rafting, hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking and fly-fishing are requisite modes to experience the immense park. However, the dramatic haven is also home to well-known artists and craftsmen who find inspiration in the scenery and quietude. Their presence sets a tone of aesthetic élan that draws nearly as many intellectuals as athletes—not to mention the myriad folks who want to do it all. Capitalizing on this, Blue Parallel offers personalized programs that fuse exertion with meditation, outdoors with indoors, sweat with repose.

I begin my trip with a whirlwind stay in Buenos Aires. Blue Parallel guides set up a city tour, make sure I shop just long enough in Palermo and take me to dinner at Fervor, an elegant Recoleta eatery beloved by locals for its charcoal-grilled meats. The highlight of my day, though, is a private visit to the atelier of artist Ernesto Bertani in the San Cristóbal neighborhood. He spends nearly three hours with me, pulling paintings from beneath tables, behind cabinets and from inside closets—some dating back three decades. Patiently, he discusses his motivations and explains his motifs. His colorful works, awash with metaphor and social criticism, pose questions about fear, passion, prejudice and social mores. Ironic, political and beautiful at once, they do much to explain the evolution and political climate of modern-day Buenos Aires.

The next day, I hop on an early flight to Bariloche and check into El Casco, an intimate lakeside hotel owned by Ignacio Gutierrez Zaldivar, founder of Buenos Aires’ Zurbaran Gallery and one of the most prominent art collectors in Argentina. A veritable showcase, the 33-room hotel abounds with artwork. Forty sculptures by local artists define the lawn, circle the pool and fill the halls; 475 paintings and other works are deftly hung within. Bedrooms and suites thematically honor various artists; their work adorns the walls, and books about them sit on bedside tables. Panoramic windows frame lake and mountain views so eerily beautiful they might have come from a painter’s brush.

But it wouldn’t be Patagonia without a foray or two into the outdoors. I hike on Isla Victoria and bike the Llao Llao peninsula—all under the tutelage of able Blue Parallel guides, who point out unique flora and fauna and relate snippets of history along the way. One day I kayak across a lucid lake, then scramble up a rocky ledge only to be surprised by a chef with a toque and makeshift kitchen. Pots and pans hang from trees, a fire blazes beneath a grill and large birds— condors?—circle the sky. Wine is poured, and we settle atop a cliff to munch on canapés and swoon over the view. But my favorite morning is when I meet self-taught and deeply revered painter Juan Lascano and linger in his log cabin, a Swiss chalet of a studio. He serves me espresso and cookies and speaks demurely of the region’s grandeur. Near a window, an easel rests, its canvas a half-completed rendition of the view. “Here,” he says, “I find the tranquility and landscape I need.” I believe him. Sweat and repose.