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Running Charlotte in Patagonia

I feel like the Tierra del Fuego: the solitary bearer of frozen extremities and a dreamer with a warm heart.

Tierra del Fuego is the southernmost region of the world and I have always looked at it with a sort of wonder. The idea that traveling south you can first encounter the torrid heat of the equator and the humid of the tropics and then, going all the way down, you can find yourself in the middle of the largest glaciers in the world, is an idea that drives me crazy. A place inhabited by boundless colonies of penguins, sea lions and solitary human beings, a place that, almost ironically, carries in its name the hottest thing that exists, fire.
When I was a child, when someone mentioned this magical land, Tierra del Fuego, I remembered the words my grandmother used to say to me: “Carlotta, you have cold hands but a warm heart”.
It is therefore easy to understand how the decision to leave for Ushuaia to run an ultra-trail race came to my mind without difficulty: “running to the end of the world” I read in the presentation of the Ushuaia by UTMB and immediately saw myself among forests and frozen rocks.
If I had followed my usual “I travel alone” instinct I would have bought the flight ticket without letting a day go by. Instead I waited just long enough to have time to talk about it with a friend and not just any friend, the friend with whom I share the passion for unpopular details and for the most hidden faces, Francesca. She is the photographer, I just tell stories.

And off we went.

I land in Ushuaia at night, it’s dark outside. I get off the plane and breathe the southern air. Ushuaia remains silent at night. Tourists tremble in the hotels from the cold and inhabitants are either sailing through the sea fishing or sleeping the few hours that separate them from the dawn. The shadows wrap mountains covered in white and dark and thick woods, the same one that, on the day of the race, will be almost hidden by the snow falling incessantly. In our free time we wander through the two only streets of the city, parallel and almost identical except one is along the sea. A line of tin houses, discordant neon lights and broke cars witness the slow days of the people of this land. The colors are more vivid thanks to the extremely clear sky, but the air you breath is the one of place long time forgotten, inhabited by pioneers and convicts. Those who smile are few, almost only the trail runners who came here to run Ushuaia by UTMB, like us. We look for the most solitary places until we find them. Our favorite companions are the dogs, wandering here free by themselves, like us.
Every half an hour a thought runs through my mind, recurrent as the sound of a bell “you are at the end of the world, from Turin you came to the end of the world to run”.
Francesca looks at me, almost with apprehension at my enthusiastic sigh. She heard me exclaim “beautiful!” so many times that it must sound like a refrain to her. I get excited about every down-and-heel detail of this windswept sheet metal town. She takes pictures that will perhaps only be understood by people who had visited Ushuaia before. We try to trap that light, that cold air, that silence in words and shots, without perhaps succeeding. And yet we carry the trademark “Fin del Mundo” imprinted on that hidden point between our heart and brain.

Chilean Patagonia.
We leave Ushuaia by bus. It is 7 am and at this latitude it will be dawn in more than one hour. The bus windows are covered with condensed water. I am hungry and cold as always and I envy the driver’s cup of yerba mate, resting between the gearbox and the dashboard. When the sun starts to rise we are leaving Tierra del Fuego. Expanses of nothingness and guanacos accompany our journey towards Chile. In less than 24 hours we will be at the foot of the Torres del Paine, one of my iconic dreams of all time.
Torres del Paine are emblematic mountains for the tourists of this land. Three grey and pink granite teeth surrounded by endless grassland. They resemble the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, but their sizes leave no doubt that we are in the middle of Patagonia and not in the Dolomites.
We arrive after almost two days of travel at the feet of these giants and I feel like a dog that’s been brought to the gardens after a week of rain. I start running without waiting for Francesca on the path perfectly cut in the green grass and I return to her every kilometer. Just like a dog. Too bad not having the dog’s flair, because thanks to my greed for landscapes we get lost.
The truth is that losing myself in this greatness makes me feel happy. A profound solitude that makes us free. A silence that cuts the strings that connect us to reality. Returning to our feet we skip logs without thinking, we sink into the damp mud of the wood without restraining ourselves. In front of us, nature turns over its most hidden pages. Our companions here are animals again. The wild horses of the park look at us motionless, their eyes partially covered by manes never cut by human hands.
This land is immense and from every angle the Torres seem different. From the east the teeth are heavy and imposing, from the west, at dawn, they stand out thin and very high as they want to pierce the sky. At the foot of the massif the glaciar grey ice tongue lets us fantasize about the ice mass that is the Hielo Patagonico Sur. A pair of icebergs float on the surface of the glacial lake, reflecting the peaks. The ice that breaks produces an incredible sound. A roar that starts slowly and ends up thunderous.

Northern Patagonia and the Lakes Region.
To reach Puerto Montt we take an internal flight. The Lakes Region and the Island of Chiloè, on the northern edge of Patagonia, are cut out of the fjords. Landscapes are different here. The mountains are as distant as the most obvious tourism. Our journey in search of details resumes with colors. In this region, shaken by bewildering earthquakes that have reached apocalyptic magnitude, people are simple and houses are made in Andean larch wood. The roads, with ideal slopes only for repeated ascents, are orthogonal and decorated with lopsided and magnificent facades. I have never appreciated the perfect things, what looks wrong fascinates me the most and I can not help falling in love with these wooden doors that do not stand gravity.
Early in the morning the light is unbelievable and it rises with force between the smoke of the wood-burning fireplaces of the houses. It always seems like to be on the dusty stage of a theater illuminated by a bull’s eye that cuts a cone of light on the action.
Leaving for Santiago breaks my heart. I don’t know if I’m ready to face the city again.
The silence of Patagonia has filled every part of my heart. When we arrive at the bus station in the city center, the magic of the Patagonian wind abandons us. We are again Carlotta and Francesca, a storyteller and a photographer, random friends coming from the running world.
We both have that tattoo, in that hidden corner between heart and brain.

“I have been to the end of the world”.

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