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Close to Nowhere

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TORRES DEL PAINE, CHILE -- On my first full day in Patagonia, I awoke warm and comfortable, surrounded by fancy bedding and green wood paneling. I remembered where I was. And I turned to the window.

While we whimpered in our insignificance, the chunk of ice

stood there gleaming like an outsize blue-white diamond in a world otherwise gray and wind-lashed. It was a sight, and a reminder: You can find comfort and you can find wilderness. But even if you travel to the end of the Earth to find them in their most concentrated and uncrowded forms, you may not be able to enjoy them simultaneously.

If you go . . .

* Getting there: From Baltimore, Ladeco has a weekly flight direct to Santiago with one stop (in Miami). United and American offer connecting service to Santiago via Miami. From Santiago, Lan Chile and Ladeco fly direct to Punta Arenas. Restricted Baltimore-Punta Arena fares on Ladeco begin at $ $1, 521.

* Where to stay: Explora (reservations: Av. Americo Vespucio Sur 80, Piso 5, Santiago, Chile; phone 011-56-2-208-0664, fax 011-56-2-228-4655) all meals and daytime activities, for $963 a person (double occupancy) for a three-night package.

Other nearby lodgings include: Hosteria Estancia Lazo (reservations: Sociedad Lazo Turismo Ltda., Angamos 1366, Punta Arenas, Chile; phone 011-56-61-223-771) and Hosteria Pehoe (reservations: Turismo Pehoe, 21 de Mayo 1464, Punta Arenas, Chile; phone 011-56-61-41-1390).

* For information: Contact Sernatur (Chilean National Tourist Board), c/o Ladeco Chilean Airlines, 9500 S. Dadeland Blvd., Miami, Fla. 33156; (305) 670-6705 or (800) 825-2332.

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