Perhaps a little too much nature
Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
48Trip End Jul 08, 2010
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Where I stayed
I absolutely loved Punta Arenas and the surrounding area. We didn´t have enough time there for me to really get to know it, but I just got a great vibe. In keeping with its geography, it felt undisturbed in the best possible way. Everyone we met was happy and the weather is far more temperate than you would ever expect -- it was in the 50s, and the wintertime low is only around 20 degrees despite being virtually sub-arctic. And for the 3 hr drive north to Puerto Natales, there was nothing but endless plains that gradually built into low hills. Though I have yet to go there, some parts of the scenery are what I imagine the African savanna looks like. I´d venture that sheep and cows outnumber people by easily 100 to 1. And the photos don´t even come close to doing the landscape justice (which likely goes double for Torres del Paine)
Day 1: Getting There
Our day began with a pick-up at the Hotel Ilaia and a stop to pick-up a British couple from the Punta Arenas airport. She was friendly and nice; he, not so much (I guess you can´t win ´em all). After a layover for lunch and registration in the charming town of Puerto Natales, we made one more stop to check out la Cueva del Milodón, which translates to the Cave of the Giant Sloth or Land Sloth or some crap like that. The important takeaway for you, the reader: it was a big freakin´ cave. The next 2 hours and change took us through an endless array of absurdly picturesque hills with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Our route was a little circuitous, but every few miles, we´d round a turn and those peaks seemed to have snuck a little closer to the foreground until we were all of a sudden directly beneath them...we´d finally reached Torres del Paine.
Torres del Paine (TdP) is a national park in Chilean Patagonia that takes its name from a small mountain range and is known as one of the most remote, beautiful places on earth. It certainly did not disappoint! We (and by that I mean ¨I¨, for better or worse) had booked a 4-night stay in the Ecocamp, which is a collection of mini Epcot-like domes
Shortly after settling in, we met in the common living room dome for a welcome toast with pisco sours -- for those keeping score at home, the pisco sour may be of Peruvian origin, but it is also the national drink of Chile. The guides then outlined two options for our hike the following day: a 20km / 14 mile hike up to the Cuernos (horns/towers) or a few hours in the van followed by a very short hike. I was immediately torn because I wanted to do the former but seriously doubted that would be a very good idea considering: 1. I´ve never walked that far on flat ground let alone hiked that far up and down a mountain 2. I had done virtually no preparation in the time leading
up to our departure 3. The look on Renu´s face that said, ¨Don´t even so much as think about it.¨ I´m not clear on the exact sequence of what followed, but our fellow Ecocampers erupted into near mutiny. Apparently some of them had already done the long drive/short hike bit and were having none of it. At some point Renu interjected to establish the facts (shocker!). The guides told us that the hike was tough but not absurd; the pace would be slow and steady; that they had seen 80 year olds do it (no way in hell!); that it offered perfect viewing of the Towers and the weather would be ideal, etc
Night 1: We Have Company
Our camp was literally surrounded by cows. We were informed that the ranchers were planning to move them all to a different area and had temporarily separated the calves and mothers. That set off a tireless chorus of insistent, pissed off mooing all night. Having perhaps not had as much bovine exposure as my fiancee, I was amazed by some of the sounds originating just outside our door. That said, the cows didn´t bother us much and we shortly fell asleep. The first signs of trouble began at 1:30 am (although the foul concoction of seafood, cream and cheese we were served for dinner was certainly dismaying). I first recall hearing some rustling noises, which I initially disregarded as coming from outside. The noises continued, whereupon Renu whispered worriedly to me, ¨What the hell is that?¨ My first reaction, being a paranoid city boy, was that someone was trying to rob us. Renu, with her pragmatic Iowan routes, swiftly disabused me of that notion, and we agreed it must be a mouse. Well, whatever the mouse may have lacked in size, it made up for in vigor. The cursed thing kept at it until 5am, pausing only long enough to avoid discovery when we turned the lights on
Day 2: The Trek
Waking up less than refreshed, we had a quick breakfast and set off for our hike at 8:30am, but not before Renu could throw up the previous night´s dinner (no, Suni, there was no wine involved. It was just that gross). The first couple kilometers took us through a herd of cattle and a minefield of their feces. If you´ve never been that close to cows as I hadn´t, it´s pretty creepy the way they all stare at you. I won´t bore you all with a step-by-step account of the hike, but I will say it was brutal and give a few highlights/lowlights. The first main section was an hour of virtually non-stop uphill. When I was able to actually to enjoy the scenery, it was breathtaking. The last serious uphill before the lookout was astoundingly difficult. The weather was great, and we were able to get crystal-clear views at the top, but then it rapidly turned with gale force winds and a little rain. Like dogs that pick up the pace when they turn for home, Renu and I were so excited to get off the mountain, we practically ran down.
Night 2: The Turning Point
We retired to our dome exhausted and craving a good night´s sleep
Day 3: Our Escape
First thing in the morning, we went to the manager and told him we wanted out on the next van. To their credit, the Ecocamp people took care of us, and we hopped on an 8:30 that would take us back to Puerto Natales. While I was really torn about leaving the park itself, we were both exhausted and on edge. There was no way we could stay there. In spite of our nocturnal torture, believe us when we say that it was an amazing experience that we´ll always remember fondly if not without a few laughs.