Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine
Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
130Trip End Dec 17, 2008
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The first thing you notice as you step out of the airport is the strong Southern Patagonian winds. They blow incessantly at between 70 and 100 kph, sometimes being so strong that they nearly blow you of your feet, be cautious when opening the car doors then. The second thing we learnt after driving a few kilometers on the one lane highway up to Puerto Natales was that there really isn't anything here, just windswept Patagonian desert for mile after mile of straight road, not an enthralling drive then for the 250 km to Puerto Natales. To relieve Helen of the boredom and due to the fact there were straight roads and we had an automatic, I drove the last 80 km to the town, yes that's right I actually drove a car.
After arriving in the ghost town that is Puerto Natales (it was a Sunday as well) we decided to grab some lunch before checking into the hostel. We found a nice place on the lakeside next to a hotel called Indigo, I think the café itself was called Pisco Sour. I had some very nice local hake with rice and Helen opted for the seafood risotto which she was enjoying until she hit the baby octopus and the random sucker pad hidden in the middle and which point she announced she'd had an elegant sufficiency.
We made our way to the hostel (Hostal Natales) which was clean and roomy, though we each had separate bunk bed each (that is what a twin meant in this place, rather than two single beds) we had our own bathroom and there was internet access and a nice lounge area. We then pretty much flopped out for the afternoon after the flight and long drive.
That night as we wandered around the town looking for somewhere to eat, we came across a tour operator that was for some reason open on a Sunday at 9 pm. We managed to book a boat tour to Glacier Grey the following day at 12 noon, heeding the advice to take the turning for the Milidon cave in order to take the new road to the park which would take about 1 ˝ hours, and also the fact we must be there to register at 11 a.m....
Our Glacier trip sorted (this was something we both really wanted to do and were worried about them being booked up due to busy season), we found an African resteraunt to eat at, suitably called "Afrigonia". The food here was excellent with plenty to eat and very friendly staff, we would recommend it to anyone coming here, especially the tandoori chicken.
Wandering back to the hostel and what should we come across ??? Yep, another casino, and this one in one of the most remote and inhospitable places in the world. Not wanting to ruin Helen's dreams of going around the world in 80 casinos, we popped in for an hour, coming out even but entertained (there wasn't much else to do here), besides there were only 4 card tables and not much action really.
The next morning we were up early, leaving at 8:30am to make the 11am boat trip. Upon reaching possibly the only junction we had to navigate on this 150 km drive, we questioned whether to turn left to the Milidon cave or continue straight on to Torres del Paine as directed by the sign. "Straight On" declared Maud, "we take the left after the Milidon cave", not wanting to argue the point too much we continued. About an hour and a half later when we reached the National Park checkpoint, I still couldn't find were we where on the map until the kindly warden pointed out we had taken the old road to the park and now had a 50 km journey on dirt track and it was 10:45....whooops. Helen shifted into rally driver mode, engaged the four wheel drive and off we went in a cloud dust determined to make this boat trip.
We weren't going too fast though to miss the breath taking sight that emerged from behind the hill as we sped to our destination.
The first sight of the Torres del Paine is jaw dropping, it literally does take your breath away, and although we were late, we were so awe struck the car was stopped and photos were taken. It's hard to explain their magnificence, they look like huge granite waves rising out of the horizon and they are far bigger and more majestic than you could ever prepare yourself for. We both agree that this has to be the most impressive natural wonder we have both seen to date, they truly are spectacular and our photos won't do them half the justice of the experience of actually being there.
Recovered from the initial "wow" factor, we hurried along to Lago Grey to get the boat. On the last leg we stopped though, to pick up some very weary looking hikers (turned out to be Germans) and give them a lift to Lago Grey as well, saving them the 15km walk, for which they were most grateful.
So we arrived 30 mins late, but managed to get on the boat, though not before Helen had taken an earbashing from the guide, who continually pointed at the 11 am time with exclamation marks on our booking receipt.
Breathless but thankful we had made the boat, we hiked for 15 minutes to the pier where a zodiac picked us up and ferried us to the larger boat Lago Grey II.
We cruised down the lake taking in the scenery and icebergs
We cruised around the Glacier front for about an hour until making our way back to the pier to disembark. At this point I made the wrong direction choice of the day and instead of walking back to the car decided we should walk along a pebble beach which I thought would take us in a round circuit. The beach was a dead end and I added about 3 miles to the trip back to the car, but we did get some good iceberg photos out of the diversion.
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the park taking in the different views of the Torres and the surrounding lakes and waterfalls as well as the wildlife within the park.
Thoroughly exhausted, we drove the 150 km back to the hostel and hit the sack.
The following day, as the weather was still good (read- windy and cold, but sunny) we made the decision to go back to the park and take another look around. In hindsight we should have overnighted in the park to avoid the 300km roundtrip and this would have allowed us to do some longer hikes, but we didn't know the roads would be pretty much all dirt at the time.
We started the day actually going into the Milodon Cave shich was huge and apparently created by waves when the glaciers receded. The bones and skin of the Milodon were found in the cave and taken to the US & UK so all they have now are some replicas and a model of the Milodon outside the cave.
After this we spent the day wandering around the park, taking photos from viewpoints we had missed the previous day and visiting a few more waterfalls,
until we decided to make the 450 km drive down to Punta Arenas.
Where I stayed