Days: 343-345 (3 June 2015 – 5 June 2015)
Total distance travelled: 72,550.16 kilometres (45,062.21 miles)
Welcome to the south of Chile… in winter.
As we touched land for the first time in four days, burdened as we were with our large packs, it was rain that was to be our welcome.
Futilely we (by we, read I, as Sarah actually has and was wearing waterproof footwear) tried to dodge our way around large tracts of water, possibly former puddles, swelling thanks to the encouragement (rain) that Puerto Natales was at that time being subjected to.
There was one hardy soul nearby trying to sell beds to his hostel (we were tempted), but amongst our company was a Swiss girl from the boat who had a hot lead on a cheap hostel.
So we traipsed onwards… for possibly twenty minutes… in the rain.
We got to the address, and to our joy (insert high levels of sarcasm), there was no hostel. In fact I’m not even sure that the I could confidently call the dive we found a house!
That’s how we found ourselves, four sodden souls (as there was a German with us, as well as miss Swiss) wandering through the doors of Lili Patagonico’s, the very same hostel whose owner met us at the docks!
Only now he didn’t have room… well, sufficient dorm beds for all of us!
True to his generous nature, he offered us a matrimonial at a price, close to that of the dorm, and we were sold.
Originally we’d planned to spend just two nights here, but with the prospects of better weather for a day trip to Torres del Paine on the Friday, we delayed our departure so we could arrange our visit with the (hopefully) better chance of some visibility.
Sadly, the local micro-brewery was closed for the month of June (we arrived in town on June 3rd), so sadly that put paid to our plans to sample any local drops.
They did have a sign out front that showed the distance to different breweries and their drops, but whilst novel, it was no substitute for the real thing…
So to deliver on the real thing front, there was Torres del Paine!
With our original, admittedly vague (and I’ll say unrealistic plan, even though it could have been done, but at the cost of our carefree schedule) plan of being in the south of Chile and Argentina during the southern summer a smoldering ruin, we’d actually for a time abandoned thoughts of heading to this part of the continent at all.
In fact our research had basically said the area shuts down, refugio’s are closed, as are the restaurants in town, and many hostels.
So why the fuck did we still come here?
As has been written already, the boat ride was on a whim, but whilst here, we damn well wanted to make the most of it!
A van collected us, and two others who’d also been on the Navimag vessel and we were on our way.
There was a brief stop during the journey to the park, apparently for use of the rest rooms and to grab some food if required, however most people huddled around the warming wood stove that sat to one side of the souvenir shop, come diner.
It was also a good chance for me to see how cold it truly was outdoors, as puddles of water outside shattered rather than splashed as I threw rocks at them.
Our first official tour stop saw us take in a large lake set amidst low scrubby terrain, a backdrop of grey skies and patchy snow on the distant hills giving it a gloomy, rather than beautiful look.
A herd of Guanaco however was well received, several of which kindly posed for photos in a nice welcome to Torres del Paine.
The road onwards began to rise, and with the elevation we suddenly found our van surrounded by a sea of white.
Apparently the day earlier it had been a sea of brown grasses across the rolling hills, but overnight, the place had transformed into a snowy wonderland.
When the opportunity was offered, I was most eager to get out, this being my first opportunity to touch snow in about twenty five years (not since a school excursion, my only other experience with the stuff)!
If the snow wowed me, the next stop blew us away with its raw beauty.
We’d stopped again on the shores of a lake, the beautiful snow-covered mountains mirrored wonderfully in the still waters of the lake.
Sure it was cold, but it’s easy to ignore that for a few minutes, and of course it helped that there was no breeze to be felt at all.
In truth we’d done little thus far other than admire the view when possible through the constantly fogging windows, with the odd brief stop to sate our appetites.
Finally, our next stop was a little more substantial.
It began with our guide pointing out some Armadillo tracks, and those of the already sighted Guanaco were also very present.
Sarah thought it’d be perfect time to throw a snowball at me (this despite her earlier declaring there to be an embargo on the practice), whilst I thought it would be amusing to snap a photo of her in the act.
It wasn’t so amusing for me when it whacked me in the groin…
We were here to check out some falls, and it was here that we now wandered, although it was a bit of a cautious walk, as neither of us had particularly good grip on our soles, and my shoes are not the slightest bit waterproof!
Perfect planning for the conditions, I know…
It looked a grey old day, the prospects of us seeing the parks famous peaks seemingly slim.
On occasion we could glimpse an outline, and then incredibly a sliver of blue sky.
We lingered, in the faint hope that the skies might clear further.
Our guide grew impatient, urging the group to return to the van so we could continue on, but we loitered still, confident that we could easily catch up our group of dawdlers should we need to hustle.
When we started to see a bit more blue, we felt the wait was definitely worth it!
It may seem (given the way I’ve written this) that the day remained early, but given the fact that the skies are essentially dark down here until somewhere between 9 and 10am, it was in fact now time for lunch.
We were ferried a little further around the park, halting on the shores of another of its stunning lakes.
A lone Condor was glimpsed high above on a lofty perch (on a mountain), how our guide spotted it remains unknown… hopefully it’s not permanently chained there to impress the tourists!
Our party separated, and with the picnic tables and benches covered in layers of snow, we decided to take a wander and find somewhere more suitable for our dining pleasure.
We skirted the lake, before following a narrow path up a grass and snow covered hillock until we were happy.
With the views we now had, it was difficult not to be happy!
There were a couple of rocks clear of snow, so we used these as our table, dished up a couple of ham and cheese rolls and some apples (all of the rubbish we had we of course took with us) and chowed down… and gazed at the scenery all around us.
Incredibly, we even got a dose of sun, as it emerged from behind the seemingly impenetrable wall of grey above, a wonderful tonic for our cold limbs, despite the efforts we’d taken to try and rug up.
We rejoined our posse, who wandered back to the van in dribs and drabs (although most of the group was assembled before the guide who appeared after the appointed time… so much for the need to hustle at our last stop).
With the sun now seemingly attached to our party for the afternoon (although we didn’t have complete faith in it given the fickle reputation of the weather here), we scurried along to our final destination within the park, Lago Grey.
On arrival dumb luck saw me spy a deer on a rock above, and before long we were traipsing our way through the woods in search of the lake itself.
The crossing of a slick with ice suspension bridge was made more difficult by a smart arse German amongst us, who insisted on rocking the bridge at every opportunity.
Amusing for herself, but making a dangerous task even more perilous for some of those less sure of their footing.
We couldn’t find fault with the natural beauty of the forest through which we walked however.
Soon the trees thinned, although in truth the passage never felt too claustrophobic and we were on a wide rocky expanse, the shore of the lake a streak of silver up ahead, and the silhouettes of the parks snowy peaks forming a lovely backdrop.
This was Lago Grey.
Incredibly, there was even warmth enough from the sun that layers were able to be shed, and our bitterly cold morning had somehow morphed into this beautiful, sun filled afternoon.
We tried our hand at skipped rocks across the beautiful, glacier fed waters, my personal best being somewhere in the low double figures (for skips of a rock that is).
A few of us even gave our hands a good test of the waters temperature, cold for sure, but not a cause for the immediate ache I had initially expected.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from this stunning vista, but back at the bus the park had yet another treat in store for us.
Sure, it was nothing new, as we’d sighted a deer on arrival at this last lake as already mentioned… but this time I managed to at least snap a decent shot of it!
There was one final stop on our journey back to town, a cave that famously housed (and possibly still does) many prehistoric fossils.
It was a huge site, but unfortunately for us, the light doesn’t linger so long this time of year, so it was a slightly dull affair by the time we arrived, with the light already on the cusp of the short winter twilight.
Still, after the wonderful day we’d had, we weren’t too disappointed, and our decision to stay one extra day… well, we felt completely vindicated!
* Our tour cost $30,000.00 pesos per person for a guide and transportation.
* The CONAF park entrance fee was an extra $10,000.00 pesos each.
* An additional $2,000.00 pesos per person was required to visit the Cueva del Milodon.