So I Set Fire to the Paine

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Chile  , Patagonia,
Friday, January 6, 2012

Well not me actually - some Israeli bloke apparently ...I will explain shortly

So we had arrived in Puerto Natales. Now I think at this stage I should explain the plan for next few weeks as it gets extremely confusing. So Helen and I had always planned to travel together for a month and this always involved getting down to see southern Patagonia. However, Helen and I are very different beings - Helen likes her comforts, I like hiking in mountains. So I decided to do southern Patagonia twice. The first two weeks I would spend with Helen - in a minibus and on boats seeing Patagonia the non-walking way and then after Helen had gone back to Brazil I was going to do some trekking for a couple of weeks on an organised tour. Hopefully this explains why I am basically doing it all once and then in the words of the Average White Band (I think Louise - Redknapp married to Jamie, used to be in Eternal also covered it as well but not very well), doing a 'Let's Go Round Again'. It might also be useful when I try to explain to the Chilean and Argentine Immigration people why I keep crossing the border !! (such fun it is too !!) 

So Patagonia - Southern America's frontier land, the stuff of legend,wild, barren, stunningly beautiful, iconic peaks, fast flowing rivers, immense tumbling glaciers, hurling winds and sheep !! It  covers an area of over one million square kilometers and has a population density of only one person per km squared (there's more sheep thank people - bit like Wales then). It includes both Chile and Argentina, split in two by the mighty peaks of the Andes. I've put in map because a) I'm a geography teacher, b) everytime I speak to my Mum she has no idea where  I am and c) it's black and white so you could print it out and colour it in - please make sure it has a key though.

Basically there are two major areas to visit - the are two major areas to visit. The first being Torres del Paine which is in Chile and then secondly the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares which is in Argentina. I'm going to put them each into a separate blog entry because otherwise it messes with flags you get for each bit.

So anyway we had arrived in Puerto Natales (Chile bit). It is located 51 degrees south of the equator (London is 51 degrees north !!). Things weren't looking too hopeful when we arrived through because we'd heard on the ship that Torres del Paine was pretty much on fire. Apparently some Israeli tourist had burnt his toilet paper and then not put it out properly. Fortunately for us we hadn't actaully booked any tours before we'd arrived, but there was several people from the Navimag who'd already had and it had cost a lot of money. Both Jan and Copenhagen Gary were booked on 5 day trips. From what were hearing initially they had decided to close the park until the end of January. Then it all changed and they started opening up parts away from the fire.

So Torres del Paine (pronounced Pine - kind of ruins my title but nevermind) is considered to be South America's finest National Park and it is dominated by several granite pillars (the Towers of Paine) that soar vertically almost 3000m above the Patagonian steppe. Much of the geology of the Paine Massif area consists of Cretaceous sedimentary rocks that have been of the wind, the rivers and the glaciers to create the present-day topography.  The towers (Las Torres) rise above becasuse they are made are more erosion resistant volcanic granite rock.

So the original plan was to spend 4 days in and around the park. So the first of these days were spent first of all getting some washing done and then sorting out some tours we could do. We decided to spend one day on a boat trip into the O'Higgins National Park to see some glaciers and then another day visiting parts of Torres del Paine we could get to. We would then head over to the Argentine side a day earlier than planned.

So next day and we started a boat tour into the Bernado O'Higgins National Park so we could visit the Serrano Glacier. Now we thought this would be safe as it wasn't part of the Torres del Paine National Park. Also on the trip was a Canadian couple - Jackie and Mr Jackie who we'd met originally on the Navimag (I think he had told me his name on New Year's Eve but I had no idea now and I daren't ask again so I did that think where I hoped someone would would mention it, but no joy there) who were from Calagary. All was going well, I'd had a little sleep on the boat (whenever I get on any boat, bus, plane I have this habit of falling asleep in the first 20 minutes of the journey) and we were all chatting away. However, it then started to get a bit choppy and then really quite rough. At this point muppet features here decides to go outside and take a photo - managed to get my jeans absolutely soaked (you never wear jeans when it's wet !!!) and then my sunglasses got blown off and straight into the sea. I came back in a totally drowned rat who couldn't see as the sun was shining in my eyes. A couple of minutes later they had to turn round the boat as it was so rough.

By this stage I was starting to lose the will to live - so far we had been thwarted by a volcano, forest fires, wind and big waves (there had even been a minor earthquake in Ecuador when we were at dinner but like when I was in Peru a few years ago I completely missed it) . Now I know I love teaching about hazards but this was getting a bit silly. Hazards are great - just not when I'm being affected by them. Actually I guess if you stick yourself in places where you are risk then things will happen. So we came back into Puerto Natales. Helen went for a massage and I pottered around the outdoor shops.

So our final day and we had actually booked a tour round Torres del Paine - we weren't expecting a lot as a much of the park was closed and there were still plenty of natural hazards to still get us. The first stop on the trip was a big cave 25km northwest of Puerto Natales. Apparently in the 1890s German pioneer Hermann Eberhard (oh of course Hermann - isn't he in Guess Who? Ooh actually I think it's Bernard) discovered the partial remains of an enormous ground sloth in a cave . The slow-moving, herbivorous milodón, which stood nearly 4m tall became extinct approx 5000 years ago, and it was supposedly the motivating factor behind Bruce Chatwin’s book In Patagonia (meant to read it). This creature is what Helen has thought was a beaver (see the picture of her and the big wooden one) for the last few days (yes the standing up thing that's really quite tall - just like a regular beaver). We then headed into the park and we got to see our first view of the spires. We were actually really lucky (finally) because we got to see the spires from the western side. This was the first time that they had opened the road since the fire. It really is an amazing place. For most of the time you are driving along and the scenery is like being in Wales or Scotland (bit drizzly, windy etc), then rising up are these incredible granite towers. We then travelled round to the east and got to see the spires from various viewpoints and also to visit the waterfalls called Cascada Paine.

At the final stop we went to see some llamas and yet another stunning view of Torres del Paine. At this point I decided to try to arty photography and try to incorporate the daisies into the photo by lying on the ground. Several others on the trip followed suit. Helen on the other hand decided that she was going to roll around in the daisies so it would look like she was in a timotei advert (take a look at the photo - it really is uncanny !!). Oh and I'm also now obsessed with clouds - some incredible anvils down here.
Then onto the first viewpoint of the spires - we were really lucky (finally !!) as they had just opened this ro ad to traffic and we could get to see the spires from both sides now (Joni Mitchell did a song about it all- you)  
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laurence on

Hi Liz,
Fab pics - the gliding nerd in me insists the clouds are lenticulars, not anvils: a marker of high winds aloft (but you knew that). Looks to be a fantastic trip. Very jealous (but you knew that too).

Laurence x

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