Torres del Paine, Chile

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The bus ride from El Calafate to Puerto Natales didnīt go quite as smoothly as hoped. The projected 4 hours turned into 7. As we barely met another vehicle on the way we canīt put this down to traffic issues. Nor can the blame be met entirely by the Argentine or Chillean border guards, despite a power loss half way through processing Matt into Chile that left him temporarily in limbo, neither fully in Argentina, nor Chile, nor even in the mile and a half of no manīs land inbetween. No, at the end of the day we canīt escape the conclusion that our bus company just lied about the length of the journey in order to secure our custom. We didnīt think to ask them why their bus could do the journey in 4 hours when everyone else said 5 1/2 - next time we will...

Itīs clear that Argentina donīt really want anyone going to Chile, nor do they want any Chilleans coming over their way, for as soon as we got for than a couple of miles out of El Calafate on the way to the border, then the tarmac turned into gravel and we started to get free bottom massages...

Chile on the other hand are much more grown up and had tarmac roads all the way upto the border post.

As we hadnīt booked accomodation we werenīt sure where weīd stay. Our plan was to deposit Kat in a cafe with the bags whilst Matt ran around town trying to find somewhere decent and affordable. As it happened we were accosted by lots of B&B owners (Hospadaje is the Chilean term) and soon we were on our way to Bernitaīs. Bernita is the 80+ year old mother of the lady who accosted us, and seems to do all the cooking, cleaning and washing around the place. Breakfast is included, but this consists solely of a bun from the local supermarket, some stale bread and some dubious looking and possibly homemade jam/marmalade concoction. The coffee is the worst ever tasted. Weīd been warned that Chile has an unhealthly obsession with Nescafe (and weīre not talking Nescafe Gold, or Nescafe Black, but Nescafe Value if such a brand exists...). It didnīt help that the Coffee was made with hot water, milk and then finally coffee powder.

Puerte Natales is a small port town, only about 100 years old, and exists now just to serve tourists heading to Torres del Paine, in much the same way as El Calafate exists for the Perito Moreno Glacier. Itīs not as wealthy as El Cal but slightly more īrealī because of it. Due to the fjords the port feels like it sits on a lake as the water is very calm, but the smell of saly air confirms that weīre attached, eventually, to the sea.

We quickly got ourselves organised onto a tour of Torres for the next day. Many people come to the park to do a four or five day trek through the hills. Obviously Katīs foot rules that out, so weīre taking the slightly easier albeit pricier option of an organised tour.

After the comfort and quality of our tour in El Cal we were a bit disappointed to be picked up the following morning in a converted ford transit (LWB for anyone interested...) but our guide spoke decent English and due to the small numbers onboard we were able to stop at anything interesting on the way, where our guide would instruct us to get out and take a photo... We, without exception, obeyed...

The park itself is very impressive, particularly the Torres themselves - imposing granite towers. We were *extremely* lucky with the weather which was excellent all day, despite imposing grey clounds over the mountains themselves. After getting various views of lakes, mountains, waterfalls etc, and after having yet more ham and cheese sarnies for lunch, we came to, what was for us, probably the best part of the day. We didnīt think weīd find Grey Glaciar very interesting, coming so soon after Perito Moreno, and the guide said we wouldnīt get very close to it (more than 8km away). However, we were at situated 8km away at the end of the lake created by the run off from the glaciar, which meant that the icebergs created from it had run aground right by us. It was pretty impressive to see icebergs the height of a 10 storey building just a hundred meters away. As they collapsed under their own weight smaller chunks would make there way closer to the shore, until small chunks the size of a football would wash up on the shore itself. Whilst the glaciar itself was so far away as to be no spectacle, the icebergs close complemented nicely our experiences just a couple of days prior at Perito Moreno.

Finally, on the way back we stopped off at a nice cave where the remains of a big bear called a Mylodon were discovered 100 years ago. There is nothing in the cave, but at the entrance is a big plastic replica of the animal. Classy.

The following day (the day Iīm writing this) weīve assigned to R&R. Weīve discovered that we have to board the Navimag boat on Thursday evening and not friday morning (which is good to know) and spent lots of time on the internet writing up our travels to date. And now Iīm writing about doing some writing, which suggests itīs a good time to stop!

Tomorrow weīre planning to hire some mountain bikes and pootle around the local area. Thereīs nothing much here but a couple of nice viewpoints and a museum in the next town along, which is only 2 miles away - so enough to keep us busy until itīs time to shop for all our Navimag supplies and board the converted cargo vessel.
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