BUS RIDE TO PUERTO NATALES
Amelia finished the city tour of Punta Arenas and dropped me off at the public bus terminal. From there, I was to catch a 3-hour bus to Puerto Natales, which would put me "close" to my next destination: Torres del Paine. A natural wonder of lakes, mountains, and glaciers that left me breathless and not because of the altitude!
Speaking Spanish does have its advantages. For instance, while on the bus, there were several seemingly random stops in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. Rather than panic about South American bus hold-ups or other dangerous road crimes that all local taxi-drivers conspired together to warn women traveling by themselves about, I was able to eaves drop on fellow passengers. "The bus must have dropped a piece of luggage" mused one passenger. "We must be picking up hitchhikers," supposed another. And like magic, a few minutes later, one or two passengers/hitch hikers would board and we were on our way again.
The other interesting note, from all of my bus rides, is that the arrival time is always a dartboard estimate and varies depending on wild life crossings. "The bus should take 3 hours, depending on how many times it has to stop to let animals cross by." I was told by the ticket agents time and time again. Veeeery interesting. I made sure my camera was easily accessible on all bus rides!
PUERTO NATALES AND ITS CROWN JEWEL
The hotel I was staying at in Puerto Natales was definitely budget, but nice and comfortable for a few days stay. The driver there, Nelson, went to pick me up at the bus station. He was very friendly, but didnīt smile. The next day, he took myself and another passenger, Gustavo, to Torres del Paine. After a few hours of joking with him, he finally revealed a toothless smile.
Our first stop was the "Cuevas de Milodon". These caves were discovered a few hundred years ago, along with the 12,000 year old remains of the "Milodon", a pre-historic animal that was said to roam the earth around the same time as itīs dinosaur cousins. The caves were interesting, but what was most fascinating was the view of the mountains from inside of the cave. Breathtaking.
Gustavo, the only other passenger on the tour of Torres del Paine, was a construction business owner from Santiago. He was a distinguished looking older gentleman, probably in his late 50īs/early 60īs. He built bridges for a living and spoke to me about his latest 1-year project in a neighboring Santiago city. We kept each other company the whole day and he was very charming. I excluded his picture from the blog, in the extremely remote and off-chance that he might get wind of the details Iīll share later in this entry!
We spent a few more minutes at the cave and then started the one-hour drive to Torres del Paine. On this particular trip, I was very aware of being a woman traveling the world alone. Perhaps itīs because both Gustavo and toothless Nelson were in awe of that fact and kept talking about it!! I did my whole, "post-divorce/soul searching trip of a lifetime" schpeel. They let the matter drop and we proceeded to view majestic lakes and finally, the jewel of the Patagonia (at least in my opinion!), Torres del Paine was visible in the distance.
Another perk of traveling off season is that we would have the entire park almost to ourselves. Most tourists start arriving in the area in November and December, so the area was pretty desolate, which was nice. Nelson shared that quite a few people attempt the climb every year, and as with every dangerous peak, some donīt make it. He mentioned that two years ago 2 Spaniards fell off attempting the very steep climb. Iīm happy to report, that we did go hiking in Torres del Paine to get to the Water Falls and Lakes, but we kept it pretty flat grounds for this trip! As Iīve said before, Iīm a fearless traveler, but a very CAREFUL fearless traveler at that!!
After the great views and endless photo ops, each picture more beautiful than the next, we went hiking to view the Falls. Gustavo started hinting in not so subtle ways, that he loved younger women. "I love younger women," he started when we were hiking by ourselves. "They are full of life and adventure!" Nelson had stayed behind to guard the van. Apparently, it was a safe area, except for unattended vehicles. It was common for maliants to take the spare tire or whatever they could carry out. Ummm okay.
So back to Gustavo, he continued to flirt. He bragged about his company and how much money he made last year. He claimed that he could take care of me. Ummm. No thanks. I can take care of myself. He continued with compliments. "Dominican women are so beautiful. I canīt imagine why youīre single.".....so I fibbed. Another, woman traveling alone harmless white lie! I told him I had a boyfriend back home and showed a picture of a friend I had in my camera. I waited until both him and Nelson were there in order to do my show and tell. Since Nelson himself, had flirted a few times, flashing his toothless grin shamelessly once he became comfortable with me. I must say, after I showed the picture, they were both extremely respectful and actually asked for details of my fictitious relationship!
Once that business was out of the way, we proceeded to enjoy the rest of the parkīs natural beauty. We spotted fox and Ņandú, which is the Latin American cousin to the Ostrich. We had a wonderful lunch with a view of the Torres del Paine Glaciers and talked about Chileīs female president (go Chile!) We did one more hike to help "digest" our lunch, where Gustavo shared some of his past love woes. Apparently, he recently fell in love with his 27 year-old assistant (gasp!) and she is married with a child. Mind you, he has kids in their 30īs, but love knows no age he claimed and shared some interesting love triangle types of stories before we started the drive back to the hotel.A BOAT TRIP AND 5 NEW FRIENDS
The next day, I woke up bright and early, excited to get my first up close view of some of these glaciers I kept reading about. I booked a small boat trip at the dock by the hotel and commenced what was one of my favorite days on this trip so far!
On the boat, I met Francisco, from Viņas del Mar. He was traveling by himself on business and booked the boat trip on his day off. We quickly noticed we were the only solo travelers and linked up for the you take my picture and Iīll take yours bit. We also buddied up with Miguel and Manuel from Andalucía, Spain and Juliana and Paolo from Brazil. We had such a great time, both on the boat and also on the 30 minute hike to the big blocks of ice.
The boat first took us past a few estancias, one of which we would be stopping by later in the day for lunch. We also spotted dolphins (which seem to mysteriously disappear by the time I turned on my camera!). En route to the ice, we also caught a glimpse of sea lions and condors. We all turned in awe, when the frozen ice became visible in the distance. Thereīs something about it that just caused time to stop. I have to say though, that the best glaciers were the ones I saw a few days later in Argentina at Perito Merono (more to come in my next entry!).
We soon found out we would be hiking to the base of the ice, which would give us time to see it up close, touch it and even take some pieces for a Pisco Sour! The hike was a bit steep and rocky, but I enjoyed it and at this point, I hadnīt fallen yet, so I was emboldened by my own bravery! Though, as Francisco pointed out, one small mis-step and we were in serious trouble, as the lake was full of ice blocks and the ravine was extremely steep. We cast that thought aside and enjoyed the rest of the hike. Once at the base, we went crazy with the picture-taking and a few of the bunch actually pulled pieces of ice out of the lake. Unfortunately, nobody thought to bring the Pisco.