And other beautiful scenes from South America
04/18/2007 - 04/22/2007
We did it. And we have the stinky clothes to prove it.
Our four-day trek through Chile's Torres del Paine national park required frequent last-minute changes of plan, waterproof jackets, pants and backpack covers and most importantly, a complete indifference to clothes and boots that reeked of cheese left in a hot car for several weeks.
After a few days of less-than-ideal weather, however, we lucked out with a magnificent view of the park's three iconic towers on our last, stunningly beautiful day.
Even before officially entering Torres del Paine, we saw three of the big five animals inhabiting the area: several guanacos, which are essentially llamas; the Chilean condor; and the nandu or lesser rhea, a smaller cousin of the ostrich. Which leaves the puma and a small deer species, both of which were apparently smart enough to take cover in the foul weather. We're also fairly sure we spotted a few Chilean flamingoes, which were likely regretting their decision to dawdle a bit more before heading north with the rest of the flock.
The most popular hiking route through the park is a W-shaped trail, with the towers most visible at the W's final tip. Due to the lousy weather, though, the park rangers suggested we save them for last, which ended up being great advice. A brief recap:
Day one: Our first icebergs. After donning our so-called rain-proof outfits and backpack covers that made us look like workers responding to a chemical spill, we caught a catamaran across a lake and slogged 11 kilometers in the rain and snow past another large lake to a rustic refugio. The smallish cabin was a bit like a ramshackle skiing lodge, with bunkbeds crammed into tiny upstairs rooms and a common space with a small fireplace on the ground floor. The skies cleared a bit toward the end of the day, and we were able to admire the impressive Glacier Grey, which has scoured away the rock around it even as it retreats, leaving large blue icebergs floating in the slowly expanding Lago Grey. Monkey, our travel mascot, had a particularly nice view.
After much oohing and ahhing, we headed back the way we had come and stayed in the far cushier Paine Grande refugio - about 19 kilometers of hiking in all. After blissfully hot showers and an impressive dinner, we were able to get to know some of our fellow travelers a bit more (a big hello to Gareth and Suzanne from London, Marilou and Wilbert from Amsterdam, Luis from Madrid and Eric from Beijing). Clothes were beginning to have that not-so-fresh aroma.
Day three: A bit of a washout. We had planned to hike a good bit of the base of the W and see the "not to be missed" Valle Frances. After an hour of hiking through pelting rain and gusts that easily topped 60 miles an hour, we were completely soaked, absolutely miserable and unanimous in our decision to miss the valley in favor of another boat and bus ride to a brand new and rather warm refugio that would at least allow us a shot of the seeing the towers the following day. Clothes had a rather indescribable fragrance.
Day four: A welcome break in the weather. A pre-dawn hike led us up through pasture land, around a mountain, into the woods and finally, after a precarious and exhausting scramble up a steep pile of icy boulders that ranks as one of the more adventurous things we've yet done, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the three towers and a small lake below them. Despite the howling wind and our aching muscles, we were able to savor the sight and bask in the sunshine with our hiking companions, Gareth, Suzanne and Eric:
We're now recovering at a wonderful hotel called Indigo with impressive views of Puerto Natale's Last Hope Fjord, and the clothes have been thankfully banished to a laundry service.