Click on a photograph to enlarge it. More photographs here
Travelogue 2, in which we travel to Puerto Natales and enjoy a magnificent trek around the Torres del Paine
here i am back from a truly awesome ten days in the torres del paine national parque. and if i foolishly thought that i already had experienced the whole lot of adventures potential of this country i should learn better. but more about this later one ...
first of all thanx for all your replies, i am very touched how much you are with us and enjoy the tales of princess grump and a little technical note: i would love to send this as attachments but on the system here in the internet caf this doesn?t work for several reasons - so i have to hack that all in an email - i might do this one into two. luckily i have this provider fastmail who actually gives me a notepad function with the very important save button otherwise it can happen that the connection crashes and all is gone (like on a norwegian guy next to me after two hours of typing he lost everything) - so you have to put up with this long emails i'm afraid.
to start of with i put together some more general info about patagonia which i found very interesting. patagonia is unique in the otherwise tropical south america as it lies completely within a cool temperature zone at the southermost tip of the continent. the patagonian andes are shared (and quarreled over) between chile and argentina and have a climate similiar to the southern alps in new zealand. depending on the definition patagonia comprises up to one million square km and the region is just under one third of the land area of both chile and argentina but less than 5% of either population actually lives there. so there is a lot of space left for wilderness.
the andes of southern patagonia are covered by the most extensive area of glaciers outside the world's polar region. the northern icecap is called hielo patagonico norte and the southern one hielo patagonico sur. it is said that a snowflake falling on one of these icecaps is trapped for 300 years and more before being released at the termination of a glaciar.
but back to the travels of the princess:
after our resting day in punta arenas we get on the bus to puerto natales. for three hours we pass through endless flat windridden priaries, occasionally passing estancias or little hamlets in the middle of nowhere. surprisingly people appear sometimes and flag the bus down to get a ride - where do they come from i don't know. finally we also see our first guancos (chilean lama) which should be frequently seen but we haven't so far. even on isla navarino where there is no pumas to eat them and their numbers are high through the lack of predators we didn't meet one. here they are looking like lamas and chewing on some grass.
finally we arrive in puerto natales, a little town at the foot of the magical torres del paine national parque. it reminds me a bit of queenstown in nz, clearly marketed for the hikers and adventureres. we didn't know that eduardo, our landlord in punta arenas had already phoned his mate carlos who has also a hosteleria, so when we get off the bus he is already waiting for us and brings us to his place with a decent room with a double bed. it is a nice backpackers with his friendly wife and an everchanging interesting bunch of travellers and an excellent breakfast - so we are happy. we spent the next day checking out town, wandering around the lake which is actually an estuary of the pacific ocean and therefore a saltwalter lake full with good fishes. so we have a great salmon dinner out with view of the lake and dramatic cloud formations.
around the corner where we live we step into a coffeeshop run by an english couple and it is a bit like in notting hill, london - hyperstyled with cool jazz music, fresh carrot juice, vegetarian dishes, real cappucino (note: still a mystery to me is the fact that in chile so far we couldn't find anything else than nescafe and that in south america!)-- in short you find all you like to dream of on long hikes and suddenly it seems totally misplaced. the guy looks a bit like hugh grant and i decide to raise my vitamin levels by several fresh carrot juices.
the next morning at 7.00 o'clock we leave town on on a bus to the entrance of the national parque. torres (=towers)del paine (=pale blue, pronounced peinee) lies 100 km north of puerto natales. we plan on doing the full paine circuit (not to confuse with "pain" circuit :) which is one of the world's classic treks and circumnavigates the whole paine massif with its stunning three and a half granite pillars rising out of it. this trail leads through dry steppes, moist alpine forests, highland moors (argghh! just a nice word for lots of bogs) and pasts enormous glaciers and turquoise lakes strewn with icebergs. our book rates it as medium to hard. it covers 100km and can be done in seven days. we will include two side trips, each one day which will add another 50km to the trail. as there will be refugio (huts) on the way of which some offer food and basic supplies we only take food for about six days and hope to stock up the rest on the path to save us carrying a full 10 days worth of food.
the torres del paine was landscaped by the great glaciers of the hielo sur and hosts four major glaciers: dickson, grey, zapalo and geikie. there are countless smaller glaciers and glacial lakes.
the bus is packed with hikers and tourists and when we arrive at the administration centre to register there are more buses and more people. i get always a bit irritated by huge amounts of people all going where i want to go for quiet and solitude. instantly i lose all my sociability and even get a bit grumpy.
the first section of our trek will take us up to the three torres themselves. there is a campsite at the feet of the highest lookout point and we hope to be up there early afternoon, pitch the tent and then climb up to enjoy the views. as this can also be done in a long days return walk, lots of others are on the way as well. it feels a bit like on a pilgrims path, just that we are carrying a whole load while others run up with a day pack or nothing to carry at all.
after around four hours we arrive at the site. wild camping is strictly prohibited in the parque so we have to stick to the designated areas, which is fine as it keeps people from trashing the place. on the last meters a slight drizzling rain starts and while we are setting up camp it is all cloudly and raining hard. the campsite turns into a mudfield within seconds and everything is soaked and muddy - it is freezing cold up there and we crawl into the tent for shelter and wait for better weather. after a couple of hours it seems to ease off and we attempt to climb the mirador (lookout point) even so the views don't look too promising. on our way up it starts raining again and i turn around and back into the tent. jalal makes it all the way up to see nothing.
my mood is far from cheerful - that is not a dream start. jalal's comment of a guy who had to stick it out in his tent for three days fails to raise my spirits - i am wet, cold, damp and turn into princess misery, drown in selfpity and finally cry bitter tears (wondering why i am not in teneriffe now). well after a bit of warm food i start to relax and just take it as it is. i usually have an initial crisis when confronted with so much natural forces and feeling just helpless.
we meet a very nice couple from germany who are on a world tour. they already did alaska and north america - so there we stand in pouring rain and talk about our travels. with the hope of finer weather and some views we fall asleep to the sound of falling rain. next morning we wake up listening to the same sound and no change in sight. thomas and nadja decide to stick it out - we break camp and head down the valley which after three hours welcomes us with sunshine and a strong wind. the sky clears and we can see the torres from the campsite down there. the wind dries all our things quickly and sitting at the campfire under the open sky soon my first crisis is forgotten and i am eager to get on the circuit tomorrow.
next day i am happy to find that most people do only the one day to the torres or a shorter three trek which will cross our path on a later section. so we walk pretty much all day without seing anybody. day one of the circuit takes us through a long valley full of daisies - i think for 2 and half hours we are wading through flowers, the sun shines and it is a world of its own right. this is a paradise for hares and rabbits. so we get to see a couple of huge species hiding in the fields, just their ears sticking out. after a minor river crossing we arrive at puesto serron, a privately owned, very pleasant campsite, run by a jolly, fullbearded fellow who looks like he just stepped out of resistance group with his beret on his head, singing along to his old transistor radio.
the second day takes us slowly higher up. we wander around the shore of lago alejandra until we reach a gusty saddle which reveals a wonderful view of lago paine. the weather is dry and very windy with the occasional clouds passing by. the formations of clouds, their everchanging forms is amazing to watch - the sky often looks like a huge canvas with brush strokes, every moment transforming into different expressions - true art of nature.
meanwhile we are traversing higher up above lago paine, going through lenga forests, climbing a ridge which brings lago dickson into sight and offers a first glance of the enormous glacier dickson which is calving right into the lake. on the lake you can watch ice sculpture floating around - how bizarre. on a lakeside meadow we can see the refugio lago dickson, a modern hut offering dormitory, meals, hot drinks, hot showers and flushed toilets. most of the huts in the parque are run by a company called andescape and they do a really good job. the staff is helpful, one can camp around the huts and in their little stores they offer basic supplies for reasonable prices. the provisions come in via horseback or if the location allows it via boat. so on the trek suddendly appear these groups of horses with a couple of really rough looking gauchos with ponchos and only ropes as reins - for all the women: it is a feast for the eyes, the archetypical pictures of wild men on horses - i am always so taken that i fail to take a picture.
we pitch the tent and decide to have a meal in the hut. of course there is no menu to choose from - they prepare a meal in a tiny kitchen with what they have in store. the diner is divided in groups because not so many people fit in there. i mean we are still in the middle of nowhere - don't get the wrong picture: hot showers also doesn't mean that you find a bathroom there with tiles and a decent showerhead... it is how to describe it more improvised but it works :) so now comes one of these little magical happenings on travels: we wander over to the hut and sit down for a hot chocolate. the guy who serves us is really nice and he puts on some music. i don't trust my ears and look at jalal - he is playing chuang tzu's dreams - a cd recorded in the discourses with osho musicians and mixed by jalal. we giggle and i ask the guy where he got it from. he doesn't know, it comes from a friend. so here we are having our meal and listening to music from the world of osho...
we share the table with a group of four british people who we will befriend in the week to come as they're doing the circuit as well. they are longtime hikers and did about every trek one can think of in the whole world, so we have lots to talk and laugh about. alan the "senior" of the group is 72 years old, janet & paddy are well into their sixties and dick the "youngster" is in his fifties, sporting a huge belly. they are great fun and very inspiring to hang out with. our meal consists of a corn soup, a huge piece of sheperds pie (layers of mashed potatoes, minced meat, tomatoes, boiled eggs) and a pineapple out of the tin. my second meat intake in a week. my feeling is that the climate with its harshness and strong winds takes a toll on my body resources and i need more substantial food to restore.
day 3 of the circuit leads us from the refugio lago dickson to campamentoi los perros. this is a very basic site and the last stop before the paso john garner, a mountain pass at 1200m which will bring us through very exposed terrain and is not to be taken lightly, ill equipped or in poor weather conditions. even in midsummer a sudden snowfall can close the pass (which actually happened last week). but more on this later.
on our way to los perros it starts raining and after slogging through a muddy trek for hours without end we arrive at a raging torrent which needs to be crossed. there should be a bridge somewhere - so we set out to find it as there is no other possibility. we walk further and i don't trust my eyes. the so called bridge looks in no way safe enough to even put a foot on the first plank. it somehow consists of three parts of uneven sections of wood. there is a cable across on the beginning and i take that as a sure sign that noone is supposed to get on there. we trail back to make sure that there isn't another passage - no luck - it is the bridge. i stand there, under me the raging torrent, in front of me a flimsy construction of broken woods, held together by bits of wire. fear dwells up my throat at the same speed as my heart sinks. i take a deep breath, give jalal a loving goodbye look and get on the first plank which is not broken. i try not to look into the running water but only concentrate on my feet.once on there i advance pretty quick and reach the other shore - boah i am blissed out.
happily we go on and climb a ridge which brings us to a small glacier dropping its ice chunks into the little lake at its feet. the rain gets harder and we press on the campsite. on our arrival we find about 15 people crammed in a little shelter (kind of a tent out of tarps), standing around an old oil barrel which has been transformed into an oven. everybody is pretty wet, some of group of teenagers go on to do the pass. we stay, pitch our tent in the rain and spent rest of the afternoon in the shelter, cooking our meal and roasting some buns on the old barrel. in the evening the sky opens and it is all blue sky and sunshine - the kids must just be up there by now - great.
next morning it looks bleak up the pass, but we are in good spirits and decide to tackle it. having seen how quickly the weather changes from bad to good (disregarding the fact that it can also change from bad to worse
while we are packing up in a slight drizzle the first people who set off for the pass early morning return, saying it is not possible because of the high winds and icy rain. the four brits set out and didn't return yet - so we think we give it a shot.
continued in the travelogue 3...