Published: February 28th 2009February 28th 2009
Torres del Paine is remote. It's isolated in the middle of the Southern part of Chile and one of the ways to get there is driving from Punta Arenas up North (about 3 hours, they say) or from Argentina. But you can also take a short commuter flight from Punta Arenas to a nearby airport and its about 35 minutes max. When you land, it'll be just you at the aiport, the mountains and the vastness of the plains. And the wind of course, because I think there is nothing without wind in the Punta Arenas and southern region of Chile. I've experienced gusts of 130 kms an hour at times, (50 knots or more) in this region a typical excuse for a bad hair day. From the airport you have to have some form of pre arranged transportaiton to get to Torres or if not be ready to walk for a very, very, very long time. I was lucky to have that pre arranged for me, and hopped on a bus with another 40 tourists. (wohooo! Isn't that great?) Yeah, I know, not the most "rugged" way to travel in such a remote area, but it kept me out of
the wind and dust and comfortably seated for the 2 hour drive (or so) that it takes to go by bus to Torres del Paine from that tiny airport. The scenery is gorgeous, you can appreciate some of it by the enclosed pictures, and for moments you imagine what would this place have looked like in the times of the dinosaurs....you semi close your eyes and can picture the dinosaurs strolling along the plains of this vastness just like out of Jurassic Park, eating and fighting or just roaming around in herds. It is interesting to see how destroyed the trees are from the wind, and those trees that actually survive, normally grow protected on the lee side of the hill or mountain they are on, showing a permanent inclination in the direction of the wind, as none of their trunks grow straight up, nor are tall at all given those brutal wind forces. There are still mine fields in this region, specially in the narrowest part of the country, where the Argentinean border is close. Sad to see. Those were left from the times of the dispute that almost took Argentina and Chile to war had it not been
for the Pope who interceded at the time and an agreement was reached. The war was over a couple islands at the end of the Beagle channel, strategic certainly and also a beautiful channel to navigate, full of hanging glaciers along the way, and others not so hanging. That Beagle dispute was a difficult period for both countries, although none of that is felt anymore, specially in the region, as the Huasos, or gauchos like we call them in Argentina and Uruguay (the cowboys of the pampas) cross from one country to the other constantly moving sheep and cattle going about their business oblivious to any political discord. But anyway, back to Torres del Paine. As I said, you ride for about 2 hours passing by a very tiny village that almost resembles somethinig taken out of a Far West movie. The dust blowing in the air gets into your eyes, and the doors going into the stores are hard to open and hold as you try to sneak past them before the wind vacuum makes them bang loundly behind you. There are 3 stores in that Far West place and all sell nice souvenirs (of course!) and some good
empanadas and wine. The village is right at the part of the road where you take "a left" and turn in land towards Torres national park. In the background you can start picturing the Andes and some snowy tops. Wildlife along the way can be spotted easily if you know what to look for and have a sharp eye. The ostrich (or nandu in Uruguay) is all over the place, sometimes in large groups but dificult to spot, as the bushes and vegetation are almost the same height as their gray and dark bodies, so unless they have their necks stretched upward they are difficult to spot. The Guanacos (from the camel family and similar to the Llama) are seen all over the place, although the first one you spot you think that it is the only chance you'll get to take a picture of it. Well believe you me, there will be guanaco galore for the rest of the trip and it'll come one point were you will get fed up of seeing guanaco. They are more abundant than sheep and cows. In fact I don't think I saw a cow, all we saw were guanacos! You will spot
birds some of prey, as well as some type of armadillo and the ocassional Condor. Torres del Paine actually stands for the name given to 4 pillar like peaks with a dark top, the four of them, granite peaks. They emerge defiantly and distinctively and if you happen to see them covered with clouds, don't despair as weather changes rapidly and dramatically in the region, and you might be lucky to see the sky clear and the impressive peaks show their magnificence before you leave this place. Prior to arriving to one of the park's entrances, there'll be a chance to see these peaks from a distance with a glaciar lake which gives the peaks a fantastic frame for your photo opportunity...the lake is the blue lake typical of glacier waters. Once inside the park, you can get much better view of the peaks, and the lakes around them, as well as of many other scenic points. Every step of the way is a picture in Torres del Paine. A word of caution...if you see foxes and they are close by, seeming even friendly, don't feed them and don't get too close to them. Unfortunately tourists have fed these animals
and they have grown accostumed to sit and wait for food instead of hunting for it. In addition, we were informed they carry rabies so stay away. And Torres is not the place to get bitten by anything with rabies as medical help is very far away and your chances to get it are slim. We only visited Torres for the day and had lunch at the very nice Pehoe Hotel, which is one of the only hotels in the park (there are only 4 in the inmensity of this park) which is right on the edge of the lake overlooking the Torres del Paine peaks. What a view! Rooms there go for around $300 a night at the time I asked. Of course Torres is huge, and for hikers it is the place to visit if you are in South America. Hikes are well marked and there are maps of course, taking you on hikes from a few hours to several days depending on the distances you want to cover. The good part is that there are no animals here that can eat you here (like the ever present bears on hikes in Alaska for example) so to me
at least, that's an advantage. If you have the time, the desire and the money, take a trip to the South of South America, enjoy Torres, enjoy Chile, enjoy all that the region has to offer. You'll be nicely surprised.