Published: November 7th 2008October 19th 2008
Patagonia is a huge expanse of stunning snow-capped mountains, enormous glaciers and beautiful lakes, that spans southern Chile and southern Argentina. We´d originally planned to journey down to the region on a scenic four-day ferry trip through the Chilian fjords. Being the organised travellers that we are (well, that I am anyway!) we booked our tickets two months in advance and planned our before and after travels around the dates of the boat. So it was very annoying when, five days before we were due to set sail, we received and email from the ferry company informing us that our boat had been cancelled due to 'unforseen circumstances' - ggggrrrrr!
We went into research overload to find an alternative route into Patagonia along with something good to fill the spare days we now had. Eventually we decided to fly down (the buses took forever) and go trekking in the Torres Del Paine National Park located on the Chilian side. I´d sworn that the Inca Trail would be the last trek of our travels but this one was rated as 'easy to moderate' compared to the Inca Trail´s 'extremely difficult' so I thought it would easy (more about that
The trek is called ´The W´ because of its shape and is done independently without a guide. You can either do it the easy (and expensive) way, staying in refugios where you get a dorm bed and meals (meaning you have to carry very little) or the hard (and cheap) way, camping and cooking your own meals (meaning you have to carry a tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, cooking equipment and food). Of course, we decided to do it the hard way despite my cries of 'What! No porters!'.
There were three people in our hostel in Puerto Natales who were planning to do the trek on the same day so we decided to go together (we also picked up a couple of waifs and strays along the way!). It began very leisurely with a boat trip to our first campsite where we set up our tents and started out on the first prong of the W, a scenic route along the edge of a lake to the huge Grey Glacier. There were a few more ´ups´ than I´d expected for an ´easy to moderate´ trek but nothing too terrible.
Day two was more challenging as
we had to carry our packs for a few hours to get to the second campsite. It´s amazing how much the extra weight slows you down and makes what should be a fairly easy walk much more difficult (although I couldn´t moan too much because Matt was carrying the bulk of our equipment!). The middle prong of the W was to a valley called Valle Frances, we all made it to various points (Matt to the end) before heading back to camp for another pasta dinner (the easiest thing to cook on a camping stove!) and the best night´s sleep I´ve had in ages.
Day three was the highlight for me (and not just because we were nearly at the end!). At the tip of the final prong, after scrambling over huge bolders for about an hour, we reached a beautiful glacial lake overlooked by the three imposing ´torres´(towers) from which Torres Del Paine gets its name (we´ve been assured that ´paine´doesn´t mean 'pain' but I´m not convinced!). Some hardy fools got up early the next morning to go back up and watch the sunrise over the towers but, beautiful as they were, one climb was enough for me!
Our Tiny Tent
It´s the bright yellow one at the front.
I was more than happy to have a lie-in then enjoy a final porrige breakfast before lugging my backpack to the end of the trail where a bus was waiting to take us back into town. The views along the trail were amazing and we´d had a great four days, but anyone who rates The W as ´easy to moderate' is either an olympic athlete or has their own porter!
The day after we arrived back in Puerto Natales, it was my birthday! We´d booked into a nice bed and breakfast and enjoyed a lazy, extragant day that basically consisted of eating and drinking - starting with a champagne breakfast in bed and ending with a lovely meal in an African-inspired restaurant. Thanks to everyone who gave me birthday money, because of you, we didn´t even have to order the cheapest wine on the menu!
From Puerto Natales we hopped across the border into Argentina for a couple of days to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that´s still advancing. It is a magnificant sight but unfortunately on the day we visited, the weather wasn´t on our side so it didn´t
look as amazing as some of the pictures I´ve seen. We did a mini-trek on the glacier, where we saw some nice blue peaks and some small glacial ponds, and ended up at a bar! Well, really it was a table on the ice with glasses of whisky but it was very exciting all the same (our guide even hacked off some of the glacier so we could have our scotch on the rocks!).
We are now into the last month of our travels so I´m hoping we'll be able to take things easy in our final few weeks and return to the UK feeling invigorated and refreshed. (What I really mean is, I don´t want to do anymore treks, whatever level they´re rated at!).
There are more photos below