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Published: August 9th 2007
2 days left in the park- and I cant say I minded. The weather was wet, the showers all cold and I was doubting my travel plans. Knowing the gorgeous Chilean Mediterranean Climate climate link, why didn't I spend my entire vacation in the Santiago area? I could have been climbing 5000 meter mountains and glaciers link, sunning myself on the beach with beautiful Chilean girls link, dipping in hot springs and hiking to Alpine Lakes El Yeso- all under a gorgeous blue sky and full sunshine. I don't regret this trip to Torres, but I am coming back here on better terms when I take my year long trip through Chile in 2 more years.
For my last day I drove to the shores of Lago Grey. Going west towards the glaciated and forested peaks, the weather deteriorated again. This is how it works in Torres- the more west you go, the more forest there is, the more rain/wind/clouds you can expect. The shoreline was uneventful due to the weather. I stopped by the official Ranger station at Rio Serrano, where it was a nature lovers delight. While the cold rain poured outside, I read extensively(english displays too thank
god) about the geologic and natural history of Torres del Paine. there were aerial photos, historical maps and a 2x2 meter raised relief model of the park! Anyone who knows me knows I can stare at raised relief models of mountains for hours. I think it makes me feel like a giant, or god. I was the only person in this large building for at least 30 minutes, not even a ranger was around! Yes, the tourist season has definitely ended.
While I was tracing my travels on the raised relief map and imagining my next summertime(keyword-SUMMER) trip to Torres del Paine in 2009, 3 Chileans arrived, 2 men and a woman. They browsed a bit, and found themselves looking at the relief map with me. We only exchanged brief greetings, when a ranger arrived from the back- so this place does have rangers! He was typical Chilean... he was very white and looked British. He could have easily come out and started speaking perfect english, but instead greeted everyone with the thickest Chilean accent I have heard to date.
I've heard stories about the Chilean accent and experienced a bit of it, but this was different. The
last letters of every word were dropped, consonants were lazy, and I coudn't catch half of the words he was saying. This is where my hundreds of hours of watching Mexican TV just to be able to articulate the words was useless! "Mas Grande" is "magrand", "Los Cuernos" is "loshcuerno" etc.. What greatly helped was his meter long magic wand, a intructional wand used to point out things on the raised relief map as he was explaining them. He talked about so much, probably 20-30 minutes of interactive lecture.
He said the Cuernos are commonly mistaken for the Torres. He talked about the Huemuls and Pumas. He talked a lot amount about the importance of the Rio Paine which begins on the backside of the Torres Massif at Lago Dickson. The river wraps around the mountains of Torres del Paine, draining every river, lake and glacial melt of Torres del Paine. At the visitors center where it joins with the massive Lago del Toro it becomes the majestic 40 km long Rio Serrano which drains into the Pacific Ocean. He pointed out some of the areas destroyed by great fires, talked of the first ascents of the Torres and
Cuernos by foreigners and Chileans. As I watched his lips I knew he was speaking Spanish, but sometimes he lapsed into Chilean spanish which was completely unintelligible. He finished and needed to go.
The others looked a bit more and asked if I was Argentinian. Since we only exchanged greetings(in my best accent I could muster) they couldn't yet tell I was a gringo from the north! It only took one more sentence for that, I said I was from California and we Californians were fighting for independence from the rest of the USA. They thought I was serious until I told them I was joking, and the fact they mistook a very white American tourist for a local gos to show just how European this part of South America really is. I needed to go sightseeing, so off I went to find something to hike to.
I drove soooo slowly, hoping to spot a Huemul- an endemic deer native to the Chilean and Argentinian Andes. This endangered, national animal of Chile is found in isolated populations in the Andes from Chillan to Torres del Paine. Habitat loss, major Hydroelectric projects in Chilean Patagonia and overgrazing are severe
threats to its continued survival.
I didn't see any of the beasts. I did find a road-cut through a steep ridge that looked perfect for climbing, so I geared up and set off into the wind. It was fantastic, 15 minutes of hiking later I found myself at an overlook of all of the major park attractions. The trees were contorted from wind and rain, the low alpine plants were sporting fresh purple berries and the rock was all slate. I even stumbled on a glacial erratic or two! It was a great place to sit for a few hours and the marvelous interplay of water and rock that makes up Torres del Paine National Park. I reflected on my trip and what a good time I had after all was said and done. I was eager to get to Santiago to meet my friend Lore, eager to go back to warmth and eager to go home.
At just the moment of thinking I should leave along with the setting sun, an Andean Condor flew right overhead. Camera ready, I snapped his picture as he circled around me and flew in front of the glaciers and peaks.
He was a reflection of my trip to Torres del Paine, flying alone in this formidible place to enjoy the views from on high. He went low and high, circling back towards me as I made noises to get his attention. Then he was gone, soaring out of sight on the gusts of wind without flapping his 2 meter long wings once. Yes, it was time to leave Torred del Paine. The National Park did live up to its expectation of "The most Beautiful National Park in the World". But that was just one piece of the puzzle, the other being "The most beautiful and least visited National Park in the World", "The National Park with the most Unpredictable Weather" and "The most Impossible Landscape of any National Park in the World". Something like that, everyone who has visited knows an experience there is beyond all words...
--Stephen Stephen Hayden Photography
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