Torres del Paine

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November 28th 2014
Published: December 9th 2014
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Promptly at 6AM on Friday morning, we met in the hotel Lobby to check out and go in to breakfast. As it was during my previous trips, the breakfasts consisted of an orgy of foods too extensive and varied to describe. In this particular instance, they had smoked salmon with cream cheese and all the trimmings, in addition to the cold cuts, cheeses, every type of bread, water crackers, pastries (including cake), a large assortment of fruits and a couple of different kinds of scrambled eggs. I thought that having Happy Hour foods for breakfast was brilliant. I had Mango juice. Brilliant!

I ate until I felt guilty, but was glad later on in the day, since our dinner that night was again late in the evening, and we had only some snacks during our long day of sightseeing.

I have to admit, I saw little of the scenery for a good portion of the drive to Puerto Natales. We were picked up promptly at 6:30 AM. Shortly after we got on our way, my sleep deprivation caught up with me, and I was out for the count until we were close to our destination. I understand it is mostly the Patagonian Steppes, but I saw very little of it.

Puerto Natales has, again, a very pretty waterfront and my first view of the Cordillera del Paine was from this viewpoint. Beautiful! Once again, we were told how lucky we were that the day was mild and, specially, clear. It rains frequently in the area at this time of the year, and many people find themselves at the end of their long trip staring at an inpenetrable cloud cover that doesn't allow any view of the peaks behind it. I shudder to think this could have happen.

In our case it was very amazing. It may have looked like it was getting overcast during our drive to a location and it even rained a couple of times on the way, only for the clouds to depart and the sun to come out when we got there and we were allowed spectacular views of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

It took us a while, with many beautiful sights along the way, to even get to the official entrance of the park. As in Atacama, the buildings and facilities were modern, but rather rustic. However, there is a new facility under construction that promises to be substantially better.

The Torres (towers) we saw at a distance. I understand there are hikes that take you to the very foot of them and take several hours, but the Cuernos (horns) we kept getting closer and closer to and, with every view, they seemed to become more beautiful, and to have more and more aspects to discover.
Before we even headed towards the park, we made a stop at one of the not to miss institutions in the area. This establishment, El Ovejero Cafeteria, which sits in the middle of nowhere, only meters away from the Chilean border crossing station, and just outside of the village of Cerro Castillo, is a rustic wooden building totally covered by stickers from all over the world, about everything and anything. Inside it is a souvenir shop, cafeteria, money exchange money place, and general madhouse. Every tourist vehicle stops there and the place is constantly bustling with controlled chaos. I have no idea how they keep track of everything. The owners, the mayor of Cerro Sierra and the husband she built the store for, are total characters who seem to be having a blast.

We had some cappuccinos and then got back on our way.

There were many stops. Besides the Cordillera, there are beautiful lakes with impossibly aqua colored waters. We saw all the most known, Pehoe, Grey, Sarmiento, and Nordenskold as well as the beautiful waterfalls, El Gran Salto. The hike to the waterfall, although not too long, was along the most ancient looking black volcanic rock, brittle and worn out with age. There was a much longer hike from there towards the foot of Los Cuernos, but that would have required much longer time, and great stamina.

We saw a lot of Guanacos and, being spring time, there were lot of Chulengos, which is what their young are called. Some of them were very close, but I didn't try to approach them as they are famous for spitting when mad. We also saw some condors.

Of the Glaciers, we only saw Glacier Grey at a distance because we were visiting Perito Moreno the next day, but we were told that Glacier Grey has retreated considerably. At our last stop at the beach in Lago Grey, we had to walk a distance along the beach to see the glacier in the distance, but it used to be visible the moment you got on the beach. I did get to see some of the beautiful blue colored icebergs from the glacier floating towards the beach. Unfortuntely, the battery in my camera decided it had had enough, and quit working. Grr!

To get to the beach, we had to cross a river on a hanging bridge. LOL! You start crossing the thing and, by the time you get to the middle of it, you are swaying like mad and trying to hold on to the ropes on the sides to keep from being tossed from side to side. I wanted to take a picture of the river from the middle of the bridge, but I think I would have at least ended up involuntarily sitting on it as the best scenario. The trees, along the hiking path to the beach, were some of the largest I saw in the area, and were absolutely beautiful, gnarly, and ancient looking.

One thing I did not photograph was the devastation caused by the 2010 fire caused by a careless Israeli tourist. I can't remember how many thousands of acres burned, but considering how inhospitable the terrain is, recovery is going to take many decades, at least. I should have photographed them, those endless miles of burned trees, but I didn't have the heart.

We completed our circle of the park, and headed back to Puerto Natales for the evening. Our hotel, the Indigo, was totally zen and incredibly charming. Stacks of fire wood around the lobby, lots of bamboo walls, charming and unusual bedrooms. I loved it.

We were told most of the better restaurants were along the Plaza, surprisingly not the watefront, but the Plaza is a very Spanish tradition I guess, so we took a walk towards there but decided that we had liked the look of the restaurant adjacent to the hotel. Not a bad decision. The food was excellent and fresh and the view wonderful. My salmon was delicious, and we were all happy with what we ate. My dark chocolate Mousse was one of the best I've ever had. I only found out later that there was a local brew pub in the plaza. I would have loved to have tasted some of the beers made there but, alas, I found out too late.

Afterwards, we headed to our rooms, exhausted but happy, to get ready to be picked up at 7:30 AM for our border crossing into Argentina, and the Los Glaciares National Park, for a close look at Perito Moreno.

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