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South America » Chile » O Higgins » Santa Cruz
January 6th 2009
Published: February 10th 2009
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The boat docked in Punta Arenas in Chile, giving us the day to sight see. It´s quite a small place and we managed to see all that it had to offer, which took some doing as the wind there is really, really strong - 120 kilometres an hour! We also spent a bit of time at the post office trying to post back some of the cruise memorabilia that we had collected before it got crushed and bent in the backpack. Trying to find an envelope, bubble wrap, sellotape etc with our limited spanish tested Andy´s patience somewhat - the luxury of the cruise and not having to think for ourselves for 10 days meant that we really did seem to make a meal of it.

The place where we stayed was really nice. The beds seemed to be extra, extra comfortable and it was a novelty that they didn´t sway or rock. We were both a little sad when the alarm went to signal that we had to get out to go and catch the bus to Puerto Natales.

Puerto Natales is another small town but this one is full of travellers as it is the gateway town
Happy New Year to you!Happy New Year to you!Happy New Year to you!

raising our glasses to wish everyone at home a Happy New Year at 9pm our time
to the Torres del Paine National Park and more specifically the famous treks "The W" (a four day hike) and "The Circuit" (an eight day hike). We´d read about the treks and two kiwis on the boat, had been trying to persuade us that we should do The W as they had really enjoyed it. Craig and Sal were definitely going to do it but they seemed super hardy and we already carrying all their camping equipment and had been stock piling sachets of tea and coffee from the boat! Our plan had been to head into the park for a day hike, our previous overnight hiking experiences being years ago doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award Expedition - which I in particular hadn´t really been keen to repeat.

One of the hostels in town, Erratic Rock, holds a talk at 3pm each day giving you info on the hikes, which way to go, what to take etc. You can also hire equipment from them. We decided to go the the talk with Craig and Sal to work out if it was something that we wanted to do. Loads of people were obviously very keen, so in a kind
Happy New Year to us!Happy New Year to us!Happy New Year to us!

Our own little celebration
of "New Year, New Experiences" way we decided to go for it. Craig and Sal decided to head off straight away the next morning so that they could be on the trek for New Year´s Eve?! Despite my new found semi-enthusisam for trekking, I wasn´t sure that spending my New Year´s Eve in a tent, up a mountain was my idea of fun, so we decided to go out a day later on New Year´s Day.

We then enthusiastically got our kit together and decided to split our hiring of the equipment between the hostel we were staying at and Erratic Rock so that we were spreading our tourist cash. We got sleeping bags and walking poles from Erratic Rock, sleeping mats from our hostel and ordered the tent from our hostel for the next day. We then headed out to the supermarket to stock up on all that lovely dried food we would be eating on the trek. We ended the day with a drink with Craig and Sal to wish them well on their trek and wish them an early Happy New Year.

New Year´s Eve



The next day we wandered around Puerto Natales, which
Torres del Paine National ParkTorres del Paine National ParkTorres del Paine National Park

The view from Lake Pehoe
didn´t take too long. We were also beginning to think that New Year´s Eve was going to be a bit of a wash out as everywhere that looked nice had a sign saying that it would be closed from 10pm and loads of people seemed keen on the camping in the mountains thing. Eventually we managed to find a rather nice eco hotel that let us book a meal. I booked for 10pm hoping that would ensure that we wouldn´t get chucked out before we got to see the New Year in!

We headed back to make sure that all our camping kit was ready for the early departure the next day. Still no tent, but the guy assured us that it would be ready for us to go at 7am the next morning. Andy was keen for us to have it so that he could work out the weight of his pack (we´d agreed that he would carry a big pack with the tent, stove etc and I would carry a small one - confirming that I was right to marry him!). We decided not to worry about our lack of tent - hanging out with the olds on the boat had obviously turned us into worriers - and called my Mum to wish her an early Happy Birthday for New Year´s Day and headed out for our NYE meal.

We went a bit early so that we could raise our pisco sours to everyone back in the UK at 9pm our time and send a few texts. The meal was really nice and as midnight approached we looked around to see if there would be a count down or anything to mark the moment, but nothing happened so we had our own "Happy New Year!" and that was it. Oddly about 20 minuntes later Abba started playing in the bar downstairs and everyone in the restaurant slowly made their way downstairs to dance - or more accurately to do the conga! Even more oddly, about 30 minutes after that the hotel manager, who had also been taking part in the conga, said that the music had to be turned off and we had to leave! A very odd NYE but given we were on the 7 am bus to the park we decided an early finish was probably a good thing.

Day one of the

trek ...... not quite

Still a little anxious about having no tent, we thought that we had better check that had been left out for us on our return. Still no tent! This wasn´t looking good!

We had decided to get out a bit early - 6am - so that we could call my Mum and properly wish her a Happy Birthday which was nice. As the bus was supposed to be coming for us at 7, we had to get up and out to check if the tent had turned up - nope - and to turn the bus away. I suppose, with hindsight, we were expecting a bit much of the people of Puerto Natales on New Years Day, but the bus didn´t turn up either!

So with no tent and no transport our trip into the park was postponed. It didn´t turn out to be such a bad thing as we´d both had one too many pisco sours! We ended up watching some movies and when the hostel guy came back he was very apologetic.

Day one of the trek - up to Glacier Grey and on to Campo Italiano



It´s quite a long way to the park but the views are lovely and we had a fantastic clear day. Unfortunately, the perfect views that we did get are not captured as we had packed the camera in several layers of plastic in the pack which was safely tucked under the bus!

Once we arrived we made our way to the ferry which would take us to the start point. It was a lovely crossing over the turquiose water of Lake Pehoe and we set off towards Glacier Grey in high spirits. We stopped for our lunch and we were really enjoying the outdoors. As we continued, the views were lovely but boy was it windy! We had decided that we would only walk to the look-out and, at the look-out , it was very, very hard for me to stand up. The trekking poles that we had been recommended (but which Andy had mocked!) were coming into their own just helping me to stand upright!! We took some pics and then headed back the way that we had come. Going downhill seemed much more difficult but it flattened out and we started a very pretty walk along the coastline of Lake Pehoe.

Surprisingly given our lack of walking experience, we made good time and arrived at the campsite (Italiano) feeling fine. To get to the campsite you have to cross a bridge over clear rushing water under the gaze of a snow covered mountain - maybe we could get used to this trekking lark? We put up the tent, got some water and cooked our dinner feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Day two - Valles Frances and on to Refugio Los Cuernos



We didn´t sleep too badly but woke to the ominous sound of rain. It wasn´t too heavy but we decided to get a move on up Valles Frances before it got any worse. Today was an easy day as we could leave the tent and the packs for the trip up the Valley and collect them on the way down. This was a good job as the trip up the Valley was quite a tough climb. This wasn´t helped by the fact that it had decided to bucket it down!! Literally the heavens opened and the winds howled. It could not have been more different from the day before. We battled on, at one
Happy campers!Happy campers!Happy campers!

don´t ask want Andy is wearing, let´s just say that we weren´t looking our best!
point coming out of the cover of the trees to cross a morain, to face oncoming driving rain that really stung your face and no matter how tight you tried to pull your hood, still got down your neck - lovely! Needless to say that my enjoyment of the outdoors was slgnificantly less than the day before. Sheltering under a piece of leaky tarpaulin with four equally soaked Israelis - you could tell that no-one was really having fun. The views weren´t great either as the cloud was very low but we pushed on to the look out point before turning around to head back.

Back at the tent we had a dilema - change out of our soaking wet clothes or not. All the talks advise you to have a wet set and an evening dry set and that you shouldn´t mix them up, if necessary putting on your still wet set on the next morning. They also advise against wearing your gortex jacket and trousers in the day as you get too hot and end up putting them on and off all the time. This had all seemed like a great plan in the sunshine! We´d already broken the golden gortex rule and been weaing our jackets for some time as the wind had made it really chilly. And soaking wet and getting increasingly colder the dry set of clothes were very tempting! We compromised and only took off the wet trousers, keeping on the wet leggings and adding the waterproof trousers - fingers crossed the wet leggings would dry out by the power of hot, hard working legs!

Packing up the soaking wet tent was horrible and Andy was convinced that it weighed twice as much as it did before. We carried on thinking that the rain would have to stop soon. How wrong we were! It rained all day until we finally reached the Refugio, put up the tent as quickly as we could, and hid in the warmth of the building. To be fair there was a bit of a nice patch when we were walking at the side of the lake which was beautiful. We didn´t get properly warm until we had a shower and then kind of set out our own refugee camp in a corner trying to dry out our soaking wet clothes. We managed to persuade the Refugio guys that we could leave our packs inside to give them a chance of drying out and hung on inside until it was lights out and they kicked up out to the tent.

Sleep was a bit difficult because of the noise of the rain and the sound of the wind which in a really eerie way you could hear coming for ages until it rattled the tent so hard that we thought it was going to get carried off - Happy Camping!!

Day three - up to the base of the towers



We decided to opt for a little lie in as we were tired from the draining rain and little sleep. Fortunately, it wasn´t raining although it was far from blue sky. For those with a similar level of Spanish to mine, Torres means towers and these granite towers are a big draw of the park, a lot people come on a day walk just to see them. The campsite at the base of the towers would be our aim for today so that we could get up early, scramble up the boulders and see them in all their glory under a blue sky - the last bit looking increasingly unlikely!

We hauled on our wet boots - nice! Packed up the tent, which had now gained even more weight due to the leaves that had been blown onto it and were firmly stuck there, and headed off.

The weather was kind to us for quite a while and we were enjoying the scenery which looked more and more like Scotland as we moved away from the mountains so that they were behind us. The climb up to the towers was a killer from the start, made worse by the fact that all the day hikers were on their way down by the time we got there at early afternoon. As we thought that we had conquered the worst of the climb the rains set in and once again we were battling the elements, although this time we were more prepared. We made it to Refugio Chileno and joined the other trekkers who were waiting for the rain to subside before pushing on the next campsite. The longer we waited, the less likely it was that any of us were going anywhere and we all decided to pitch our tents, stay where we were, get a hot shower and play some cards. Not a bad decision and a very early finish to the day for us compared to the previous two. We had a lovely evening and even authorised a bottle of red wine. We still ate our dried food, mainly because we had used the effort carrying it up, and tried not to look too enviously at the cooked meals that the dorm bed people were having.

Day four - the towers



The plan for everyone was to get up early to hike up to the towers, about 1 1/2 hours away to then climb down for the 2pm bus. Whilst we all sounded enthusiastic, the weather of the previous two days didn´t look promising. We hauled ourselves out of bed at 6am - a little later than we had hoped - and were amazed. Not quite blue skies but a definite improvement and you could see the towers from the Refugio. Not knowing how long we had, we rushed to get ready and headed on up.

The walk to the boulder section is fine, and then it gets quite tough. We were spurred on by the early birds on
Happy on the way downHappy on the way downHappy on the way down

and doesn´t it look like Scotland!
their way back confirming that they had seen the towers and it was worth it. Climbing the boulders it started to snow, proving that Patagonian weather is anything but predictable. At last we got there and there was a surprise, not only do you get the three towers but also a turquoise lake at the bottom - it really is quite beautiful. The tops of the towers weren´t quite visable so we decided to hang out for a while, being the only two up there, to see if that would change as the cloud was moving rapidly. After 30 mins we were joined by a Chilean couple we had been talking to the night before and then the cloud moved - the towers obviously prefer the locals!

We took photos stared in awe and then headed back down to pack up.

The walk back down wasn´t tiring but it was quite hard as it was steep and so took a lot out of your knees - Andy even decided that the trekking poles were useful at this point as we shared them.

We made it back to the bus with time to spare and then were actually
Finished!Finished!Finished!

Not sure that pure glacial water has done anything for us, we look more knackered than ever!
very pleased with ourselves.

Back at the hostel in Puerto Natales we changed into our flip flops - bliss!!! And headed to a local pizza place that we had been saving as a treat for our return. Lots of the people that we had met on the walk were in there so we could all congratulate ourselves and comment on what awful weather we had had in true hiker style!

All in all I´m very pleased that we did it. There were highs and there were lows but it was beautiful when we could see it and it is satisfying to know that we were self sufficient for a few days. We met lovely people and it´s amazing to drink pure clean glacial water straight from the streams - we´re hoping that it´s taken years off us!


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