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Patagonia Part I: El Calafate and Torres del Paine

November 26, 2013

I arrived in El Calafate, Argentina still dizzy from seasick patch withdrawl. I canceled my trek to the Perito Merino glacier and eventually was able to take a short walk outside my hotel, which sits on an open marsh with an ice blue lake behind it, and high, snow-covered mountains in the distance. The next day I was picked up for my private transfer into Chile. My driver Juan picked up some bread from the bakery for the border police, and we drove for hours into the icy, windy altiplano and down into the wide open steppe. We passed thousands and thousands of sheep plodding along over the brown, windswept plain. We had no trouble at the border because of our gift of bread, and once inside Chile I was handed off to a new driver who spoke no English. From there, it was a scenic 1 ½ hours to Torres del Paine National Park, passing fluffy rheas (like a small ostrich), huge herds of guanaco (something like a llama) even on the road, and an occasional condor gliding overhead like an ominous giant watching over us from the clouds.  We passed trickling rivers and choppy lakes, and soon the famous towers came into view, three granite monoliths amidst the snowcapped mountains in the distance.

After some confusion as to where I should be dropped off, we reached EcoCamp, a compound of dome shelters nestled next to a cattle ranch at the foot of the mountains. I was shown to my “room,” which is a two-person dome tent made of layers of insulated fabric stretched over a metal frame, meant to withstand the high winds that the region is famous for. These domes are connected by wooden walkways and situated around the bathroom area, which is a larger dome with composting toilets, showers, and sinks. The community domes are further down the slope, where there is a bar, dining room, and lounge area. The rest of my trekking group finally arrived and we were served a very fancy dinner and briefed on our plans for the coming days. The treks involved 7-8 hours of hiking per day, much of it uphill, as well as multiple boat rides and sleeping in a refugio for one night. Since I still was not well, I opted to stay at the camp and recover, and possibly meet up with my group later for the final hike to the tower base.

My night in the dome was not pleasant. There is no electricity, no heating, no internet or phone service. The wind was whipping and I was frozen to the core, even with the 10 or so layers of blankets that were provided. I had to pee so bad but could not bear to venture outside to the bathroom. In the morning I said farewell to my group and went back to my dome to take a nap after my miserable night. Sometime while I was asleep, the dome turned into an oven and I was now baking, intense sunlight coming in through the plastic windows and its heat being trapped inside. I made my way to the administration dome and explained my situation, that I was still sick and would not be able to rest in the dome during the day because of the heat. Luckily, the owner of the place was planning a visit that afternoon and would be able to take me down to the nearest town in his truck, where I could find a decent hotel and finally recover.

Tags: patagonia, travel, trekking

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