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Patagonia Part II: Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas

November 28, 2013

It was a beautiful two hour drive through the countryside from Torres del Paine to the nearest town, Puerto Natales. We passed more guanaco, thousands of sheep, cowboys on horseback with dogs herding cattle down the slope, windswept plains, glacial lakes, and jagged mountains. Soon the landscape graded into rolling grassy hills with scattered farmsteads every few miles. We reached Puerto Natales, which is a tiny town sprawled along the Chilean fjords. There were rusty ships in the pass, broken down piers here and there, and large, graceful swans, white with a black head and neck, with little grey signets paddling along behind. The fjords are framed by the tall, snowy mountains, an ever present backdrop in this region.

Soon I was dropped off at the EcoCamp office, where Fernanda was there to assist me with whatever I needed. Since I abandoned all my plans and am in a town I know nothing about, I asked her to just book me at a nice hotel. When I got there, it was the strangest thing. The hotel was made out of concrete and was cut into the slope above the fjord, and covered in grass, like a military bunker. I checked in anyway and was led down the dark corridor to my room, believe it or not, number 13. The inside of the room was all concrete as well, with the bed on a cement platform and shelving made of concrete. The saving grace was the picture window that opened up to the grassy fields and beautiful fjord.

The next day I got the heck out of that place and decided to splurge and stay at the nicest hotel in town since I was still not feeling well. Here I rested for two more nights, ate well, skyped with my dog, and got a facial and a chocolate body scrub while the wind howled outside and the rain came down in droves. On Thanksgiving Day, still smelling of chocolate, I boarded the bus for my final destination, Punta Arenas. I set out for a walk to pick up food for Thanksgiving dinner. It was quite an adventure, and somehow I ended up with an orange, something resembling a doughnut, and a brown block I thought might be bread pudding, but have now rendered inedible. But I have returned safely to my room, am feeling much better, and am thankful for all...

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Tags: patagonia, travel, trekking


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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...

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Tags: patagonia, travel, trekking


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