Capital – Santiago Currency – Chilean Peso (CH$) Language – Spanish
22 December – Guanaco are eating by the side of the road when we reluctantly get up from the group of trees that we sheltered under last night and face the bitterly cold wind again. They were in fact, the ONLY trees that we had seen on this entire stretch of wind blasted, flat pampas and we were very grateful for their miraculous appearance! Some of the beautiful Upland geese fly down to eat a short distance away and large, eagle-type birds are sitting on fence posts as we drive off, heading for Porvenir and the ferry that will take us to Punta Arenas. The road now hugs the cold grey sea of a bay called Bahia Inutil, which eventually opens out to the Strait of Magellan. Our first sighting of Porvenir was of colourful houses and roofs, with the ferry terminal at Bahia Chilota, 5km outside of town.
Whilst waiting for the ticket office to open, we meet Maksim Shakirov from Russia with two other Russian companions. Their red jackets supporting the words ‘The South Pole’ and ‘7 Summits’ immediately initiate a conversation and we discover that Maksim and his friends have just returned from Antarctica, where they climbed Mount Vinson, their 7th summit on their 7th continent. Since leaving Russia in February, they have also conquered Everest, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, McKinley, Elbrus and Kosciuszko in Australia. I have read many fascinating books on climbing but this is the first time that I have been fortunate enough to actually meet someone who has achieved all of these goals, and the 3 hours on the very comfortable ferry goes very quickly listening to Maksim’s accounts of climbing Everest from both sides and watching videos of his group climbing in Antarctica. The three guys will be flying home on December 27th. However, as Maksim tells us that he always spends New Year on a mountain, it will not be long before he is off climbing again! What interesting people we meet on our journey!
Punta Arenas has a very relaxed atmosphere and the sun is out and there is no wind……..wonderful! The main leafy plaza has a large statue of Ferdinand Magellan with a statue of a Tehuelche Indian symbolising Patagonia, at the foot of the monument. It is believed that if you touch or kiss his big toe (painted gold), then you will one day return to Punta Arenas.
Little wooden caravans also in the plaza, open out to create colourful craft stalls.
We stop for coffees and a cake at an amazing chocolate shop in one of the many cafes in the main street. Like the Argentinians, people here also have a sweet tooth! Once again, only the many stray dogs in the streets make a sad spectacle. The Ranger gives us permission to spend the night in the car park of the Reserve Nacionales Magallenes Park, approx. 8km outside of town.
23rd December – HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEN, WE HOPE YOU HAD A GREAT DAY!
We head north on Ruta 9 for Puerto Natales. An old, open topped truck overtakes us with two black horses standing next to each other on board, wind blowing their manes…..no blankets, leg bandages or hay nets for these on their journey! Heavy showers and sun as we drive past snow capped mountains on our left, Lago Blanca on our right and a backpacker walking in bare feet! The landscape opens out into a massive valley surrounded by hills and mountains. A field full of lupins, their smell overpowering, carpets of yellow between the trees and streams, what a beautiful sheltered place to live and with such wonderful views. Very harsh in the winter months though, as we pass regular posts marked for snow depths.
Magnificent views of mountains all around us as we arrive at Puerto Natales. It is a perfect day at this isolated town on the Seno Ultima Esperanza (‘Last Hope Sound’) which today is a calm and beautiful blue, with magnificent views across the bay of the snow-capped Cordillera Sarmiento.
Puerto Natales has an interesting history, as the intrepid German explorer Hermann Eberhad was responsible for early settlement in the region, when he built a cattle estancia in 1893. The shops in the town were all open even though it was Sunday, so we stocked up a little for Xmas which we are going to celebrate in Chile’s Torres del Paine Nacional Parque.
The road to the park continues out of Puert Natales through the valley once more, with the most spectacular scenery of lush fields, streams and rivers, huge rounded hills in every soft shade of green and tantalising views of jagged, snow-capped mountains. What a beautiful and remote world these estancias have settled in.
As we enter the Torres del Paine Park, the track continues past turquoise lakes, herds of guanaco with a backdrop of huge, snow-capped mountains and ducks with their babies on small lakes studded with green and orange reed beds.
We arrive at our first campsite at beautiful Lake Pehoe, what a fabulous place to spend Christmas!
24th – 26th December – Today we take a trail not far from our camping place to climb to the top of a mirador, marvel at the spectacular views and see our first condors circling at the top above our heads……what a Xmas present!
By the time we reach the bottom again, the cloud has finally cleared from the top of the peaks.
And when the sun finally begins to go down we have more beautiful views of the mountains by our camping place.
Xmas Eve and we couldn’t have had better weather or more spectacular views……..cheers and a happy Christmas to everyone! We have our own little wooden building and a barbecue area for our steaks, all washed down with a bottle of Chilean Chardonnay.
Xmas Day and we leave for another camping place in the park as we need to be nearer to the trail where the climb begins to reach Las Torres, the three sheer, granite towers that have given the park its name. These are Torre Norte, Torre Central and Torre Sur. A dreadful corrugated and stony track that shook us to bits, took us through more spectacular landscapes with herds of guanaco.
We have some serious noises coming from Moby by the time we reach our camping place and investigations didn’t seem to cure them. We have a very special view of the Torres however, partially hidden by cloud.
Boxing Day at home and we begin our climb to Las Torres which is meant to take approx. 3-4 hours, so it is going to be a long day! We began at 10.30 a.m. and reach the top just after 2.30 p.m. What a climb! All uphill following the turbulent Rio Ascencio down below. Some parts need great care as they are very slippery with loose sand and gravel. Wooden bridges of logs help us cross the water and tree trunks and exposed roots make useful handrails. The last tortuous hour up the steepest part to the top, requires climbing through huge boulders and taking many rests!
But the climb is worth it and although it has been slightly more cloudy today, the 3 huge, granite monoliths are clear. Below these, black streaked, sheer rocks plunge into the turquoise Laguna Torres.
The descent takes almost as long, climbing down through the boulders and finding safe footing on the loose scree is a slow job. However, we do have more time to enjoy the flora and fauna. Bright yellow Lady’s Slipper and mounds of purple wild Pea Lupin grow everywhere and we find white Dog Orchids and the very beautiful and unusual green and white Porcelain Orchid. We see interesting birds and a beautiful duck making light of the waters gushing down from waterfalls higher up the mountain.
It has been an almost 8 hour challenging climb and as we are coming down, more struggling hikers are still making the ascent. We call in at the hiker’s hostel as we reach the bottom and when we see some people at a table tucking into hamburgers and a plate of chips, we decide to do the same……we think we deserve it!
This fantastic park has certainly been a highlight of our journey and there are more photos of it in ‘Chile Photos’.
We are now going to cross the border back into Argentina in order to visit the Perito Mereno Glacier and spend New Year in the Los Glaciers National Park. We hope you will continue to follow our journey under ‘Argentina’ once more.