Days 67 to 73
06.04.2011 - 12.04.2011 8 °C
Day 67, 6th April 2011
Today was an earlier wake-up as we did not want to miss this bus! The taxi was waiting and 25 pesos/ 3mins later we were at the bus terminal. It was very cold. We handed over the bags to the driver and away we went.
The seats weren’t as big as the El Chalten bus and when I was wearing the down jacket, W felt like she was being “squished”. After some fluffing about were started to enjoy the scenery. The starkness of the landscape was stunning.
After about 3hrs we came to little coal town that also serves as the boarder control. On the way through we saw that there was a protest going on with some people holding signs and burning some tyres holding up traffic at the main intersection into town. The police were looking on, but were quite happy to stay inside their warm cars.
A little bit out of town we hopped off to get our passports stamped as we were exited Argentina. Down the road we stopped again to gain entry into Chile. This was an entirely different process. Strangely enough we saw a chair lift right near the border gates and wandered if this was new novel way to cross the border, we subsequently found out it was ski chairlift that had not been used in 3years.
On the way we saw signs indicating the biological controls ie no apples or cheese. W and I rummaged through the food bag and started scoffing all the food we thought we could lose. Eating that much cheese in one hit does not feel good. I also now know my limits for eating apples quickly, one.
The entry into Chile was a bit more intense than we’ve experienced so far. We had to unload all our bags and get them ready to be scanned. We lined for customs and were given forms to fill out declaring our health status and entry. We were also worried we were going to get hit with a “reciprocity fee”, again (but avoided it). We were also given pamphlets on recommendations for staying healthy (ie avoid drugs, safe sex etc) and information on something called, “The red tide”. Apparently in some parts of the Chilean coast line, an algae develop which is carried by some seafood and which if you eat it you can get paralyzing diahorea or even die! So much for the oyster ideas.
We also met some other people from California who were going to trek the “W” in Torres del Paine like us. They told us about their adventures doing trails near where we are planning to in Peru. I think they are more intrepid then us as they were camping every where and did not use guides, definitely the hard core hikers! Although they were impressed when we told them about mount Kilimanjaro and the adventures in Africa.
We checked in with border control and then had the bags scanned, as we’d suspected we lost all our fresh fruit including apples, lemons and our garlic! Who the heck ever heard of garlic being a threat except to fresh breath, that and the fact that anything could have blown across the border.
The bus continued into Puerto Natales and we pulled up in front of the bus terminal. Unlike previous places, Puerto Natales does not actually have a bus terminal, but a collection of offices for the bus companies near each other.
We picked up the bags and fended off the vendors for cheap hostels and went to find map and figure out where we had to go to find our accommodation. The hotel was apparently within walking distance so we headed off. The town was strangely quiet with almost no one on the streets, however there were plenty of stray friendly dogs. Very spooky
We found the hotel. It had really interesting décor. The outside looked like frontier style structure with exposed wooden beams, but inside it was mixture of antiques with retro style furnishings. The fire place was the big hit after walking on the cold streets. I (C) went for a walk to explore but couldn’t drag W from the fire place and a good book.
It is a very small world, we met in the hotel a couple from Tasmania knew some previous colleagues of mine from Adelaide dental school. We caught up on some of the local news from home and got some recommendations for places to eat in town.
The big recommendation was restaurant called “afrigonia”. It was started by Zambian man who followed his Chilean/ Patagonian wife to Chile, hence the name Africa + Patagonia. The food was very nice and the wine as per usual was fantastic. We have not encountered a bad wine here yet, although the “pisco sour” drink has some question marks over it.
After the restaurant, we headed off with the Tasmanian couple to a wine bar that had been recommended by the waiter. The music was going, including simply red and some other bands. We turned the volume down and just enjoyed the view. The night finished with bang when w went to turn up the heater and blew the circuit breakers for the hotel. Despite our efforts to find the right fuse box, no luck in resetting, so everyone went to bed and rugged up.
Day 68, 7th April
Half way through today!
We were woken up abruptly when the power was reset and the lights came on. After some procrastination we got up and had the breakfast, they love the sweet things here – lots of cakes and pastries are set out on the breakfast, although the scrambled eggs are really good to.
The head quarters for our trekking company, Antares, was across the road from the hotel, so we went over and introduced ourselves. They were surprised to see us so early, so we arranged to pre-trek talk time and decided to explore the town.
We went into to have look and found that the town was definitely more alive. We booked the bus tickets to Punta Arenas - double checking the times and the terminal marked on the map. On the way back through town as we explored a few touristy shops a puppy dog followed us around. Every time we walked into a store, he stayed in the doorway and would trundle beside us (W – it didn’t help that C kept patting him). W’s heart was in her mouth when we crossed the roads and saw the dog almost get run over a couple of times.
It was interesting to note that on some of the big park squares there ropes strung up on paths. We found out they were for people who struggled to walk due to the high winds that frequently blew through town, not very encouraging for the trek ahead.
We finished our town tour at a popular hot chocolate shop. They know how to do hot chocolate here! Back at the hotel, W got stuck back into a book she has picked up, and again it was going to be impossible to move her from the prime position in front of the fire place, so I headed back into town to do some last minute shopping for the trip and do some last minute looking before the briefing.
Early in the evening we headed back over to the Antares building for the pre-trek briefing.
We went out for dinner with the Tasmanian couple and an American girl to a Chilean BBQ place. (W – Again, C loves the variety of methods he is learning about BBQing – Dad may be helping him build a new BBQ when we get home). These guys know how to cook! They basically get a star picket and strap a lamb to it, then slow roast it for 5 hours over hot coals. Beautifully soft meat!
Day 69, 8th April
We packed up our bags again, sorting out what we should take with us – what we could carry or not. We’ve got it down to a fine art now, but we’re a little surprised at the amount of extra stuff that we must have taken up Kili.
After about a two hour drive (thoughts running through our heads, why are we doing this, it’s really dumb to be going out into the cold, we’re really not that into hiking…) we made it to Torres Del Paine, then another half hour we stopped at the ‘refugio’ Los Torres. It was more like a 5 star hotel!
The place stood up to it’s reputation – the wind was howling outside the van (apparently 100km +) – we watched with trepidation as our guide, Alehandro, struggled to walk from the van into the refugio. Unfortunately, as soon as C stepped out of the van his sunglasses were blown out of his hands across a field, never to be seen again (after much searching).
We sorted out our day packs and headed off into the bush. We walked along sandy ridge toward a closed refugio, chileano. The winds along the way were phenomenal – some people we passed were patching up one guy who had been blown onto some rocks. It was pretty scary. Alehandro told us that if the wind continued we wouldn’t be able to keep going as it was too dangerous, but we after we had stopped for lunch at Chileano the wind died down and went on within a section of forest.
About an hour later as we were approaching the break in the trees some people came racing past, telling us that a guide had fallen further up and was unconscious. Alehandro and C quickly sprang into action and we went on. Some parts were so windy all you could do was hunker down and hold onto a rock while the gust went past. Alehandro and C practically held me in place at some points.
We came across the injured guy – it didn’t look good, but he was conscious and they were trying to walk him down the mountain. C did a few checks on the guy’s faculties and determined that he was ok, but there was no way to tell whether he had any broken bones or other internal injuries. Others that had come past us came back with an ancient back board and the put the guy onto that and started the long hard task of carrying a 130kg person down a rocky, windy mountain.
We ducked up to the top of the mountain and got to the lookout and saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen – similar to Ngorongoro – just sheer natural beauty. We could see the three granite towers, with a few glaciers coming down and then there were waterfalls pouring into a mountain lake.
We headed back down the mountain and caught up to the rescue team. A few other kiwis had stopped to help. It was an arduous task- three guys down each side of the stretcher and one at each end, but the path was nowhere near wide enough and rocky, uneven and full of streams and water crossing – not to mention the wind. After about an hour and a half once we were off the mountain and into the forest they tried to call in a helicopter – but were told that the wind was too strong – and something about being concerned about the guy’s intracranial pressure - not that we could check that.
I decided that it would be safer for me not to be there when it was dark so I headed back, leaving C with the rescue party (not a moment I liked). It took them another 4 hours to get to Chilean where a pile of locals met them and took over. He and Alehandro then hot tailed it back to the refugio – getting there at about 8pm. Apparently they got the guy into an ambulance by 10pm – a very long afternoon.
Day 70, 9th April 2011
We had another clear, but windy, day with a 11km walk along Lago Nordenskjold (a huge lake that doesn’t have any life in it because there is too much sediment).
The scenery is amazing – the very blue lake set against the red/green covered mountains.
There are lots of waterfalls and streams where we filled our water bottles and Alehandro worked out how we’d make the crossing. After crossing a few big rivers and my boots didn’t manage to hold out all the water but at least it wasn’t too cold so my feet weren’t too bad.
The Los Cuernos refugio is much more basic with dorm rooms with triple decker bunks. We had to keep the window open just to let some air in to stop the smell of our sweaty clothes.
Day 71, 10th April 2011
Unfortunately today was pretty wet and miserable so we set off in full wet weather gear. The gortex is good, but you sweat so much underneath it, sometimes it is debatable whether it’s worth wearing it. It is still beautiful to see the scenery as we trek though.
We got to the Italiano campsite and went a bit further up the French Valley to see the French glacier. The camp is closed but we managed to squash into a small shed to eat our lunch. Lots of the campers were annoyed that the weather was bad. It seems that a lot of people don’t put much thought into what they’re doing and how changeable the weather is. One Aussie couple only had one more night, and were trying to decide whether to stay there or go toward Los Torres.
We determined that, because of the cloud, there was not point going further up the valley so we headed toward Paine Grande. It was another picturesque walk, but we were pretty soggy when we got there. It is a new refugio and is pretty big- but there is no heating in the rooms so we were pretty cold.
Day 72, 11 April
We had been told that if it was really windy we wouldn’t be able to get up to the Grey Glacier because the boat ca not run if the winds are more than 90km/hr. But with a clearish sky we headed off, seeing largo Pehoe (pronounced paiway) and coming up to lago Grey. It was very beautiful.
We made it to the grey refugio by lunch time and settled in near the fire- I enjoyed rolling a hot rock up and down my back.
The boat turned up at 2:45 and we set off for a spectacular viewing of the Grey Glacier – they even served us a whisky! It was pretty cold so C and I went downstairs and ejoyed our last viewing of the scenery.
After getting back to Puerto Natales and sorting out a bit of a travel stuff up (I’d managed to book our flight out of Ushaia on the wrong day) we went out for a meal with Alehandro at the local micro brewery. C spoke to some others that we’d met along the way and listened to their adventures.
Day 73, 12 April 2011
We got up early and re-packed again, while talking to Anastasia on skype. Again we ended up practically running to the bus stop – with all our stuff, so we were very warm by the time we got there. The bus was pretty full. C got a bit scared when we drove through an area that was snowing pretty heavily, but it stopped as we got to Punta Arenas.
We found an internet café, and printed off the boat documents then checked-in. I wrote some more postcards while C finalised a few emails.
We boarded the boat and were very surprised when they said that everything on board was included!