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Machu Picchu

Finally, we are on our way to Machu Picchu. We are writing this from the town of Ollantaytambo, full of ruins and only a short train ride (later tonight) from Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We will be returning early Sunday morning to Cusco, and from there trying to book a bus to Nazca to see the famed 'Nazca Lines'.

Apologies for No Recent Posts

April 22, 2009

Hey everyone. Just wanted to say sorry that we haven’t posted in a while. We’ve been busy seeing the sights in Buenos Aires, taking it easy, perfecting our cooking, and uploading photos to iStock. As I just posted in the alert box here, we leave for Iguazu Falls tonight. We will be spending about four days up at the falls and then returning back to BA again.

After a few more days in BA, running a few errands and uploading our Iguazu Falls shots to iStock, we will be heading towards Bolivia, taking a bus across Argentina and crossing the border to Bolivia from the Jujuy province of Argentina. Our plans are starting to formalize around our return dates and the remainder of our trip. When we have things completely figured out, we will be posting more details.

For now, cheers!

Here are a few shots of what we’ve been up to:

¡Feliz Pascua de Resurrección!

April 12, 2009

Today we just want to wish everyone back home a happy Easter! Our thoughts and well-wishes are with all of you today. We both miss you all and wish we could share Easter with our families.

Today, in Buenos Aires, we plan to share a nicely prepared meal, and hopefully find a way to call home to our families and share at least a small piece of the day with them.

The Last of Torres del Paine

April 11, 2009

At the Hostel
After we returned from the Park to Puerto Natales, we stayed at what we assumed was a “Reasonably” priced Hostel for the night, sleeping comfortably in our own heated private room.  The following morning we woke up for our included desayuno (breakfast) at our chosen 9am eating time. Knowing that it had been over three weeks since we had communicated with our family and friends back home, this was our number one priority for the day.

On our way out to find a Locutorio or café that had wifi, we dropped by a hostel next to the one we were staying to compare prices and found the people very friendly, the place homey, and about half the price, so we reserved for the following day. After this stop the majority of the day was spent emailing and phoning home to anxious friends and families letting them know we were safe and sound. We later bumped into Alan again at the supermarket, and ended up spending the evening sharing stories and pictures over a few beer at our hostel.

The next few days were spent in the homey little hostel “Backpacker Nataly”, editing pictures and updating our blog using their free wifi. While there, we talked to many people who were going into the park, telling them of our record-breaking 17 day foray in the park, giving advice, and listening to the stories of others who had just returned. One Chico (guy) that was staying at the hostel was named Andres, and it turned out he worked in the park as a guide and helped out the hostel owners (for free accommodation) during his time off. One of his jobs as a guide was on the boat tour to Glacier Grey, which we had seen while hiking and taking photos earlier. He told us about the spectacular ice that they see from the boat, blue and transparent, like glass – the densest ice from the bottom of the glacier. We wished we could have seen that, but the boat tour was very expensive, costing around $160 for the two of us.

We both were feeling like we were not finished with the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and quickly decided to book tickets back to the park, mainly due to Laura’s want to photograph guanaco and Gerad’s want to photograph a more overall view of the Park’s landscape.

Back Again
On a wet afternoon a couple days later, we boarded a bus headed back to Torres del Paine. We planned to stay at the little campground we had stayed at previously, knowing that it was fairly central to what we hadn’t seen yet. Laura also remembered that they had bikes, and we both hoped for an opportunity to rent bikes to be able to view the landscape more at our leisure.

We arrived and soon discovered it would be too expensive to rent bikes; however, still made plans to visit a few close by miradors (look out points), then hitchhike to the further areas we wanted to see.  That night we were welcomed back into the park with a beautiful clear sky with hundreds of thousands of stars and the clearest Milky Way either of us had ever seen stretching along the entire length of the visible sky.

Waking to the sun hitting the bottom of our tent, we got up and ready for a day of shooting. First we headed over to a familiar lookout point on the campground property, but soon discovered the day’s light to be difficult to shoot in. Heading back to camp for some lunch, we discussed heading to a Mirador located only about 45 minutes from the camp up a slope across the road for sunset. It didn’t take us long to decide to head that way. We were greeted by a familiar wind near the top, as well as a Condor flying overhead. It was extremely close to us, flying with its feet stretched down below it; we were both confused momentarily why this bird would be flying so low and close to us, but then it landed in a crevice on the cliff next to us. We were able to see a beautiful sunset from this high viewpoint and knew we would want to try and make it back up here for sunrise as well. From our vantage point, we could see the Torres, the Cuernos, the beginning of the ice field, and back along another part of the park we had yet to explore.

The following day Gerad had to push Laura a little to get out of bed for sunrise, but he succeeded and we were soon at the Mirador again watching the sun dust the clouds with a light pink hue. We didn’t get a fiery red, but the pink we did get was very impressive. The wind again greeted us and made it extremely difficult for Gerad to shoot even with the Tripod, so Laura did not shoot very much this morning (even the rocks were not stable enough against the wind).  All was not lost, however, as Laura did manage to get a few lifestyle shots around the corner where it was not as windy, and Gerad managed to take several beautiful photos of the Cuernos, which are already making sales on iStockphoto!

Going Grey
Back at camp, food was prepared and day bags were packed for the southern part of the park. We started walking along the dirt road making it about a km before a bus stopped and offered us a lift. After being dropped off at the southern administration of the park, we decided to hitch a ride up the long road to Lago Grey, to an area we had seen photographs of in books and postcards, where icebergs come to die. We stopped on the side of the road for a few minutes to eat lunch, as we were famished. While sitting there, we saw two potential rides drive by. Disappointed that we missed a couple opportunities for a lift, we quickly set out walking down the road, contemplating the distance and the late-ness of the day, as nobody seemed to be coming this way. Finally, a pick-up truck came and stopped for us. The driver turned out to be very friendly and accommodating; he did his best to tidy up the already clean, covered box of his pick-up. He apologized for the bumpy road that was to come and shortly afterwards, we were blazing down the gravel road. We stopped only once more on the way to the lake, when the driver and his friend insisted that we take their padded seat covers, making the ride even more comfortable. This was the friendliest experience we could have had hitch-hiking.

After arriving at the lake, we walked along the sendero (trail) toward the mirador of the icebergs. On the way, we had to walk across a very long, narrow stretch of gravel that formed a land bridge to an island. The land bridge was what we had seen in photos before, but it was even more interesting to see it in person, being that it was only about four feet out of the water, with 3 foot waves crashing against it in the windy weather. The land bridge was only perhaps 30 feet wide in many parts. Shortly after crossing to the island, we arrived at the mirador, which turned out to be void of any icebergs. Way off in the distance, up the lake, we could see them floating along the shoreline, but nada here.

Slightly disappointed, we started the long walk back across the land bridge, seeing the floating tour boat that Andres worked on. We wondered if he was working today, and might recognize us, and give us some special deal, but to our disappointment we saw the last load of passengers pile into the transport raft before we had an opportunity to get close enough. Too bad, so sad.

Andres to the Rescue
As we approached the area of the land bridge on which the dock was connected, we saw a man in sunglasses and a bandana walking back to the shore, and he waved at us. Sure enough, it was Andres – he had recognized the two of us from way out in the raft, and came back to say hi and see if we wanted to join the tour. We told him we wanted to come but that we couldn’t afford it, but he insisted, saying, “naaa, is for free for you”, shrugging his shoulders. Within minutes, we were aboard the vessel, called the “Grey II”, floating up Lago Grey, Andres on the microphone telling facts about the glacier and making jokes about how people who don’t have their ticket will be thrown overboard – lifejacket required for later easy recovery of the body.

Almost right away, the boat approached a brilliant iceberg, shining bright blue and semi transparent. Andres referred the rest of the passengers to go upstairs to the viewing deck, while allowing us to go around front of the vessel to shoot from the bow. We pulled out our cameras and went to work, shooting from all angles (see photos).

As we proceeded further up the lake, toward glacier grey, it got rainy and windy, with huge waves smashing the bow and sending water up all the way to the viewing deck. We waited to take more photos, as it was too miserable outside to try. Instead, we just chatted with Andres and some of the other passengers. Finally, as we neared the East leg of the glacier, the rain and wind let up, and we were finally able to shoot again. This time we went to the upper viewing platform, where we met a nice couple, the woman a former Canadian, and the man an American. Laura chatted with them and explained how we would have to hitch a ride back to our campground, which turned out to be very close to where the couple was staying. Right away, they offered to give us a lift back to the campground, so we no longer had to worry about that, which made the whole thing even better.

As we sailed around the glacier, heading to the West leg, the crew of the ship assembled Pisco Sours, a beverage of Pisco (a Chilean alcohol that we have grown fond of), and a lime mix (like Whisky or Vodka sour). The icing on the cake was the use of ice from an iceberg that had been floating in the lake to cool our beverages.

The day couldn’t have ended up better. We took many photos and made some new friends, having an experience we will always remember. And the best part was that it cost us nothing but the effort to step out of our comfort zone and talk to people.

Having completed the boat tour, we returned to our campground with the couple we had met. Content with our experiences in the park, we decided that the next day we would make our way back to Puerto Natales, stopping at Laguna Amarga for photos of Guanaco, if possible.

One Last Goal
The next morning we arose to more sun and to a new species of woodpecker tapping away at the trees in our campground. Laura was quick to take advantage of this, getting photos of the woodpecker. We slowly packed up our carpa (tent) and mochilas (backpacks), and set out down the road towards Pudeto and eventually Laguna Amarga. On the way, the driver of the bus we wanted to catch at Pudeto came upon us, and we flagged him down. We hopped aboard and got a free ride to Pudeto, where we hoped he would have to wait for a while for a catamaran to arrive, so we’d have time to take a few photos and relax before driving up to Laguna Amarga. Along the way to Pudeto, we had to stop because we came upon another bus, sitting half in the ditch and half on the road, in a perpendicular fashion, its back wheels fully ditched and the bus high-centered on the road. Some men from our bus tried to help the other driver but it was clear that their efforts would be in vain. Luckily, a tow truck arrived quickly and we continued on to Pudeto.

When we arrived at Pudeto, we could see a bunch of Guanaco were grazing right there. “Amazing”, we thought, because our final goal before leaving the park was to photograph these animals. Unfortunately, since we had been delayed earlier, our bus driver was stressed out and reluctant to let people go to photograph them. Laura decided to run over there anyhow, and managed to squeeze off five or ten shots before running back to the bus as we hastily departed.

As we were arriving to Laguna Amarga, we noted some 5-10 Guanaco down in the valley, not too far from the road, only about a kilometer from the park entrance. We planned to walk back this way and take photos of the animals after exiting the bus, which we proceeded to do. Along the way, we spotted a large herd of Guanaco further off, hidden from the road by another set of hills. We dropped our big backpacks and started to stalk the herd with our cameras, attempting to flank them. The herd was wise to our methods, though, and eluded us at first.

After a second attempt at flanking the group, Laura found a high vantage point and slowly inched her way to within 4-5 meters of some of them. Gerad flanked further around and managed to get into the middle of the herd, again only 5 meters away. Both of us spent probably an hour taking photos of the Guanaco, who were remarkably patient with us, if we moved slowly and appeared not to be directly approaching them (slowly walking sideways, for example).

Finally we had taken photos of the Guanaco. All our goals had been completed. We got everything we hoped for from Torres del Paine, and more. It was time to go back to Puerto Natales, from where we would move on to our next destination, El Calafate.

Saying Goodbye
In Puerto Natales, we spent a few more days processing photos, updating friends and family on our travels, and preparing to go to El Calafate. We said goodbye to Willy and the other hostel staff and departed early in the morning. As we boarded the bus for El Calafate, we had a final pleasant surprise, little Pepito, our favorite stray dog, came to say goodbye. It was sad to be leaving this area, which had, in a strange way, become home to us. We knew the park at least as well as most of the locals, we were comfortable in the town of Puerto Natales, and our hostel, Backpacker Nataly, was a welcoming place that we were accustomed to. Willy, the hostel owner, had gained trust in us and we in him. Now we had to leave our comfort zone and start over again in another town in another country.

Eating in South America

April 7, 2009

Well, although we still owe you a couple of blog posts about the past few week’s events, I (Gerad) figured it would be fun to post about what we’ve been eating down here.

Argentina prides itself on its beef, much like Alberta does back home. They have lots (probably millions) of cattle grazing in fields all over the country, just like us, except that the winters here are usually mild enough that the cattle can continue to graze on fresh grasses all year round, making it even better to eat later.  Beef here is typically eaten in one of three ways:

Asado – Usually a long rib steak with slits cut along the meat. Heavily salted then cooked upon a Parilla (pronounced par-eee-sha) grill. The parrilla is usually fueled by wood or charcoal, and is a slow method of cooking the meat (yumm).

Hamburguesa – Probably not much to explain here. Hamburgers are a staple of the diet here, especially around Buenos Aires, where they are commonly topped with ham and cheese, and occasionally, egg. Bacon is available here but not commonly used on hamburgers.

Bife de Lomo – Lomo is the most tender (and expensive) of the steaks. This is essentially beef tenderloin, and is very very yummy.  Lomo can be cooked whole on the grill (the entire cut of meat), then cut into smaller peices for consumption, or cut into several large steaks, and cooked separately. Either way, it is very delicious and always tender, even if cooked well done (a pasado in espanol). Of course, my favorite level of done-ness is a punto, roughly translated to “the point of readiness”, which is the equivalent of a medium or medium-rare here. Finally, there is the rare option, called jugoso, which literally translates to “juicy”. Mmmm.

Next, after steak, is lamb. Sheep are quite plentiful here, too, left grazing free-range over the vast expanse of the pampas and foothills in the mountainous areas. In the south, hundreds (thousands?) of estancias exist, which are essentially old ranches, usually containing sheep. Many of these estancias are still operational ranches, and you can pick/purchase a live lamb for them to slaughter, either obtaining the meat for your own purposes, or they can prepare a feast for you and your friends/family on a specialized fire pit.

Now, having discussed the meaty-est of options available to us, let’s talk about what we actually eat.

Being gone on hikes for anywhere from 5-17 days at a time, as we have been, it is important that we carry food that will not spoil, or at least not for a few days, requiring that we cook it early in our hike. Unfortunately, this makes any of the above meat options less attractive. Further, we need to carry food that is light-weight, if possible. Steak is not light-weight, as it has a lot of water in it still (anyone who has tried making beef jerky can attest to this). Unfortunately, that pretty much rules it out for us hikers, unless we are particularly desperate for it.

What does that leave for us to eat? Well, there are staples like Rice, Pasta, and Soups, all of which are dehydrated and pack a lot of punch for their weight in terms of calories or carbohydrates. But we still need some meat, so we looked at other options. Beef jerky doesn’t exist here, at all, so that was ruled out. Finally, we came to Salami. Salami is plentiful here, used for tons of common foods, and available in almost every supermarket. Unfortunately, Salamis very a lot, some are very dry, and some are quite soft and wet inside. Also, taste varies a lot. Finally, not all salami can survive without refrigeration, so that leaves us pretty limited in our options.

At first, our meals consisted of no more than the above items — plain rice, plain pasta or ravioli with some flavor in it, and salami. We also put together trail mixes of nuts and dehydrated fruits. As you can imagine, months of eating likes this wears a person down. Every time we would return to a city, we’d compensate for our limited hiking diet by buying as much fatty sugary heavy foods as possible, which was often very expensive and destroyed our budgets.

Thus, we’ve had to improve our game a bit. Here is what we are doing now.

Rice – We bought a salt shaker, which was a big improvement, but still pretty bland. We needed more, so we found small packages of butter in Chile, much like what you’d find at a McDonald’s or something. The butter made a huge difference, and converts rice from a bland staple to a much-desired treat. Further, recently, we found some cooking soya sauce, and although it weighs a lot, we are carrying it, too, because we can add it to rice or other things for seasoning.

Pasta – The afforementioned salt shaker also made a difference here. Also, in Chile, we started buying single-serving spaghetti sauce packages, available in various flavors (sabors), which we fell in love with. Unfortunately these awesome sauces are not available in Argentina. Here we have to buy small tetra-pak’s of tomato sauce and deal with it. Another key ingredient, which we have been using for a long time, is Rallado Parmesana Cheese.

Salami – One cool change to the salami is a pepper-covered one that we found here in El Calafate. The pepper is intense and very much overwhelms the taste of the salami, but it was a welcome change for me. We often cut up chunks of the salami and put it in with the rice or pasta to spice things up.

That sums up the food staples that we carry when hiking. Of course there are also treats, like Toffee candy, potato chips (in Chile, where they were good), Chocolate, and various other little treats.

As I mentioned before, we really blew our budget on the first couple months of the trip, eating out way too much when we were in the cities and towns. Now we have decided to eat out maximum of twice per week, and even then we try to save money by sharing a pizza or large hamburger/fries. Instead, I have become an asador, learning to use the parrilla grills found at our campgrounds, and cooking with carbon (charcoal). Here is what we now often eat in the cities:

Steak and Garlic Bread on the Grill under Gerads careful watch

Steak and Garlic Bread on the Grill under Gerad's careful watch

Seriously craving steak, this seemed like the most appropriate option. In the local supermarkets, I get a couple of cuts of cuadrata, a nice steak similar to Striploin without much fat except at the sides. Laura and I also pick up some tomato, garlic, onions, some butter, and a baguette of bread. Laura marinades the steaks in Soya Sauce, salt, and hot peppers, then cuts the onions into petals, the tomato into little squares, and minces the garlic. I start a wood fire on top of a charcoal bed, and when the grill is hot, we go about cooking the steak and onion petals. While those are going, we get one of our aluminum plates, and throw some butter on it, over the grill, to melt, mixing the minced garlic in, as well.

Next, we put the bread face down on the grill and make it nice and crispy, shortly afterward smothering it in garlic butter and the tomatos. When the steak is nearly done and some juices are coming out of it, we put salt on as well as pepper for spice. Close to the end we put the remainder of butter and garlic on the steak.

Finally ready to eat, we mix up some coke with Pisco (a Chilean alcohol resembling very smooth tequilla), and sit down for a lovely meal. The total cost of all this? Approximately $5 CAD. In a local restaurant: $30-40 CAD plus cigarette smoke inhallation while sitting there.

Table setting, complete with Gerads new souvenir knife from Tandil (with an armadillo-tail handle), and Leatherman tool

Table setting, complete with Gerad's new souvenir knife from Tandil (with an armadillo-tail handle), and Leatherman tool

Part 3 of Torres del Paine – West Leg

March 25, 2009

At Camping Paine Grande, dawn broke and we started to stir in our tent, we could hear the pitter-patter of rain on the fabric, and we both decided to fall back asleep. Later, well into the morning, we again stirred, ate some sandwiches, and emerged from the tent. The wind was blowing swiftly, but the rain had mostly subsided. We packed the tent and the rest of our gear as quickly as possible, as the wind constantly tugged at everything. We set out on the trail towards our next destination, Refugio Grey, situated next to Lago Grey, a huge lake into which the even bigger Glacier Grey flows.

As we ascended through a narrow valley, we quickly realized that this was not going to be an enjoyable or easy hike, as the wind funneled down to a brisk gale, directly towards us, carrying rain straight into our faces. As we passed over a ridge, a small lake came into view in front of us. The lake had waves at least two or three feet high, and the wind was carrying lots of water from it up towards us, then down the valley from which we had come (which was possibly a major source of the “rain”). As we pressed forward we were slammed hard in the face, barely able to move forward, at times, leaning our whole weight into the wind and digging in with our poles to press forward. The wind subsided slightly as we passed the lake, but the rest of the day would be colored by various encounters with it.

Rainbows and Icebergs

Rainbows and Icebergs

First view of Glacier Grey, under stormy skies

First view of Glacier Grey, under stormy skies

We stopped at one point, seeing a beautiful rainbow over some large icebergs at the Southern end of the lake. The trail gradually ascended up some rocky cliffs and we were finally granted a view of Glacier Grey, under stormy skies. As we walked, the clouds parted for a minute and beams of warm sunlight passed down to the glacier, highlighting icebergs floating around in front of it. This was amazing, and Gerad had to take photos. In spite of the heavy winds, he managed to get a couple of beautiful shots here.

First glimpse of Glacier Grey

Pieces of ice from Glacier Grey viewpoint

After some more moderate hiking, we finally arrived at the Refugio and Camping Grey. We found some nice campsites nestled in a sheltered bay on the beach, with a tiny almacen (store) for groceries. We set up our site, had some pasta, and engorged on some Kryzpo chips before bed.

The next day we decided to head to the Mirador, a viewpoint about 10 minutes from the campsite, looking out directly at the glacier, which is not in clear view from the campground. We found the viewpoint and crawled around on the rocks, Gerad taking many scenery shots at first, and both of us taking lots of photos of the front of the glacier. From the front, the glacier was impressive. It stood probably 70 meters (around 200 feet) above the water, cracked and deep blue. From our vantage point, we could see it snaking down from higher in the valley, but it was a limited view. Icebergs floated all around us in the lake, many collecting near the mirador. We managed to see one decent sized piece of ice (maybe the size of a small bus) fall into the lake, which was impressive. Later in the day we decided to take some fun photos of each of us climbing the rocks, standing with our arms outstretched, etc etc.

We moved along the following day, deciding to head further up the trail to another campground at a higher vantage point of the glacier. The trail ascended rapidly toward the first campground, Las Guardas, and Laura wasn’t feeling too well. We found a small rocky outcrop next to a waterfall, with a good view of the glacier, for some snacks. Within a few minutes, down the trail came a familiar face, Alfred, the Dutchman we had met on the bus from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, and camped next to at Britanico, in Valle de Frances (part 2). He had just (almost) finished the entire Paine circuit (a 10-day trek that includes the northernmost trails in the park, which we had avoided). It was nice talking to Alfred about his experiences in the park, showing off our photos and closely examining his, which were also quite wonderful. We three sat down on the rocks and had snacks, watching over the glacier in front of us for probably an hour, cameras ready in case any ice calved off the front of it.

Sure enough, while we had our cameras ready to go, the glacier yielded to our patience and calved a massive chunk of ice, probably as big as four or five large houses, into the lake. Snap snap snap went the cameras as we cheered and watched in awe. The resulting splash was probably half the length (or more) of a football field – so long, in fact, that Gerad was too zoomed in to catch it on camera. It was an amazing thing to see, and a brilliant send-off from the glacier. It was like mother nature had smiled down upon us and rewarded us for the hard work and suffering we had put ourselves through in this area.

Alfred when we snacked together

Alfred when we snacked together

Recharged, again, we parted ways with Alfred, who was on his way out of the park, and took a few lifestyle photos here before heading back up the trail. Soon afterward, we came to a steep gorge cut out by a small river coming down the mountain from some hidden glacier above. Getting into the gorge was relatively easy, but to climb out of the gorge, a long metal ladder had been set up by CONAF (the Chilean Forestry Service). Climbing a ladder for about 40 feet with a 45lb pack proved a little stressful, but we made it okay. It was somewhat alarming to realize as we ascended the ladder that many of the bolts used to join the sections were missing, replaced only by fencing wire or tattered rope (see Photo).

Laura climbing one of the ladders

Laura climbing one of the ladders

We stopped for a rest at Campamento Los Guardas, which turned out to have a wonderful viewpoint over Glacier Grey. We kneeled on rocky, wind-blown cliffs, taking photos of the glacier, which was now much more impressive to see; it stretched on for miles up the valley, to the horizon, where it clearly emerged from Campo de Hielo Sur, one of the two largest icefields in South America. All along the sides of the glacier were mountains, which constrained its proportions like an ice cube tray. Below us was the fractured surface of the glacier. In each crevasse we could see the deep blue striated layers of ice, and over the length of the surface we found complex patterns like zebra stripes, as the ice flexed and cracked over the terrain buried below. From this point on, every time our gaze would find itself on the glacier, we were mesmerized and humbled by its incredible scale and beauty. This quickly became the highlight of our trip.

Recharged by what we saw at Las Guardas, we pushed forward toward our next destination, Campamento Paso, near Paso John Gardner (a pass). It was getting late in the day, but our spirits were high. We passed along high cliffs, surrounded by burned away trees, making clear views up and down the valley in all directions. The trail zigged and zagged up and down through and along gorges and cliffs, taking every opportunity to ascend higher along the mountain we were traversing. We came to another deep gorge like the one encountered earlier in the day, but this time we found a tall ladder descending into the gorge, which was much more intimidating than before. However, again we fared well and surprised ourselves with our ability. We continued to feel good until we saw that the sun was quickly setting. Beside us was a majestic sight — hues of fiery gold, orange and pink illuminated the clouds over the glacier, reflecting down upon the ice below. It was magical, but was tarnished with negativity, as we knew well that we weren’t yet at the campground, and we weren’t sure how much longer it would take. Reluctant to stop to take photos, we pushed forward.

Only a minute after passing an amazing view of the dying colors of sunset, we stumbled upon Campamento Las Guardas, hidden deep under the canopy. In the middle of the campground ran a stream, next to which stood a sturdy cook shack. One of the forest rangers here must have been a chainsaw expert, because around the campground were tables and chairs carved from trees, and the buildings later proved to be made of 2×3 inch chain-sawed lumber, expertly cut. A simple pit-toilet stood in the middle of the campground, with running water supplied by a pipe to the stream, above. At the stream, an industrious ranger cut a groove in a small tree, sticking it sideways from an outcrop, resulting in a perfect fountain from which we could fill our pots and hydration packs.

In the dark, we set up our tent in a small site dug out of the hills, and cooked dinner.  Exhausted, we fell asleep.

The next day, we felt the pain in our legs from hiking the day before. We were slow to rise, and sat uncomfortably at the table as we had lunch. Both of our knees hurt, Gerad’s back was stiff and painful. Trying to decide what to do next, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of sitting around the site, venturing up to the close viewpoint, resting, etc. Laura was feeling a bit sick now, but we didn’t want to lounge around the campsite feeling sorry for ourselves. After a lot of discussion, we decided to head up to Paso John Gardner. The maps we had both showed that it was a lot of elevation gain, but it was something we had planned on doing while we stayed here.

We packed up the cameras and went out on the trail, snaking through the woods, soon finding ourselves ascending up a steep wooded slope. In many places were stairs, often with a two foot rise (or more). Occasionally we found poorly built railings made of trees and climbing rope, and even metal pipe. Quickly the hike was becoming difficult, and we felt the burn in our calves and thighs, and the complete lack of energy from our depleting food supply. After what felt like many hours of ascending through the trees, we decided that we would set our sights a little lower, ascending only past tree line, instead of all the way to the pass. The maps showed tree line well below the pass, so it must be soon… As we ascended more and more, we finally came to a small clearing in the trees, pausing to catch our breath and eat some cookies. Looking up behind us, we could see that tree line ended shortly after a series of steep stairs and railings.

We made the final push up past tree line, coming abruptly upon barren talus slope and small boulders. From here, we had a very clear view of things, seeing over mountains that had previously blocked our views into adjacent valleys, dozens of new glaciers sparkling back at us in the distance. Parts of the massive Campo de Hielo Sur ice field were now in good view, as well. Exhausted, and pleased that we had reached our (new) goal, we stopped and took a bunch of photos. It turned out that tree line was much closer to the pass than our maps had indicated, so it probably wouldn’t have taken much longer to get there, but based on the view we had already found, and our legs, we decided it best not to venture further.

Coming down, we became worried about time, again. We wanted to make it to the viewpoint near the campground prior to sunset, for a second chance at capturing a sunset like the day before. We decided to get an adrenaline rush, walking and jogging briskly back down through the forest and hills toward the campsite. For some reason, going slow always hurts our knees much more than running. Perhaps running just gets the anti-pain juices flowing in the brain, or maybe it is something else, but in the short term, it is actually quite enjoyable. In the longer term, however, it usually results in more pain.

We arrived at the campground well before sunset, having time to get all our cooking stuff and food together, bringing it with us up to the viewpoint. We sat waiting for sunset, snapping a few photos of the strange UFO like clouds that are found in this region. Unfortunately, the sky over the mountains in front of us was very clear, not allowing the sun to have anything to illuminate, resulting in a boring sunset. We cooked dinner and carried it back down to the campground, eating in the shelter.

The next day we woke up late, sore, and tired. Laura was feeling quite sick, and was tossing and turning all night trying to get to sleep. Consequently, Gerad didn’t sleep well, either. Rather than trying to make a hike out from the campground, or go down to visit some ice caves (which we also had planned), we decided to have a down day, moving the tent to a more level site, and letting Laura sleep while Gerad did some laundry and took some photos around the campground.

Laura quickly fell back asleep as Gerad gathered up all the laundry that needed washing, soon forming a formidable pile. Because we are good Canadian campers, and responsible outdoorsman, we do not wash our clothes directly in a stream that could be used by others for drinking or cooking. Rather, we fill our largest cooking pot with soapy water and wash them there, dumping the dirty water somewhere away from streams, and then rinsing the clothes in the pot with clean water. Gerad repeated this process for several hours, washing two pairs of pants, several shirts, underwear, towels, bandanas, and socks; he strung up a clothesline around our site, and before we knew it, there were clothes hanging everywhere. Between the hanging clothes, and other things strewn about the site from the move, earlier, we had what looked a lot like a gypsy camp set up.

By the time Gerad was finished washing clothes, Laura stirred and we had something to eat. We went back up to the viewpoint for more photos, again hoping for a brilliant sunset. Things were looking good, with some more clouds in the sky around the mountains. Soon enough, however, a large cloud formed over the distant ice field, blocking the sun out completely. We waited with hopes that the sun might reappear, but it was for naught, as the sun never returned. Instead, more clouds formed over the horizon, blocking all but the highest of the sun’s rays, eliminating the possibility for the beautiful underlit clouds we had seen earlier. Before the sun had gone away, both of us took a few lifestyle portraits of each other standing or hiking on the rocks, with the glacier behind.

The next morning, in clean clothes, we hiked back toward Refugio Grey, where we had come from a couple days before. We hoped that we could go all the way to Paine Grande, passing Grey, but we decided to leave the decision up to our legs. Sure enough, the trip back was harder, mentally, because we were not being recharged by the beautiful sights beside us – rather, we were disappointed that we had to leave them behind. After we passed Campamento Los Guardas, we came to a clearing upon which we had eaten snacks on the way in and met Alfred. Again, we paused there and snacked before continuing on down to Refugio Grey, which we had resolved to stay in tonight, if room was available, as we had been told it was the cheapest refugio in the park and we looked forward to a real bed for the first time in over two week (by this time, we were coming to night fourteen in the park).

The refugio did have room available. It turned out to be a lot like a hostel, with paper-thin walls and lots of bunk beds in each room. We were placed in a small room that ended up being ours exclusively. We walked to the little alcamen, bought snacks, and relaxed in the refugio. At around 6PM, the generator was turned on, and I was finally able to get power for the laptop, for the first time since Ushuaia. Charging camera and laptop batteries, we sat down for dinner in the refugio, joined by the other patrons. In front of us sat an interesting couple, about our age, who turned out to be fast friends having met only the day prior, Alan and Neda.

Alan was a Londoner who has been working on contract in the USA. Now finished his contract, he decided to take a short trip to South America for vacation before returning back to the motherland. Neda is an Aussie gal who decided, like us, to drop everything at home and take a long trip through the continent. Neda, however, has hopes to continue traveling up through Central America, and Mexico, as well. We had a wonderful dinner together (including REAL onions, to Laura’s delight), sharing stories about our travels and the park, getting Alan’s goat by poking fun at Britain, and continuing our conversations well into the night over a Tetra-Pak of Gato wine (which turned out to be remarkably good). Before we knew it, the refugio staff we turning into bed, lights and generator was shut off, and we were alone in the dark dining room giggling and chatting away. We decided we should probably turn in, and said good night to each other. In our room, Gerad downloaded all our memory cards into the fully charged laptop, which took probably another hour, as Laura fell asleep in the comfortable bed.

After a phenomenal sleep, we woke up the next morning, just as Alan and Neda were preparing to head out onto the trail. We said goodbye and wished them luck, having exchanged contact info the night before, and promising to keep in touch.

We packed our bags and charged the laptop again for some time as we ate breakfast. Shortly afterwards, we headed down the trail to Paine Grande, arriving mid afternoon under better conditions than we encountered last time we passed through.

From Paine Grande, we planned to take a catamaran to the other side of Lago Pehoe, where we would bus or hitchhike South to “Area de Acampar Lago Pehoe”, or Camping Pehoe, as it was locally referred. We had to wait for several hours for the catamaran, so we hung out in our favorite cook shack (gazebo thing), writing in our journal, snacking on food, and chatting with the campers. We also partook in the delightful hot-water showers, which we had neglected to use the night before at Refugio Grey. In the cook shack, we met a couple of men from Spain, who we extremely friendly. One of them had visited Canada twice in the past, and was familiar with our homeland. They shared some of their yummy food with us and stocked us up with fresh cans of gas for our stove, as they had extras and were leaving to head back to Spain.

That evening, we boarded the catamaran and took the half-hour journey across Lago Pehoe to a place called Guarderia Pudeto. The catamaran ride was pleasant, and included complimentary coffee/tea/hot chocolate, provided to us by a friendly crew. Upon reaching the other side of the lake, we found Pudeto to be relatively barren and  without services, including busses to the area we wanted to go, so we decided it best to get on the road and try to hitchhike South to the campground. Walking for only a few minutes, a pickup truck passed us, and stopped. A passenger emerged, turning out to be one of the catamaran crew. He asked us where we wanted to go, and hefted our bags into the box of the truck in the friendliest manner, as if we were still aboard the boat. It turned out that the truck was filled with the crew of the catamaran. We hopped in the box with our bags, and headed down the road, stopping again for a French couple, who were also hitching to the same place.

We arrived at the campground a short time later, finding it a stark contrast to what we encountered in the rest of the park. The campground was nestled in the foothills next to the lake, sheltered naturally by trees and the topography. However, every campsite also included a very sturdy, tall, lean-too style shelter, big enough to cover a picnic table, and in our case, our tent as well. The sites were well spaced, around 40-50 feet apart, level and well manicured, covered by green grass. Each site also included a concrete firepit and grill. Around the campground were several water taps with good pressure, and there was several central buildings with bathrooms, wash sinks, and showers that included hot water. This was such a pleasant surprise, especially when we learned that this campground was the same price as the one at Camping Los Cuernos, where we had a horrid stay and refused to pay for earlier on the trek.

After settling in, we visited the campground store, which was equipped with everything from pasta and snacks to toques, gloves, Gore-Tex rainwear, and boots. We eyed up some of the books available at the store, and bought some treats, including a bottle of wine, to share that night. We had a feast of pasta with real tomato sauce and rallado cheese (like parmesan). The wine, called Late Harvest, turned out to be a sweet desert wine, which made it even more of a treat. We went to bed, planning to wake up for sunrise the next day.

We awoke to rainy weather, and decided to sleep in again. Later in the day we wandered around the lakeshore and found a hoodoo. Overall, though, the weather was poor and we weren’t all that excited to do any real hiking. We did see a very nice fox near the campground store, but we didn’t have our cameras with us, so we couldn’t take a photo of him, to Laura’s disappointment. Instead, we bought a couple of books and flipped through them at the site, having a very uneventful day. We walked about a kilometer down the road to Hotel Explora and the Salto Chico waterfall, which was nice to see but relatively boring to shoot. This was day 16 in the park, and we were pretty exhausted and tired, and both worried because our families hadn’t heard from us in so long. We decided that the next day we would leave the park, stopping back at Pudeto to photograph the Salto Grande waterfall, then trying to catch a bus to Laguna Amarga, the park entrance, where we would catch our bus back to Puerto Natales.

The next day we awoke to really crappy weather, again. Due to the bad weather, it took us a long time to pack up and shake out the tent. Also, expecting a long day of shooting ahead of us, we had a big meal. By the time we were out on the road, it was probably 1PM. We walked up the road, hoping to be picked up by a passing car. Sure enough, within a few minutes, a tour van stopped and a fellow spoke to us, asking where we were going. He told us that he unfortunately couldn’t take us because they were running a tour, but that we should wait for a bus that might be coming soon (he looked very uncertain). The van continued on ahead of us, and we decided to just keep walking. Eventually we crested a ridge, seeing the same van stopped on the side of the road. The fellow we had talked to ran up to us, telling us that they could take us now, apparently having spoken with the couple to whom they were giving the tour, and getting their permission to take us along for free. Everyone in the van turned out to be quite nice, but only the tour guide spoke English. We stopped once at another viewpoint, for photos, before coming to the junction at Pudeto. There, we were asked if we wanted them to drop us off there, or to continue on all the way up to Laguna Amarga. Since we planned on shooting the waterfall and walking around to another mirador, we kindly asked to be let off here. They drove us all the way to the parking lot and we said goodbye as we set out on the trail to the waterfall.

Within minutes, we were hit by ridiculous winds, reminiscent of what we came across on the way to Glacier Grey. By the time we got to the waterfall, we were under relentless pressure from the wind and cold rain that was occasionally falling on us. Laura took several photos of the waterfall, which proved to be extremely difficult, even with a tripod, under the winds. After about 45 minutes of trying to shoot around Salto Grande, we gave up, starting up the trail to the mirador Gerad wanted to see. Bam, the wind would hit, knocking us backwards and throwing us around like rag dolls. Sick of this, we headed back to Pudeto, intent on getting out of there, thinking about the shelter/store we saw at Laguna Amarga on the way in, as well as some guanacos that we would like to photograph.

We got to Pudeto just as a bus dropped off a couple passengers and left. One of the passengers turned out to be a Californian, who was quite annoying. He told us that it was too bad we didn’t get a chance to talk to the bus driver, as they were going to Laguna Amarga. After parting ways with the annoying guy, we went up the road and tried to hitchhike the 40 ish kilometers back to Laguna Amarga, unsuccessfully. Very few cars passed through and none of them stopped. Disappointed and aggravated, we walked back to Pudeto, finding the annoying guy and some other people huddled in an alcove at the bathroom building. The wind was getting cold and strong. Thankfully, the catamaran came and took the people who were waiting, so we didn’t have the annoying guy to worry about any longer. We just stood in the cold, at the most windless end of the building, waiting like the Antarctic Emperor penguins for winter to end.

Finally, our desperation ended, as our bus showed up (it stops at Pudeto on the way to Laguna Amarga and out of the park). We boarded as soon as possible and sat in the heated interior for about 25 minutes as the catamaran arrived and other passengers boarded. As our bus headed down the highway, the sun set behind us over the park, a beautiful and sad sight to see. By this point, the park had become our home, our friend, and we were leaving it behind. The sunset seemed like a final attempt to pull us back in, but we knew we had to leave.

We arrived in Puerto Natales, and planned to stay in a hostel so that we could get Internet access, have a warm bed and not worry about setting up a tent in the dark. We went to the place we had in mind, shortly afterward finding that it was full. Who should we bump into there, but Alan!

It turns out that Alan got really sick in the park, and had to leave early, so here he was, in Puerto Natales, himself finding a place to stay. We talked briefly, and walked through town a bit, as he found his place to stay. We said our goodbyes and wished him luck. Shortly after, we found a very attractive hostel for a “reasonable” price, and got booked into a room.

Okay, we’re getting pretty hungry and have to go get some food. Thus, this is a good place to break for now.

Away for another few days

March 19, 2009

We are popping back into the park for a few days again so that we can rent bikes and photograph some of the things we did not see on the big “W” circuit. We will be staying at Camping Pehoe, on the shores of Lago Pehoe. We expect to be returning here in about 5 days to Puerto Natales, to the hostel “Backpacker Nataly”, where we have been staying the last few days.

We look forward to writing part 3 of our Torres del Paine trip diary, and maybe part 4…


Gerad & Laura

Part 2: Valle de Frances

March 18, 2009

Back to our story…

We left Cuernos early, as mentioned, heading up towards Valle de Frances, the “French Valley”, which is known for its beautiful 360-degree views of wonderful peaks and dazzling glaciers. So, we started walking along the trail, following the shoreline of Lago Nordenskold for quite a while. At the first major stream, we stopped for brunch, and sheltered ourselves from the wind, which was getting quite intense.

While we cooked our spiral pasta noodles, we watched the lake and stream leading into it as the wind pounded at the water’s surface, carrying clouds of water across the lake, and in some cases, blowing the river uphill!!!

Fierce Winds Over Lago Nordenskjold

Fierce Winds Over Lago Nordenskjold

After finishing our fine lunch, we broke out the cameras and took photos of the Cuernos peaks, and the stream we were sitting beside.

Laura eating pasta near Cuernos

Laura eating pasta near Cuernos

Afterwards, we went on our way up the trail, a mostly easy hike, made more difficult by the wind and lack of sleep the night before. We stopped for a rest at Campamento Italiano, where we had some cookies and admired the force of the mighty Rio del Frances, a very large and rapidly moving river, fed only by the glaciers further up the valley. As we ate our food, the rain started to come down, slowly at first, but by the time we were back on the trail, it started to pour.

The trail in Valle de Frances is moderate uphill, taking you from close to sea level to around 850 meters (2,800 ft.) at the campground we planned to stay at, over a few hours of hiking. Beyond the campground, the trail rises steeply to an altitude of about 1200 meters (4000 ft.), where a plateau grants people stunning, above tree-line views of the entire valley and out over Lagos (lakes) Nordenskjold and Pehoe. The trail, itself, starts in a boulder field, part of a glacial moraine, working its way up along the side of the valley as it enters heavy forest. The trail then becomes somewhat worn, with many tree roots and rocks to catch a boot on or what not. In the forest, there are perhaps a dozen small streams to cross or walk through (as they have changed course to use the trail as a stream bed). Of course, in the rain, all this becomes exaggerated. Though we had waterproof rain covers for our backpacks, and waterproof jackets/boots, walking for hours through the rain, water, and mud, all while huffing and puffing like a pack-mule uphill, results in very wet and grumpy hikers. We stopped only twice more along the trail, once to cook up some soup and eat snacks, and again at a viewpoint next to the Glacier Frances, a dominating element of the valley landscape, as its massive ice tentacles reach down the side of  3,050 meter Cerro Paine Grande like a child’s tricycle straddled by an adult. Not wanting to stop for long in the miserable rain we continued on without taking any photos of the amazing glacier, which was dropping large chunks of ice on a regular basis.

Eventually, we arrived at Campamento Britanico, a bare-bones flattish area in the trees, without bathrooms or any other facilities. The only protection from the elements at the campground was a small makeshift shelter built up from piled dead trees, with an old tattered tarp for a roof. In the shelter were two large flat rocks for cooking on, and some smaller rocks and tree stumps for chairs. The official word from the park was that this campground and Italiano were closed. We heard that the closures had something to do with bathroom facilities, but who knows. Either way, people use both campgrounds, as we did.

The rain continued to pour as we set up our tent on the wet ground. This part is always pretty miserable, setting up (or taking down) in the rain, but it has to be done. After we erected the tent, Laura headed inside to set up the sleeping arrangements while I staked down the fly and secured the tent. Sick of being cold and soaking wet, we hopped into the tent for the rest of the night. In the vestibule, I cooked up some soup for us, steam filling the tent (it was great). Before going to sleep, we decided that if the weather did not improve the following day, we would pack up and leave the valley.

Although we could not hear rain when we woke late, we were still apprehensive about unzipping the fly of the tent. To our delight the sun was succeeding in its fight to penetrate the darkness of the clouds, so we set about making food, hanging up a line to dry out some of our wet belongings, and deciding what to do next.

The Burned Forest Clearing, Valle de Frances

The Burned Forest Clearing, Valle de Frances

We decided to pack up our day bags and go up to the “mirador” (viewpoint) stated to be about an hour away from our camp. We started our trek not making it very far, before we were stopped with our cameras out in an oddly placed patch of dead trees. It was about 100 feet in circumference surrounded by lush green forest, but as grey and dead as can be (Gerad’s hypothesis being a small forest fire started by campers several years earlier). About fifteen minutes after leaving the dead tree clearing, we met some people on the trail that told us we were just around the bend from the view point…sure enough two minutes up the rocky trail we came around a large boulder to be greeted by many hikers sitting eating lunch and snapping pictures. We paused momentarily, confused at how close the “viewpoint” was to the campsite; realizing the trail continued on in front of us, we walked past the lunching hikers.

Up the steep incline to the plateau and viewpoint, Cerro Espada in the background

Up the steep incline to the plateau and viewpoint, Cerro Espada in the background

After following a stream up a steep incline, we crested the top of the slope, finding a bit of a plateau. Inadvertently we completely missed the official “mirador”, but this did not concern us as the whole area was truly a breathtaking view.

We stopped for a short while at a large boulder for a quick snack and to survey where we may want to explore first. Gerad looked semi longingly up at a viewable pass, stating it would be “cool if we could get up there”. With that said we continued up an ever steepening slope under the magnificent facade of the Cerro Espada. Eventually the rocks ended, and we were below massive slabs of granite, with snow and ice forming in the cracks between them, water flowing out from underneath. If we continued up, we would be leaving the apparent safety of talus slope, and getting into some serious mountaineering. Laura was already nervous about the stability of the terrain we were on, so we decided that this would be a good place to stop and take some photos. Gerad took some shots of a very nervous Laura, as well as the Cerro above. We decided to try to round the mountain and head towards the pass from here, but very quickly realized that the land was not stable and this was not a good route to take. Rather than risk our ankles, we decided to start back down the mountain. Thankfully, we came to an area of loose sandy rock, which makes it very easy (and fun), to descend the mountain. Laura was now having fun, and we stopped again for photographs, shooting our gaiters and legs and hiking; it was great fun.

A nervous Laura up on the mountain, Valle de Frances

A nervous Laura up on the mountain, Valle de Frances

Laura hiking in the soft fun stuff

Laura hiking in the soft fun stuff

After returning to the plateau, it was starting to get dark. The sun was setting, and the sky lit up with brilliant hues of pink and gold. The light reflected down from cotton-candy clouds, illuminating glaciers and warming our hearts. Both of us stopped for a few minutes to take photos, using the tripod and some large boulders to stabilize the cameras. Although we knew it would be dark getting back to camp, it was unimportant compared to what we saw before us. After taking the photos, we quickly packed our bags and started down the steep slope, picking up the pace and making it down in remarkable time. The run down was so fun that we decided to keep the pace and jogged the rest of the way to camp.

When we arrived at camp, we found a familiar face in the adjacent site – Alfred, a Dutch fellow we had met on the bus from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas a week earlier. He had just arrived in the Valley, so we gave him the low-down about the place and what there was to see. Each of us headed to bed, in our respective tents, and fell asleep.

The sunset in the Valley

The sunset in the Valley

Sunset and cotton candy clouds

Sunset and cotton candy clouds

The next day we decided to return up to the area of the mirador, to try to make the pass, which would likely have a good view of the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) from the back side. Since we had made it down in the dusk the night earlier, we thought we could watch sunset on the Towers from the pass, then make it back down to the campground in the dusk and dark, with our headlamps. We packed up our bags, had a good meal, and headed up toward the mirador. Today the weather started out wonderful, but we were getting some more cloud cover than we had hoped. Either way, the sunset was a long time away, and we knew that most of the time in the mountains, the weather is unpredictable and could either clear up or get worse many times a day.

We proceeded to the mirador. Then, further upward and upward we went, finding that, as passes always go, we underestimated how long and how steep the terrain would become, especially when there was no packed trails to follow and the terrain was so extreme. We first followed the bed of a “river” from spring runoff, but that became to steep and dangerous to continue hiking in. Eventually, as the sun set, we found ourselves on a high avalanche slope consisting of boulders between about 200 and 2000 pounds, which we were carefully walking through and gradually gaining altitude. As we looked ahead, we could see what lay beyond the pass; it did look amazing, glaciated, and we could clearly see the towers. Unfortunately, it was still a long way away, and it was getting dark quickly. Further, more cloud cover was hampering the sun’s ability to warm the air or light any of the peaks, so the sunset was not very enjoyable to shoot. Disappointed, and apprehensive about the journey down, we hastily took a couple of photos and started back down the slope. We arrived at the plateau area as it started to get really dark. Putting our headlamps on, we made our way down the stream and back toward the campground, almost as quickly as the night before. Comfortable now that we could make it the remainder of the way in the dark, we stopped at the burnt clearing so that Gerad could take some night time photos of the sky, peaks, and dead trees (see photo). After about 30 minutes of shooting, we returned to our tent and went to bed.

The view in the burned clearing at night

The view in the burned clearing at night

The next day we left the campground under good weather. Our knees were hurting from the prior days’ high altitude hiking and the quick trips back down the mountain. It was a tough start but by the time we made the 5.5km hike out of the valley, we both felt pretty good again. This time, on the way out, we did stop next to the big glacier to take some photos and admire the scene. Unfortunately, in the absence of rain, it was not calving ice very much this day, but it was still a welcome view and rest.

We continued along the trail past the Italiano campground, turning West at a junction and walking a further 8km to Refugio and Camping Paine Grande, situated nicely on the shores of Lago Pehoe and under the guise of the West face of Cerro Paine Grande. Along the way, we stopped to take a few photos of the Cuernos del Paine over Lago Scottsberg, a small turquoise lake that seemed to escape the area’s harsh wind. Here was a nice refugio, which is essentially a hotel-looking hostel, with what appeared to be a nice restaurant and bar. In the campground we also found a large gazebo-style cook shack with stoves/gas, and water. Furthermore, the campground had hot showers and flush toilets, something we hadn’t seen in quite a while. Having seen the restaurant, we decided to set up our site, have showers, and treat ourselves to a hamburger or pizza later that night.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it was closed. It turned out we had missed the cut-off by only a half hour. Disappointed, we headed upstairs to the bar, which was open and also had a menu with things like salmon on it (yumm). After a lengthy wait to talk to the bartender, she had to call downstairs to see if the kitchen was open. Of course, it turned out to be closed. Again, disappointed, we left the restaurant and grabbed our bland hiking food, cooking it in the gazebo, promising our stomachs hot yummy hamburgers the following day.

Our awesome tent under Cerro Paine Grande, at the Refugio and Camping Paine Grande

Our awesome tent under Cerro Paine Grande, at the Refugio and Camping Paine Grande

The next day turned out to be very rainy and windy. We decided that today we would hunker down a bit, staying at the campground, and try to recharge the laptop while working on photos in the refugio’s restaurant, if possible. We went inside, and found it relatively dead. We asked the waitress if we could order a pizza, which was written in bright colored chalk on the board behind her, just above “Hamburguesa” and a few other dishes. “No, no pizza”, she replied. “Hamburguesa?”, we asked. “Tampoco”, she said, which essentially means, “Not that either”. “Shoot”, we thought, “what can we get”? She told us “ninguno, nada” – they have nothing but coffee from a crappy machine like at 7-11, and we already had instant coffee back at the tent. Further, even if we had ordered a coffee, the refugio had no electrical outlets available for guests. Now very disappointed, we decided to buy some special food at the little store in the refugio, which also turned out to be closed, without hours posted anywhere. We hung our heads low and went back to the tent, grabbing the remains of our bland hiking food and bringing it into the gazebo, which was mostly empty at this time of day.

Throughout the day, the winds picked up and the rain went in cycles. We were happy we didn’t go hiking that day. Instead, we were sitting in a warm shack with other hikers, exchanging stories about the trails in the park and other areas like Ushuaia, Macchu Picchu, Bolivia, Mendoza, Iguazu Falls, etc. We met many fabulous people including a few Chilean hikers (which is rare, even though we are in Chile), some Croatian Rafting Guides, two Americans (one of whom works for the awesome outdoor clothing company, Patagonia), and several others. By now, we were experts on the Easterly part of the “W” circuit, which is the most popular route taken by hikers in the park, and many of the hikers were going West to East, opposite us, so we were able to recommend placed to go and strategies for viewing the Torres, etc.

Very quickly afternoon turned to evening, and evening to night. 10:00 came very quickly, and the cook shack closed for the night, leaving us to head back to our tent. Recharged, mentally, we were ready for the next day’s hiking. We went to bed thinking about Glacier Grey, the glorious site that was awaiting us the following day.

Stay tuned for part three of our blog, chronicling our journey up the West leg of the “W” circuit in Torres del Paine national park.