Torres del Paine...
February 18, 2006
I am officially 1½ hours into my ‘trek’. I just arrived at the Refugio al Chileno. This is my home for the night. And, honestly, a good place to catch a
I had a slightly shocking moment on my way out here. We stopped at the half-way point where there was nothing but a couple snack shops and
bathrooms. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked. I was surprised as I heard her say “Hey, how are you???”
There were two people on the cruise that annoyed me. One was our third roommate (the price you pay for booking the cheapest triple room) and the
other one was now standing right in front of me. What were the odds? Luckily she was heading the opposite direction. I know that is bad. But this girl
was just plain random. I would not have had it in me to try to make conversation with her if we were starting the trek in the same place.
About an hour later our bus arrived in Torres del Paine National Park. Let me start by saying that I am such a trekking rookie. I almost embarrass
myself. I tried renting hiking boots out of Puerto Natales but I couldn’t find any. All I got was a wind-proof jacket and one of those burglar-mask hats.
I wanted a gaitor but none were available so a burglar mask would have to suffice. I was able to fold it in such a way to make a hat. While everybody
else was carrying their ‘real’ backpacks or, at the least, their Camelbak, I threw my clothes for the few days into the backpack that is meant for my
laptop computer and camera. Of course I didn’t bring the computer with me – it is back in Puerto Natales – so that I could have room for the
essentials. If only I had remembered that sunscreen was an essential. The two bottles I have would have probably done me more good while trekking
for a few days in the sun rather than in somebody’s garage back in Puerto Natales. Ahhh, the things I think about in hindsight…
Within my first five minutes I already saw a scene that felt like it could have been out of Don Quixote. A man riding a horse down the trail. And then
another man on horseback leading a group of horses as they all ran through the narrow river and off into the distance. All I could think was ‘How
South American!’ I was loving it.
The rest of the way was basically an uphill ascent that led me here. I am leaving in a few minutes to do the rest of the trek. If all goes well, me and my
New Balance will make it up to the Torres del Paine (aka ‘The Towers’). If all doesn’t go well, I might need a helicopter to rescue my injured body. We’
Mac and cheese has never tasted so good in my life.
I am sitting in my refugio right now. Far from luxurious, it does have a restaurant. But this doesn’t concern me as I had to cut costs somewhere and
my food for the next three days is what would take the hit. The reason why costs are so high is because of the bed I am paying for over the course of
the next two nights.
The refugio system at Torres del Paine does a good job at keeping a steady supply of beds around. There are people that would never pay to sleep
somewhere while trekking – so they are automatically not factored into the ‘demand’ for beds. Then there are the people that are looking to save
money, possibly trying to trek in the most authentic way. These people might be on the fence about paying for a bed but then decide to go the
camping route. And then there are those of us where the thought of tugging along a tent, sleeping bag, mat and cooking supplies sounds nothing short
of painful and torturous. Also factor in dealing with the not-so-friendly nightly weather conditions. People like me would not be doing the trekking if
this was all that was available. Alas, there are refugios. Yes, I am paying $43 tonight for a bed with a sleeping bag. The co-ed bathroom is filthy and
has three shower stalls of which the curtains barely cover half. But at least it is a roof over my head. Good enough for me.
That being said, it is obvious why I did some grocery shopping before coming out here. My principles might have let me pay that much for a bed…but
they were not going to let me pay $16 for a dinner. And that is why I am currently thankful for the free hot water that is provided so that I could
thoroughly enjoy my once-dehydrated macaroni and cheese in a cup. A girl with simple needs, I tell you…
But this is all beside the point. I should be talking about my trekking experience for the day.
I’ve always seen people with those walking sticks and never really understood them. I thought they were just for show or something. Now I get it.
How those walking sticks would have done me some good for this trek. Especially when the last hour of it was maneuvering my way through an uphill
battle with rocks of all sizes. There were times where I literally had to hug large boulders in order to prop myself up. I am sure this is a bit my fault for
not figuring out the best path to take.
I finally got to the view I risked broken bones to see. And even though you see the ‘torres’ on postcards everywhere, there is something about seeing
them in person that makes it worthwhile sitting up there (even though there is still a slight worry that you are going to fall on your face walking down
the rocks sans walking sticks in your New Balance non-hiking shoes).
On my trek back to my refugio, I heard a voice that sounded somewhat familiar. It sounded like my friend Naama from my Antarctica trip. But
really…she has a very common accent out here as the ratio of Israelis to non-Israelis seems to be 100:1. But then the voice got closer and closer. And
I paid close attention as this person was going to be walking by me. Lo and behold…there was Naama! I looked at her and pushed her (in an Elaine-
from-Seinfeld kind of way) and said “Naama!” At the same exact time, she pushed me and said “You beetch! What are you doing here!?” Then we had
a reunion for the next fifteen minutes and left with the hope that we might be able to hang out one last time in Puerto Natales when I get back from my
I am now exhausted and I can’t wait to jump into bed and go to sleep. I have a big day tomorrow!
February 19, 2007
An early morning. A very early morning. I attribute this to a snorer in my room. $43 for a bed only to be kept up all night. Lovely. Earplugs would
have been the logical solution but then I wouldn’t have heard my alarm and I had to leave the refugio by 7:00am in order to get all of my trekking in
for the day.
The trek this morning took much less time than I had thought it would. I love it when that happens. I am currently waiting at the hosteria. I just ran
into an English couple that was on my Antarctica cruise. So funny that so many of us are running into each other even a week later. I am sitting here
waiting for the minibus that will take me to the bus that will take me to the ferry that will take me to my refugio. And then the real trek of the day can
I just walked down a flight of stairs. Each step had to be taken one at a time. It felt like a minute lapsed in between each step. This is my body’s way of
telling me that it hates me. It is one tightened mess right now. My upper back. My arms. My butt. My feet (ohhhh, my feet!). Simply put…everything.
But I should be focusing on the positive notes of today instead of the pain that I am currently in.
On my bus ride to the ferry I got to see different landscapes than I saw near ‘The Towers’ trek. Gone were the Don Quixotes on horseback. Now I
would get to see llamas. Real live llamas! A treat for me since this was one of the things I was excited to see when I arrived in South America. They
were oh-so-cute. Just like camels without a hump…and it’s no secret how I feel about camels.
On the ferry I met a girl Anita from Connecticut. She asked if I wanted to trek with her to Grey Glacier. I said “Sure”. Time wasn’t exactly on my side
as it was already 1:00pm and the trek takes about 3½ hours to arrive at the glacier. I was also going to have to make the trek back, as well. While I
was able to drop my stop off at my refugio that was right next to the ferry station, Anita was carrying her backpack with her since she was staying
near the glacier. Midway through the trek I realized that sometimes it is better to do these things solo. She was a really nice person but sometimes
conversation just seems forced when it is somebody that you don’t have too much in common with. With about an hour left, we ended up splitting up
because I needed to quicken up my pace. She was the one who put the idea out there so I didn’t have to feel bad about it.
Every now and then I got peaks of the glacier from afar. Simply stunning! Trekking to glaciers is definitely worth my while.
I finally saw a sign that nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes: Mirrador Grey – 10 minutos. Hallelujah! I had arrived.
I am a sucker for a good glacier. And seeing them up close is oh-so-amazing. Perito Moreno was rewarding for the activity that I got to witness. This
glacier was made special by the effort it took to get there. What a treat.
I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted to out there because it was then time to retrace the 3½ hours of steps I had just taken.
I get lost enough as it is in broad daylight; the last thing I wanted to do was navigate this barely-marked trail on my own after the sun went down.
I had enough thoughts to entertain myself for this walk considering I saw two people on the entire walk back. Two. It doesn’t take a genius to know
that is an extremely small number to see in that amount of time. Luckily I still saw the occasional red paint mark to indicate I was on track. A person
(especially someone as directionally-challenged as myself) can start to wonder.
When I saw the bright turquoise lake in the distance, I knew I was almost home. I could already feel the hot shower I was going to be taking just
minutes later. Ahhh….
I made some mac and cheese and went up to the bar to redeem my welcome drink of a pisco sour. I was clean. I was fed. My body was warm from the
alcohol. All was good.
Until five minutes ago when I got up and needed to walk down the stairs. My feet would barely let me put any weight on them. My joints would offer
me no range of motion. I finally made it down the steps and I am now sitting in front of the fireplace while stretching in hopes that my muscles will
forgive me in the morning.
February 20, 2007
My trek has come to an end. I am now back in Puerto Natales.
In the wee hours of the morning I couldn’t have been more thankful for the refugio. The wind was howling in a way that I don’t think I have ever
heard before. Wowsers. And the wind never gave up, even as I got on the ferry.
As for my body, it is still a tight and sore mess.
The combination of the wind and soreness caused me to opt out of trekking today. I know. I’m weak. I’m such a trekking rookie. But I figured if I
took the earlier bus back to Puerto Natales, I could go grocery shopping and do laundry before heading off on my early morning 30-hour bus ride to
It was time to say good-bye to the lakes in various hues of blue, to the lamas, to the jagged, partially snow-capped mountains and to the wild emus
that we came across.
When I got back into town, I dropped my laundry off and got it back in no time. I also found out Naama was still in town so we ended up going to
dinner one last time. In true Jen Nathan style, we capped the evening off by convincing a girl at the chocolate café to let us make a few purchases (as
they closed just five minutes earlier).
And now it is time to prepare myself for the 30-hours on a bus that await me…
March 17, 2007
I have to make a correction. It turns out those were not llamas I saw the second day of the trek. They were, in fact, animals called guanacos. I guess
they are in the same family. My mistake...
|An emu in front of the mountains.