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The next day dawned with far, far nicer weather and as we finished (a relatively late) breakfast we were greeted by some of the people we’d met the previous night who had gotten up at 5am to see the Torres in all their glory. Of course they had perfect weather and clear views and of course they rubbed it in. There’s only really one way to deal with smug people like that, and that is to point out that there wasn’t any breakfast left.

Anyway, the second day was in general much more like trekking as Loz would design it, i.e. a late start and not too much walking. To tell you the truth, it was a bit dull and I may have to reconsider my design. What we did realise, however, was a general weather pattern – good in the morning, but rainy and cold in the afternoon. This would inform day three’s trekking…

…which was a far earlier rise and we set off well in advance of 8am. Both Dave and I were feeling a bit knackered by this point and it looked as if we had two choices for the day – either a 5 hour hike or a far longer 9-10 hour one up the valley. Not really fancying the sound of the second one, we put off the decision as long as possible… and then found out that the map had been lying to us. Rather than 5 hours it would have been sub-4 and the 10 hour one was actually going to be more like 7 hours – half of which we wouldn’t have to carry our packs for. Heartened by this we redistributed our loads and set off up the valley.

It was a good decision. The weather was fantastic and we got some utterly stunning views of the glaciers and the ‘Cuernos’ del Paine. We weaved in and out of trees, forded small streams and crossed rickety bridges. I think this was probably my favourite day of the whole holiday so far and is up there with Lauca as being the most beautiful. A small sprinkle of rain was little barrier and soon the sun was out again to dry us off.

The fourth and final day was  much simpler, a short hike to glacier grey before we returned back to Puerto Natales. Sadly the weather wasn’t too warm or dry after being so kind to us the previous day and the glacier was a touch misty, but it was all worth it. One of the most interesting contrasts in the park is the difference between the rain-water lakes and the glacier fed ones. The rainwater lakes are a pure dark blue, but the glacier lakes match the icy polar blues we last saw at Glacier Pio XII from the Navimag. The translucent turquoise might seem more reminiscent of Carribean warmth, it is truly something to behold.

And that then was it, walking done with. Back to Puerto Natales for the evening and then off to Punta Arenas…


One of the great things about Chile is you can almost always see mountains when you look east, the Andes are an ever-present forming the country’s frontier with Bolivia and Argentina. It’s perhaps surprising therefore that Chile and South America’s most popular tourist destination, trekking in the Torres del Paine National Park in the far south region of Magellanes, is not actually part of that range. A grasping fist of granite thrust through the earth, it’s a stunning and startling change from the undulating faded pampas that usher you there from Puerto Natales.

We were in the Park for 4 days (3 nights) and were looking forward to some yomping about after four days cooped up in the boat. That being said, a certain amount of apprehension sat upon us, 5 weeks with good weather, there was no way this was going to last, was there?

There was not.

After an easy 7km meander from the bus drop off point to the first hostel, we glanced upwards at the sun peeking through and chuckled at our good fortune. Which of course was when hubris whacked us in the head. The next section was a similar distance, but far more uphill. We started off, hairpinning our way up the slope towards Refugio Chileno (on the first arm of the ‘W’ walk) as the clouds slowly gathered and the wind began a-whispering. As we continued up, reached Chileno and deposited our packs for the day the was a hint of rain in the air, but our optimism got the better of us and we decided to try for the Base del Torres to see the famous towers themselves. The hint became a spit, a sprinkle, a shower, then a constant drizzle. We reached the next campsite and steadied ourselves for a scramble up rocks, streams and boulders.

The next section was definitely a killer on the knees, even more so for my inflexible unfit self. As the wind began to howl and the rain turned to hail and sleet, this was beginning to seriously lose its fun value. Nevertheless, we pressed on, reassured that it would all be worth it at the top.  Every postcard seller in Chile had been tempting us with this view for 5 weeks and we would make it! And so we slogged on through the gale, over the rocks, soaked through and then finally we reached the top, where there it was, awaiting us, our reward… an awful lot of fog. We could see about 20 metres, no sign of the Torres. Bugger.

So, cold, wet and a bit disheartened we sloped our way back down to Chileno. Fortunately the refugios in TdP are well set up and will happily sell you overpriced alcohol.

First day then? This was old-school trekking that Skip would be proud of, cold and rain, wind and snow with nothing to see once you reached the top… but a hot shower, a warm meal and sufficient red wine to ease the damp and pain.

The boat from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales is a 4-day trip on a (semi-)converted cargo ferry. The ferry is run by a company called Navimag (whose logo is, quite brilliantly, a deformed dolphin breathing fire) and the beds are split between 4-person cabins with bathrooms and 22-person dorms without. One of the nice advantages of doing this sort of travel in your late twenties when you have some money, rather than as a gap-year student when you have none, is you can have these small luxuries. The two basic benefits are sharing a shower between only 4 people and not being woken up all the livelong night.

The route itself passes east of Chiloe and through the Northern Patagonian channels which are, well, very pretty. A trip out toward the pacific and then a crossing of the Golfo de Penas (less scary than it sounds) then brings you to Southern Patagonia, which is stunning. Mountains and glaciers pour themselves into lakes and channels that are perfectly still, but for our presence. A particular highlight was the Pio XII glacier, the only glacier in the world that is still growing. It seems to almost fluoresce with a light but intense blue. I’ve not seen many glaciers before, but I doubt that there are many that can match the setting of this one, the mix of ice, sea and craggy mountains is impressive.

The trip itself was an interesting blend of sleep, scenary, tedium and alcohol. The demographics were amusingly matched to the cabin quality (being about 50 in our AA-class cabins and barely 25 in the C-class dorms) but it meant there were more than enough interesting people to distract you from the occasional bloke who wanted to discuss the internal workings of the latest Jaguar engine. For pretty much the first time in Chile we actually met a bunch of English people too, previously our gringo exposure split between Yanquis and Continentals (and one slightly mad Irishwoman). Despite my general concerns about meeting English people overseas (I’ve gone half the world away to avoid them afterall) this lot were perfectly nice, in a pleasingly inebriated way. Needless to say, many rounds of cards were played. My parents will be pleased to hear, I’m sure, that not all of them were drinking games.

All-in-all, the Navimag is a great experience, you meet new friends and see some stunning scenary. We were pretty lucky with weather and seas and there was little seasickness aboard. As we pulled up in Puerto Natales (a cute little village on Last Hope Sound) we all exchanged hungover nods and diverged to our hostels.


December 2007
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