Monday, January 14, 2013

Torres Del Paine, Chile

Torres Del Paine
After a couple of days seeing everything we could of Argentinian Patagonia, we hopped a bus from El Calafate and traveled across the border to Puerto Natales in Chile. Although you may not have heard the name before, Puerto Natales is a popular town on the backpacking circuit for one reason—because it is about an hour’s bus ride to Torres Del Paine National Park (pronounced ‘pie-nay’ not ‘pain’). Most people come to Torres Del Paine for one reason, or one of two.  Either to hike the circuit, the “O,” or to hike the “W,” a modified version of the trek. We spent our lust for hiking on a different section of the Andes, and so we decided we’d rather just take a day trip out to the park from Puerto Natales in a van.  Cheating, yes, and not the full experience either. But it was what we had the time and energy for (yep, at this point Lana was still sick from whatever David got on the Inca Trail. Incidentally, we hear it’s made it’s way north, too) .  Our day trip included a stop at the Milodon cave on the way back to see where the giant sloth was discovered (well, its dessicated remains). 

As we headed out on our tour with about 8 other people, our guide asked us to have positive energy and attitude, because sometimes you can see the Torres, and sometimes you can see the Cuernos, but you must have a positive attitude, hope, and good weather to see both. We saw both, and then some. After our steppe safari, seeing flamingoes, and hiking on a glacier, we had loads of positive attitude. And it paid off. We had some wind, and some rain, but we got to see everything we hoped to, and even some things that were unexpected.
We saw the Torres, or towers—four enormous slabs of rock that jut out behind Cerro Torre.
We saw lots of wildlife, including a male nandhu (or rhea) shepherding his herd of eighteen chicks.  According to our guide, male nandhus are polyamorous. All the females lay one egg in a communal nest, and then their work is done. Papa sets on the eggs and then watches over his flock of chicks, herding them to and fro like a sheepdog.  It almost makes up for that guanaco thing we told you about earlier.
Speaking of guanacos, we saw plenty of them too, including baby guanacos.
We also saw a few fierce rounds of fighting for the “huevos” as we call it. Strangely, this guide didn’t seem to want to share the details of this particular ritual (maybe he thought it wouldn’t help the positive thinking?). So we enlightened the folks near us with what we had learned back in El Calafate.  We saw a fox, and lots of condors.

There was a stop for lunch, which was the only disappointment in our tour.  No amount of positive thinking could render the wilted salad, tough steak, or off-tasting chicken (abandoned after one bite) into even a mediocre meal.  It did give us some perspective on how good our meals have been, otherwise.  We had lost sight of the Torres long before lunch; after lunch, the Cuernos (horns) came into view.

The black in the Cuernos is sedimentary shale, with granite sandwiched in the middle.
After one last shot of The Cuernos, we headed back towards Puerto Natales via the Milodon Cave, a mouth-shaped cave that remains an active archeological dig site. It’s interesting to see into the cave, and what little you can see of the work they’re doing in the dim light. They were packing up for the day by the time we got there, so we didn’t see much.

We did see one thing, though: a giant  replica statute of the milodon.
There isn’t a whole lot we know about the milodon, but I can tell you one thing.
He’s a hugger, that one.


As the day ended back in Puerto Natales, some of the clouds began to roll in. But we felt just as fortunate to be able to see their beauty, and grateful that they held off until we were done with our day in the park.  Usually some portion of the day is obscured by low clouds, and some days, tours don’t see the mountains at all.  We also had low winds.  A few days later when we were in Punta Arenas, the newspaper headlines reported that two tour busses were tipped over by high winds in the park, injuring several passengers, including one leg amputation. Our perspective shifted even further after hearing about that.  We could wish that we had more time to spend in Torres del Paine, but given the weather, and what we did see, we are happy and grateful for the experience we did have.  There are many times on this journey where we’ve left a place with a balance sheet and memories of what we didn’t have a chance to do. Torres del Paine was a reminder to us to appreciate the experience for what it is, rather than waste time wishing it was something else, maybe better, maybe not.