Still a bit hung over from the New Year party on the Navimag ship, Evgeny and I arrived in Puerto Natales where we booked quickly into our hostel. Ahead of the pack, we secured the last two beds in the dormitory of the “Erratic Rock”, which is the de-facto hub for backpackers setting off for the hikes through Torres del Paine National Park.
Most people would stay an extra day in Puerto Natales to do some food and gear shopping for the trip. But Evgeny and I decided to leave right away on the next morning. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, since the town of Puerto Natales was basically shut for the public holiday of First of January. This remote village would not bother about a ship arriving once a week with hundreds of fresh tourists, willing and eager to spend money. It was very hard to find supplies, but we managed to find the only small convenience store that was open on that day. There, we spotted mostly junk food in the two shelves. We had to change our small shopping list: Dried fruits and nuts would be the substitute for Apples and Oranges. Bacon spread was substitute for meat. Cheese was the only matching item from our shipping list, that we managed to get in the store. As we found out later, it was pretty horrible quality.
Very early on the 2.1., we left for the park. The trip is a combination of bus and boat rides and we made it to the campground at noon time. Upon arrival, we started to put up our tent. It has a military look and Russian (Cyrillic) writing on it. Needless to outline, that our home for the day stood out from the crowd of other tents on the site. Next, we left for a short six hour return hike to a glacier. Since we planned to do a slow hike and take our time, our target was to be back at the campground 8pm. Dailight isn’t an issue at this time of year, since the sun sets at around 10pm.
The weather was fantastic and when we returned to the camp site, we spotted the first few familiar faces from the Navimag ship. These people had spent shopping in the morning instead and then arrived by the last boat at 6pm in the park. They already knew that we were there, because our fancy tent would leave no doubts about who’d owned it. Although the “latecomers” were only six hours “behind” us, we had a full day head start for the four day hike. On the second morning, as we were leaving and having enjoyed a five minute breakfast – we did spot the others snuggling out of their sleeping bags. They were cooking porridge and boiled eggs and then later planned to set off for the same trip that we did in the afternoon of the first day. Sometimes, having too much food is not the best option, Evgeny and I agreed. Because the weather turned bad and we were the only ones to have enjoyed a full dry hiking day in the park.
The sky went cloudy that morning and the the fog would become thicker and the intervals of the occasional rain sprinkles became shorter. Half way up to the so-called “French Valley”, we set base with our tent and left the heavy bags in it. By the time, we arrived on the top of the subsequent round trip hike, the whole park was covered in dense clouds, with strong winds and pouring rain. We took a couple of miserable pictures and immediately went down again to a small shelter next to our camp. We discussed our options over a horrible-tasting hot instant soup. It became obvious to us that the bad weather was here to stay at least for another day or two. We both found good reasons to decide to abandon our trip here. For one, Evgeny is short on time – he has only two weeks left of vacation – making it impossible to wait for better weather. For my part, while other folks might actually enjoy mud hiking in military style, this is not really what I would call a fun trip.
So we packed all our bags, took down our tent and hurried back to the campsite where we just stayed the night before. Next to that site was a “Refugio” (Hostel), featuring a canteen, hot showers and warm beds. There was very little chance that we could secure these beds, since these refugios tend to be booked well in advance. But the hope made us literally run back through pouring rain and mud tracks. Upon arrival, we were very lucky and secured the last two beds, booked a nice dinner and breakfast for next morning – before taking the boat and bus back to Puerto Natales. This completely blew our budget – but we enjoyed every single peso spent.
Back in Puerto Natales we saw many people gradually pouring in town – abandoning their hikes – same as we did. It would not stop raining in the park for the rest of the week. Evgeny and I were glad to have stopped at a perfect moment. And we managed to get at least a glimpse of the park during sunny weather. There,I proposed to Evgeny that I’d change my itinerary and that we’d travel together northbound through Argentina – instead of separating here as I originally planned to go further south to Ushuaia. He was very happy about this – but since his flight back to Moscow was due in two weeks from Buenos Aires, we would have to speed up a notch on our road trip. That did not matter too much for me, since I bumped into a guy from Uruguay who’d share travel tips for his country with me. Traveling faster through Argentina and afterwards being able to include Uruguay in the itinerary sounded like a logical combination. So we bought our ticket to Argentina and prepared for the big and fast road trip. But that is yet another blog posting coming up soon…