Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

58. Tour of Pain (Torres del Pain, Region XII, Chile)

From El Calafate I headed north 5 hours to nearby El Chalten, Argentina's youngest town, which was founded in 1985 to scare Chile out of the area.
Patagonia Map
Map of Southern Patagonia - brown is Argentina territory

The border between Argentina and Chile in Southern Patagonia wasn't firmly established until the mid 80s, and squabbling had been taking place over it for years. Which is probably why Chile secretly took Britian's side (by providing intelligence) in the 1982 Falklands War - something Argentines resent to this day.
El Chalten itself is nothing great, lots of A-frame ski-lodge type houses and hostels, but what makes it a big backpacker drawcard is its proximity to a lot of great treks, most of which can be done as daytrips. It's a bit extreme mountaineer though - most of the people walking around town are wearing full on colour matching hiking gear, 2 metre tall backpacks, walking poles, etc, and that's just when going to the supermarket. The ol' suitcaseonwheels felt a bit out of place being dragged down the gravel streets. Fortunately I met a nice Irish couple in my hostel who themselves had been having a snicker at the Everest climbers and the wannabes and were relieved to meet another traveller without any Goretex. We set off the next day on one of the day-treks, to Lago Torre to check out another Glacier. Unfortunately the weather wasn't the best so our view of El Torre (The Tower), the mountain which sits behind the lake, was crap.
El Torre - 04 - Matt Lago Torre
Me in front of Lago Torre, the glacier, and El Torre
We carried on another 20 mins to get closer to the glacier.
El Torre - 05 - Lago Torre Glacier
The glacier
We had a lunch stop at the campsite near the lake, where we met the real hardcore - including a guy who'd been there camping 15 days waiting for clear weather. El Chalten's a real mountaineer town, a lot of people come to climb nearby Mt Fitzroy, which although not too high at around 3100m, is renowned for being difficult because of its steepness. Unfortunately, I couldn't see Mt Fitzroy's jagged peak because of the crap weather.
The next morning the weather was still cold and cloudy and windy so I caught a bus back to El Calafate. If it had been clear I would have stayed but I didn't feel like another long day treking if the views would be spoiled by the weather. And I was still tired from the 7 hours walking the day before.
From El Calafate I arranged a trip to the famous Torres del Paine National Park, just across the border in Chile. My hostel in El Calafate had a day trip which they'd told me was a day of walking in which we'd see the main sights, weather permitting.
Unfortunately, the trip was a real letdown (hence the title of this post). Once we'd crossed the border into Chile we changed to a larger tour bus where it was evident we wouldn't be doing much treking - on board were a couple from Italy in their 80s. The guide explained the plan for the day and the only treking would be half an hour around lunch.
When she showed me a decent map with the distances marked it was evident there was no way we could possibly cover what the people in my hostel told me we would cover by walking. The map they'd shown me in my hostel didn't have a scale. So I was pissed off - we'd be in a bus all day, and it was a expensive - the tour was like US$50 plus another US$20 just to enter the park - welcome back to Chilean prices.
Everyone comes to Torres del Paine to see 3 things - the famous Torres del Paine (3 granite towers), Glacier Grey, and the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine).
The Torres we could not see because of the cloud. Couldn't even see their outline. We weren't even very close to them anyway. Here's what they look like, so you know what I missed:
Torres Del Paine
Torres del Paine (image stolen from web)
We did see Lago Grey, in which sits Glacier Grey. More icebergs.
Torres del Paine - 02 - Lago Grey
The shores of Lago Grey
Down on the shore were heaps of little icecubes, which looked quite spectacular as the ice was perfectly clear, like crystal. I'm not sure why, maybe because it was formed hundreds of years ago. Or maybe because it was formed under pressure or something.
Torres del Paine - 08 - Ice cristal
I just had to try a piece. It tasted like... water.
Torres del Paine - 09 - Matt eat ice
Thousand year old popsicle
Torres del Paine - 11 - Glacier Grey
Glacier Grey at the head of the lake, 18km away
Back into the tour bus we piled, and on the way back to the park entrance we passed the Cuernos del Paine. The Cuernos (horns) are in the background, in front of Lake Pehoe. The hotel sitting on the island is a few hundred dollars a night.
Torres del Paine - 12 - Cuernos del Paine Lago Pehoe
Cuernos del Paine in the back-right
After the tour we drove to Puerto Natales in Chile, where I got quoted US$17 a night for a hostel, so I didn't stay and caught the first bus out of there that evening to Punto Arenas, which sits on the Straight of Magellan just across from Tierra del Fuego, where I'd be heading next.
Images from the bus ride to Punto Arenas:
Punto Arenas - 02 - 20-49-30

Punto Arenas - 03 - 20-52-30

Punto Arenas - 07 - 21-00-57


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