Woke up at 5 in the morn to get ready for Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (pronounced Pine-nay) and the forecast for the day was, well, more cold wind. The guide picked us up at 6 for a 3 hour drive to the town Puerto Natales, which itself is another 2 hours to the park entrance. When we walked into the van the guide introduced us to the rest of the group. Judy and I were the lone American tourists, then there was 1 spanish dude, and the remaining 6 were Chileans all older women...one of them was a grandma so I thought to myself what kind of tour is this are we even going hiking?! Of course the guide spoke nothing but Spanish and apparently he likes Asian women so I promised to find him one. Needless to say I understood nothing he said and I probably would have understood him more if he used sign language.
Como se llama? Said the guide and I would say Nathan. Apparently that's not a common Spanish name. Everyone pronounced it wrong and I had no idea there were so many variations of Nathan when a Spanish speaking person is trying to pronounce it. I just gave up and went right to sleep. I woke up 3 hours later and we had already arrived at Puerto Natales. At the entrance to the town there was a giant statue of a beaver and the sign Bienvenido Puerto Natales. The rest of the group ran out of the van to take a picture with the giant beaver. That beaver was life-like...it even had balls. And yes those old Chilean women were putting their hands on the beaver's balls and taking pictures with it...the grandma too. I didn't know this at the time but that beaver statue is actually a Miladon, which is an extinct beast that use to roam the area. Google the image if you all are curious.
We continued on to the first stop: Cueva del Miladon. Some cave where they found Miladon remains. A Norwegein scientist was the first to discover the skin of this extinct beaver...or beast I should say. We hiked to this giant cave. Wasn't very impressive I must say but interesting. I was ready to see the main event not a beaver cave.
By now the road was not paved and it's going to be unpaved roads from Puerto Natales on out. I must mention the driver was speeding down the dirt road as if he was interstate 5. At least we got to our first stop quick though: Lago Torro. The colors were amazing. I got out of the van to take pictures and well lost my balance because the wind was blowing like a bitch! Patagonia weather is something to experience. The winds at Mammoth is amateur compared to this shit. Welcome to the big league boys. I wanted to take pictures of the glacier and the lake but I could only go so close to the cliff otherwise I'd turn into a kite. When I got back into the van the old Chilean women were so afraid I was going to get blown away.
We continued on to Lago Grey. It's a short hike to the lake from where the van was parked. You first have to cross this rickety suspension bridge that had a sign saying 6 people maximum. I just had faith that Chileans are good engineers and that this bridge is sturdy. From this bridge you walk through some trees to the lake shore. The wind was relentless. I don't know how that Chilean grandma did the walk to the lake and back...she had a cane. She's a warrior and I was impressed.
Chileans are prideful when it comes to their country. The Spanish dude was a human chimney and was had a cigarette in his hand the entire time except when we were driving of course. One of the Chilean women yelled at him for smoking in the park and asked him how would he like it if she went to his country and smoked in a national park there. I don't think he cared much.
I told myself I wasn't going to drink much since I'm still sick and was miserable in the wind with my snotty nose. But somehow booze just gravitates towards me. I saw the guide picking up things and putting it in a cooler. I was concerned a gust of wind would knock him off his feet and he'd get a nice surprise in the ass (see picture). Turns out the guide was collecting glacial ice to put in cups to chill "wicky" a.ka. whiskey. The giant shot of whiskey made me nice and warm. But I looked back and was dreading walking back to the trail in that wind but couldn't let the grandma one up me. When we got back to the van we all had lunch. The guide provided coffee and hard boiled eggs oh and mayo. Chileans LOVE mayo...I think they put it on hard boiled eggs too. I ate the egg and drank the coffee since I didn't want to be rude. I also ate some delicious salami that I bought back in Punta Arenas. The salami was imported from Spain and had giant pieces of fat marbled between peppercorns and the cured meat.
After lunch we drove on to our final goal of seeing the Pine-nay peaks. We passed Lago Pehoe and the turquoise water was as impressive as the beaches in Hawaii but not as warm. From the lake we could see the peaks but apparently that wasn't the best view which I didn't understand because I could see those peaks fine.
The next stop we hiked out to a waterfall and into more wind...worse than the lake. By now the grandma refused to get out of the van and I don't blame her. From this hike we could see the weather approaching and it didn't look good. I didn't walk out to this look-out area that overlooked a cliff and good thing I didn't because the wind picked up there and those folks had to lay down to prevent from being blown away. We didn't spend too much time there because the guide was concerned about the ominous clouds approaching and plus we had another hour drive before we hit the Pine-nay peaks.
I saw plenty of wildlife in the park. The ultimate prize would have been a Puma sighting so I was tempted to throw some salami out the window to attract some. But I might get other unwanted animals too. There were wild horses roaming the hills alongside sheep that were grazing to fatten up. A grey fox was running around and was too fast for my camera. There were giant predatory birds including an eagle that was roosting alongside the road. The condors were flying up above us taking advantage of the wind. We also saw these deer-like animals called Guanaca. They roamed in herds large and small and apparently hunted by the indigenous. There numbers were running low so they were protected for a while and now they're everywhere kind of like pigeons. They don't flinch when humans approach and we had to drive past a few of them in the road with the driver honking his horn.
By now we were chasing the sun to get a view of the peaks. The trip ended with majestic views of the Pine-nay peaks with the sun setting behind them. A fitting end. The grandma could care less. I think she wanted to go back. Te amo Patagonia. This region lived up to the hype. The array of colors, the moon-like terrain, the extreme weather, the glacial lakes, and the remoteness is something to experience. So much to see in so little time. We left at 6 in the morn and returned at midnight.
Check out more photos in the photo gallery.