December 2nd Cadu and I set off for our 2-week adventure in Patagonia. We discovered both the Chilean and Argentinian sides enjoying all of the beauty and food we could possibly fit into our limited time. Here is a rundown of our trip!
We flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas, Chile where we spent 2 nights at one of the best hostels we have ever been to. It was called Hospedaje Costanera. While it was a bit of a walk from the center, it felt like home and we were treated to some great hospitality. If you are ever looking for a place to stay in Punta Arenas, please visit our dear Teresa there!
The first day in Punta Arenas we boarded a ferry to Isla Magdalena to see some Magellanic penguins. They are fairly small penguins, but there were thousands of them on the island and we got so close to them! We weren’t allowed to touch them, but a few times we were close enough to have done so. They waddled in front of us crossing the path we were instructed to stay on, and we heard them making some interesting noises, including some honking sounds. By far the best story from our 1-hour visit was when we were waiting for a guy to take a picture of his female companion and just as he is about to snap the picture a penguin next to her lets out a pffff and poops! All 4 of us stopped to think, “What just happened?” and burst out laughing.
The next day in Punta Arenas we walked around town checking out the famous cemetery and its beautiful trees, the main plaza, and even a great chocolate shop. The next morning we were off to Ushuaia, Argentina!
The bus to Ushuaia was about 12 hours. The trip itself was a bit interesting as we had to get off the bus and ride a ferry, get back on the bus, stop at the Chilean border to leave Chile, and then stop at the Argentinian border to enter Argentina. Along the way we saw guanacos (an animal special to Patagonia that reminds me of camels without humps or llamas), lots of sheep, cows, and even a fox or two! We also met some very kind people on the bus who convinced us to do the “W” hike in Torres del Paine.
Ushuaia was a beautiful port town and we were excited to say we were officially at “the end of the world”! (Ushuaia is considered the southernmost city in the world.) The first full day in town we didn’t do a lot, just had lunch and did some logistical planning. The second day we went to Tierra del Fuego National Park and went on an easy 3-hour hike. We wanted to visit the park and we took it as a warm-up to our future 5-day hike in Torres del Paine. The third day we spent in town visiting a very interesting museum about the native people who used to live on the peninsula. They didn’t wear clothes! This was because if it rained or snowed their clothes would be wet and they’d be cold and wet the entire day. I highly recommend the Yamana museum if you are ever in Ushuaia! And the fourth day (December 8th) we were off on the bus back to Punta Arenas, Chile.
Since the only way for us to get to Torres del Paine National Park from Ushuaia, Argentina requires a stop in Punta Arenas, we just decided to get a bus from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas. The first company we talked to was trying to charge us double what it should have been, and the other companies weren’t going all the way to Puerto Natales on that day, so we settled on a ticket to Punta Arenas. We opted to stay at our favorite little hostel again and get a good night’s rest, hot showers and a delicious breakfast.
December 9th we took a 3-hour bus ride to Puerto Natales early in the morning so we would arrive on time to see the 3:00 information session on the hikes in Torres del Paine National Park that was going to be given at Erratic Rock. In Puerto Natales we spent our first night at Backpackers Kaweskar. The hostel itself was quite great- clean, good breakfast, etc, but I found the man working there (whom I took to be the owner) quite unpleasant. He was not friendly or welcoming and questioned why I would rent camping equipment from Erratic Rock and not from him. Due to the way he treated me the night before we were supposed to go off on our hike, Cadu and I made the last minute decision to bring all of our stuff over to Erratic Rock for storage and book a night there for our return from the park. Luckily it was just around the corner and they were nice and accommodating! So consider that if you are ever looking for a place to stay in Puerto Natales.
At the hostel we met two French guys who were considering doing the “W” as well, but hadn’t attended the information session. We invited them to come out for dinner and shopping with us so we could give them all the information we learned and they could prepare to start the hike with us the following day. As nice as they were, it turns out we wasted lots of time with them and they decided not to join us the next day. Oh well, they were very nice guys and I know Cadu always enjoys practicing his French!
Wednesday, December 10th was the start of our Torres del Paine adventure. The night before and the morning of we found ourselves so stressed trying to pack our bags and prepare. Countless times we said to each other “Why are we doing this again?” and considered giving up before we had even begun. However, we had already rented lots of camping equipment for 5 days, which was not cheap, and we simply didn’t want to give up so quickly. We woke up at 6am to pack and eat before catching the 7:50 bus from the bus terminal. The bus got us to the park around 10am when we had to register and pay the entrance fee. From there we took the bus about another hour to Cafeteria Pudeto. This is where we had to wait to board a catamaran which took us across Lago Pehoe to the start of the hike at Paine Grande. We should have boarded the 12:00 boat, but it filled up and we had to wait for the next one which was around 1:30. By the time we got to Paine Grande it was 2:15ish. Our plan had been to set up camp and then hike to Refugio Glacier Grey and back the same day so we wouldn’t have to carry our packs. Because of our late arrival to Paine Grande and the closing times of the trails, we really had to hurry to do this though. However, we were able to set up our tent and get hiking by 2:45. We hiked 10 kilometers to Refugio Grey in about 3 hours, had time to see the 2 viewpoints of the glacier, and head straight back to camp before the trail closed at 6:30. On our way back we were getting really tired and our feet were hurting. We made it back to camp just after 9pm. Luckily that far south, the sun stays up until almost 11pm and we had plenty of daylight left to cook dinner. That night the wind was blowing so hard and we barely slept! Poor Cadu, it was his first time camping, and he pretty much stayed up the entire night holding onto the tent because he was afraid it would blow away.
Day 2 we woke up a bit later than planned. We had really worn ourselves out the first day! By the time we got done with breakfast, showering, and tearing down the tent, it was about 11am. Our next stop was Camp Italiano which was only 7.5 km (2.5 hours) away. Since we had had a late start and were quite exhausted already, we decided to hold off on hiking through Valle Frances until Day 3. Lucky for us, we passed someone on the trail who told us Valle Frances was closed that day anyway due to the strong winds. And boy were they strong!!!! We later heard the strongest gust measured that day had been ~150 km/hour!!! We were not surprised though because we had a very hard time walking. A few times we had to stop because we were afraid of being knocked over. Cadu actually got knocked over a bit and twisted his ankle pretty bad. And while he was sitting and taking a break, his hat blew off! Considering it was our shortest day it was one of the hardest just because of the wind. It was also our first day carrying our packs which weighed about 10-15kg (20-30 lb). As we were arriving at camp we came to a bridge over a river. With the wind blowing at us sideways and nothing to hold onto but a wire cable, it was one of the scariest bridges I’ve ever had to cross. Needless to say, we were more than relieved to have arrived at camp! We arrived quite early though and were able to set up camp, eat and relax the rest of the day.
Day 3 we woke up unsure if we would get to hike Valle Frances or not. After breakfast we asked the park guard if it was open or not. He advised us it wasn’t yet open except for the hike to the first lookout, but he warned us it was dangerous. Neither of us have much experience hiking and we didn’t want to take our chances, so we packed up our tent and headed out for the next camp. While at Camp Italiano we had learned there was a campsite near Hotel Las Torres. Prior to this we had thought our only options were Los Cuernos (5 km, 2.5 hours away) or Chileno (an additional ~6.5 hours away). Logistically speaking it didn’t make sense to only go to Los Cuernos, but we also didn’t want to hike ~9 hours to Chileno in one day, so we were happy to hear there was a place that was sort of in the middle at Hotel Las Torres. It was a total of 17 km and took us about 7 hours to get there. Overall it was a good hike until the last 3-4 km or so. We reached a point where we could see the hotel, but it looked a lot closer than it was! I’d say the last hour of the hike was us aching to get there and continually thinking we were closer than we were, especially because when we finally arrived at the hotel we realized the campsite was probably another kilometer or more away! In the end, we were happy we had decided to come to this campsite and we really liked it. It was spacious, there was a bit of a view of the towers, and there were bathrooms and hot showers!
Day 4 we got up and had breakfast, packed up camp and set off for our final campsite! This was the steepest hiking day (other than the 1km hike to the base of the towers) that we did. It was 5 km (~2 hours) to Camp Chileno where we took a little break, and then another 3 km (~1.5 hours) to Camp Torres. I think we climbed about 400 meters that day in those 8 km. We felt so proud of ourselves as we were going faster than people without packs on! And we couldn’t believe we were so close to the finale. We had heard that Camp Torres fills up really fast and we needed to get there early, so we arrived around 2:00pm. We still had about 8-9 hours of daylight and the weather was beautiful! We also ran into a couple we had met before from Quebec and they mentioned they were thinking of hiking to Las Torres since the weather was so nice. Not wanting to risk saving our only view of Las Torres for the next morning at sunrise and not getting a good view, we opted to go with them. So happy we did too!!!!! The hike was quite hard and steep and we were happy to be doing it in the daylight instead of in the dark like we were supposed to the following morning. We also got off the path a bit which was extremely scary. I’m going to spare any family members who read this the details. At that moment we decided not to do the hike again in the morning before sunrise. We got way behind the group we were with and took a bit longer to get there. It was only a 1km hike, but it probably took us 1.5 hours because of the incline, difficulty, and us getting off the path. I think all of this may have added to our astonishment, relief and happiness upon finally arriving at the base of the towers. Cadu had also been struggling with a lot of pain in his knee for the past few days and when we got to the base he cried. The beauty and relief were overwhelming. I think we spent a good hour or more taking in the scenery. We took our shoes off and dipped our feet in the freezing glacial waters, snapped some photos, and watched crazy people jump in the lake in their underwear! This was the finale we had been walking towards for a few days now and it was totally worth the strain on our bodies and minds. That night when we got back to camp dinner tasted the best it probably had all week even though it was just ramen, we had our first Snickers we had packed to celebrate our victory, and we enjoyed the company of our fellow hikers. Cadu got everyone laughing, especially the Germans with the way he says “Tschuss” like a girl and waving his hand. Every time we ran into them after that day they greeted us with Tschuss à la Cadu. That night we were surprised to see the 2 French guys we had met at the hostel show up at our campsite! They had started the hike the day after us and made it as far as we had in 3 days while it took us 4. That day they did the ~9 hour hike from Italiano to Camp Torres we hadn’t want to do and they looked like hell for it. I was happy to see they hadn’t decided to skip the W altogether.
Day 5 we slept in while everyone else hiked in the dark and cold to see the towers at sunrise. We had gotten tired of oatmeal and didn’t feel like taking the time to cook and clean up breakfast, so we had some trail mix instead and packed up camp. We left early to try to get a head start on the other campers who would be following behind us. Because we’d being going mostly downhill and Cadu’s knee was hurting pretty bad, we knew it would take us a bit longer, and we were paranoid about missing the bus home since the boat had filled up with people on the first day in the park. We did not want to have that happen again! Arriving at Hotel Las Torres was simply glorious. We had officially finished our 5-day, 4-night “W” trek. We were able to drop our packs, eat something other than oatmeal, noodles and trail mix, sit indoors, and just relax knowing we wouldn’t have to get up and hike again the next day. Our sandwiches at the refugio were insanely overpriced, but oh did we enjoy them. Then we took a nap in the sun looking back at the towers and the trail we had just completed feeling very accomplished and proud of ourselves. The bus picked us up at 2:00 pm and we were back in Puerto Natales before 5. We returned all of our equipment and had some nice showers, then headed off for a feast of a dinner! We spent a ridiculous amount of money eating traditional Patagonian parrilla which is grilled meats and potatoes, including lamb, beef, chicken, and sausage. I had a half-bottle of wine to myself and Cadu had local beer. We shared ceviche as an appetizer, and two local desserts: rhubarb ice cream and calafate mousse. (Calafate is a regional berry. The day before our hike I had tried calafate juice at dinner.) The manager of the restaurant thanked us with a complementary digestif made from Chilean “herbs”, according to him. That night we went to bed more than satisfied! And the following day we were headed back down to Punta Arenas to catch our flight “home” to Santiago.
We had such a wonderful time in Patagonia and I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to visit the region and even try to do the “W” (or even the full circuit!) in Torres del Paine. I’m more than happy to provide any advice and encouragement!
Now as of today we have left Chile and made our way to Cadu’s family in Recife, Brazil. More on that next time!