Chris' 1994  R100GS/PDChris' new bike, a 1996 F650 ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

Feb 23, 2002 -- 2 years and 9 months

Credit to Natales and the Torres del Paine National Park

-- Story by Chris --

Thurs, Feb 21st: After checking my parent’s into their hotel, we walked up the block to the Hostal Dos Lagunas, to see our friend Alejandro. A few weeks ago, when we decided to join my parents for the boat trip down to Puerto Natales, we thought it might be a good idea to stay in separate hotels after spending 4 days and 3 nights in one cabin on a boat together. We booked my folks into a hotel right on the water, in a corner room with a beautiful view of the sound, Seno Última Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) and surrounding mountains. We met Alejandro back in January (Chapter 79), and wanted to stay with him on this visit.

After we all took a nap, we met in town to arrange our tour of Torres del Paine (pronounced Pie-ee-nay in Spanish) National Park, and the Saturday departure of my parents to El Calafate in Argentina. Most people come to Puerto Natales to use it as a jump-off point to enter the park, famous for its trekking and wildlife. P.N. reminded us very much of Pokara in Nepal, small, laid-back and friendly. Most people take the bus to the park, then trek for 3-10 days, spending their nights in tents and/or refugios (shelters). There are even hostels at the start/end of some of the trails. We weren’t going trekking, we just wanted to spend the day touring the park. The full day tour to/around the national park would have cost 15,000 pesos each ($90 total), so we reserved a 4x4 Pathfinder for 50,000 pesos instead ($75). After dinner, a trip to the mercado provided provisions (lunch and snacks) we would need for our independent tour.

In the evening, back at our Hostal Dos Lagunas, we met up with a German couple, Alex and Stephi, who just happen to be riding 2 BMWs (of course!) – he is on a R100PD, she on a R80GS. Stephi is recovering from a minor crash that left her ribs bruised, and her front fairing in pieces. They were working with a local mechanic to fit some of her remaining cockpit instruments into a fairing for a 250cc Yamaha, and retrofitting to the BMW.

Friday, Feb 22nd: Whose idea was it to get up so early, again?!?! After a delicious breakfast with Alejandro (an egg/ham scramble along with toast, coffee, juice and a few pieces of chocolate for energy), my parents arrived to tell us they were ready, but very tired. Apparently the heater in their room didn’t work (night temps were less then 0°C/32°F), the toilet wouldn’t flush, the shower was cold, and the breakfast of 2 small rolls was uninspiring. They were in the "fancy" hotel, and admiring the warmth and comfort of our hostal. After hearing about our comfortable and warm nights sleep and delicious breakfast, they ran back to their hotel to check out, and we moved their luggage into one of the rooms in Dos Lagunas.

The goal was to get on the road by 8:30, but after changing lodging, we got moving at a respectable 9:45am. The route to the park is about 150km, and all but the first 2km is gravel road. The first 60km stretch of dirt/gravel took us to Cerra Castillo, the border crossing to Argentina/El Calafate. We weren’t leaving Chile yet, so we made a left and headed east to the park entrance. I’d love to say we had beautiful weather, but it had rained the previous night and the clouds were still lingering quite low. The good news was that there was less dust kicked up by the cars and trucks on the road.

About 5km before the park entrance, as we were passing a large lake, we noticed a white van on the beach, very close to the water, with about 10 people milling about. A second glance showed several people waving for us to come and help. Popping the Pathfinder into 4-wheel-drive, we drove across the soft sand to the group of people struggling to get their passenger van out of the ditch they were stuck in. They were on a tour, and the driver wanted to impress them with a ride around the lake. They were not impressed.

We didn’t have a winch or rope, and the driver didn’t listen to any of our suggestions (or those of his passengers) – we suspect it was a matter of pride, so they remained stuck as we drove away. We told them we would go and send help. When we arrived at the administration office of the park, the rangers laughed and said they would take care of it – I get the feeling this happens with some frequency. We paid our entrance fee of 6,500 pesos ($10) each, and headed into the park. The tour prices don’t include this fee either, by the way.

Our first stop was the Laguna Amaraga (Amarga Lagoon) and the Hosteria (Hotel) Las Torres, where most people begin their treks to see the Torres (towers). The hosteria was 7km from the park entrance, and we had to cross a road that was washed out by the overnight rains ~~ The road was buried under 2’ of water. This wasn’t a bad time to be off the bikes and in a 4x4! The crossing was actually quite easy, but was then followed by another crossing, this time over a suspension bridge that was just barely wide enough for our truck! Along the way to the Hosteria, we saw several trekkers heading the same direction, and we wondered how they got across the water…

We parked the car in a field, midway between the $200/nt hosteria and the more economical campground. The clouds were lifting, but the sun couldn’t maintain the holes it was piercing through the clouds. It was nippy, sometimes down right cold! Surrounded by steep mountains, lots of vegetation, and the comings and goings of trekkers and local ducks, we had a wonderful tailgate lunch. Simple food just tastes better in this kind of environment! After lunch, we packed up our gear, picked up a couple of female French trekkers returning from their hike, and headed back to the main road where we deposited the trekkers and continued into the park.

The road rose and fell, while twisting and turning through the park. We passed many lakes, some vibrant blue and green, others gray with silt. We passed rivers, waterfalls, and some pretty rough looking rapids. My father, the enthusiastic amateur photographer wanted to stop every few minutes to take pictures. The wildlife were out enforce that day and we saw many groups of guanaco (a type of llama), a very friendly gray fox, many different kinds of ducks, and eventually 2 ñandu (a small ostrich-like bird). When we reached the base of Lago Grey, we walked out on a small peninsula to get closer to the large icebergs that had broken free of the Grey Glacier many miles to the north. It was windy and cold, but we managed to get a good view of the icebergs and of the glacier in the distance.

The weather cleared a bit late in the day, and as the sun broke through the thinning clouds, we were able to finally see the tops of some of the more famous peaks: Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) and Torres del Paine. My father kept saying the Rockies and the Alps couldn’t hold a candle to this place. The steep rugged mountains, occasional volcano, glaciers, icebergs, wildlife, and general condition of the park was just ~ awesome! Imagine how we would have felt if we had better weather!!!

The drive back to Puerto Natales was also beautiful, as the valley was now completely visible – my mother said it reminded her of Arizona. We arrived back at the Hostal, and went for our last supper together. After 16 days, tomorrow they would leave and we would not see each other for….well, a long time. Dinner conversation began with how surprised we all were that this holiday was such fun. Sure, we’re all family, but we also (usually) have different ways of doing things. Being trapped together in either a small car or small cabin for a long time, we all agreed we weren’t sure if we’d still be talking in the end (aint love grand?!?). Not only did we get along great, we all had a really great time! Along with spending time with my parents, we also had a vacation from the bikes, and it was nice not to have to do so much planning.

Of course, the night couldn’t end without talking about the future, and what are plans will be. As much as my mother wants us back in New York City (close to them), she has begun to accept the fact that we could end up anywhere ~ she’s now bidding for anywhere in the USA. My dad dropped hints earlier in the week that he hopped we wouldn’t become complete gypsies, without roots and/or a steady lively-hood. In the end, I think he was satisfied that all those years of pain and cost for my education wouldn’t go to waste. We all agree we have no idea what will happen at the end of this trip.

Saturday, Feb 23rd: Alejandro made another delicious breakfast, and we hauled my parent’s luggage to the town square to catch the 9:00am bus to El Calafate, 300km away in Argentina. We hugged, kissed, and surprisingly, mom didn’t cry like she usually does. They seemed to be proud of us, and eager to come visit again in Central America, maybe for Christmas?

We spent the afternoon hanging out with Alejandro and his wife Andrea. Alex and Stephi left later in the day, after 6 days of repair got her bike back on the road. Tonight we will have King Crabs that Alejandro bought from the fisherman before they will be shipped up to Santiago, yummmmmm. Tomorrow morning we take the bus to Punta Arenas, about 3 hours south of Puerto Natales, then fly to Puerto Montt on Monday and get the bikes. What a great vacation!


The Ratays arrive in Southern Patagonia

Our good friends Alejandro and Andrea, outside their Hostal

Overland travel from a different perspective

Must admit, driving in the rain and cold was more comfy

View of the Cuernos del Paine  (Horns of Pie-nay)

Along the road in Torres del Paine National Park

Lago Pehue

A fox is scrounging for food near one of the scenic rest areas

Until quite recently, these Guanacos were on the verge of extinction

The Guanaco is a type of llama and member of the camel family

After more than 2 weeks, it's unfortunately time for Chris' parents to leave


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