Puerto Natales and the Torres
del Paine National Park
-- Story by Chris --
Thurs, Feb 21st: After checking my parents
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 werent 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
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 didnt
work (night temps were less then 0°C/32°F), the toilet wouldnt 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 werent leaving
Chile yet, so we made a left and headed east to the park entrance. Id 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 didnt have a winch or rope, and the driver
didnt 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 dont 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
wasnt 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
couldnt 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 couldnt 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,
were 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
werent sure if wed 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
Of course, the night couldnt 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 ~
shes now bidding for anywhere in the USA. My dad dropped hints earlier in the week
that he hopped we wouldnt 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 wouldnt 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 parents luggage to the town square to catch
the 9:00am bus to El Calafate, 300km away in Argentina. We hugged, kissed, and
surprisingly, mom didnt 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
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