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Report 1754: A Trip to Argentina and Chile

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2008

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Page 5 of 9: Torres del Paine

photo by Michael

The Towers

We caught the bus from El Calafate into Chile. We were lucky and had the front seats. It was a bitterly cold morning and there had been a dusting of snow overnight. It was a three hour drive over the pampas - miles and miles of flat grassland with no settlement apart from a few isolated estancias off the road.

Customs was slow as they checked everyone’s passport, papers and luggage. All cases had to be opened. You are not allowed to take any fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese or honey into Chile. People on the bus were trying to eat up all their food as penalties are heavy. You also have to declare any wood objects. We had bought a small carved rabbit as a present and this was inspected very carefully before being allowed through.

We were met at the Chilean check point by our driver who took us to Torres del Paine. We had discussed hiring a car with Audley who had advised against this as roads in the park weren’t good. In fact we felt this had been an over cautious response as the roads inside the park were reasonable if driven with care.

We had been booked into Hosteria las Torres for four nights. This is in a superb setting at the start of the path to the Towers. Rooms were spotlessly clean and comfortable but fairly basic. There is no TV, which upsets some guests. Accommodation in the park is expensive and if you are after the facilities of a five star hotel - forget it. The nearest to this is the Explora, which is serious money. Evening meals were expensive and a set menu, which wasn’t to our taste. However, hidden under the bar counter was a menu with a wide range of big sandwiches, which provided a cheap and substantial meal. Breakfasts were good but the packed lunches were very expensive and not very filling.

The Hosteria has several guides who gave a presentation each evening about trips planned for the next day and would answer questions and give advice if you wanted to do your own thing. There were usually three or four different trips available. We signed up for the Full Paine Excursion.

There were eight of us in a mini bus with the guide. We drove to the park entrance at Laguna Amarga ranger station. A puma had killed a guanaco the previous day and there were at least 20 condors circling above it. The message had obviously gone out "the party's here." We watched them land and feed off the carcass and then almost throw themselves into the air to get airborne again.

There were plenty of photo stops along the way. We parked at a viewpoint over Lake Pehoe. A grey fox appeared, walked along the road in front of us and settled down to sleep behind a bush. We got within five yards and it just lay and watched us as everyone took pictures. Unfortunately the weather packed up and it began to rain. We had a brief stop at the Administration Centre, where there is small but disappointing display.

By the time we reached Lago Grey it was raining steadily with bits of snow. We walked down through the wood to the lake shore for a long, wet, windy walk across sand bar to look at a few minuscule icebergs. At this point my dodgy knee miraculously started giving problems and we ambled back through the wood looking at the vegetation. The others came back very wet and generally disillusioned. The Full Paine excursion includes a glacier boat trip option. None of us wanted to do this so we had plenty of time to stop on the way out. If anyone had wanted the boat, we think the morning would have been frustratingly short and the afternoon waiting for the sailors' return boringly long.

The rest of the time we puttered around the area by ourselves. The scenery was amazing with huge great jagged peaks, snow on the tops and lakes. We were lucky and had three glorious warm days with brilliant blue skies and plenty of sunshine. Wind was a problem. It could be very still but you would suddenly get very strong winds off the mountains, which could blow you over.

One of the walks everyone does is to the ‘Towers’- the three great big peaks on all the postcards. The path crosses a dodgy suspension bridge and climbs steeply up the side of a deep gorge. It then levels off and runs across the slope of the gorge before scrambling up 300m of moraine and rocks to the view point. We had already decided we wouldn’t do the last bit but were keen to reach the base of the moraine. The path along the gorge was about 24 inches wide with a very steep drop into the gorge. It acted as a wind funnel with the wind blasting down the gorge so you could hardly stand against it. We struggled for about 25 yards before Michael decided it was too dangerous to continue. The wind was bitterly cold, blowing new snow off the mountain straight into our faces. Down in the valley the sun was shining and it was warm.

Torres del Paine was seriously brilliant. We regretted we hadn’t stuck to our guns about having a hire car for this as we would have been able to explore much more of the area - but then would have wanted at least another couple of days. With hindsight, if we were starting to plan this trip again, we would miss out El Calafate and built the extra time into Torres del Paine.

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