I have been on the go so much over the last three days that I haven’t had time to sctratch myself, let alone add to my posts. I’m now back in Calafete (which for some reason today is without water) and I have a rest day for the afternoon. This gives me a time to catch up with some news – I can’t do the washing that I had planned. It also gives me time to buy a new pair of shoes – my hiking boots have given me blisters (for the seconfd time) and I have donated them to our tour leader who has the same size foot as I do. So when I finish typing this again, it’s off to the shops.
Last Thurday, we drove down to the Paine National Park in Chile to to see the area that for me was the most compelling reason to come to Patagonia – The Towers of Paine. In between the formalites involved in crossing the border, it took five hours to drive there in a combination of good roads, rough roads and very rough roads. All of this route was across the great Patagonian Plains which are flat (ish), barren and windswept. You spend a lot of time travelling through ‘nothing’. We could only see one or two small towns, a few ranches and the border posts. These are in the middle of nowhere and I felt very sorry for the soldiers who are posted there as border guards. It took us about an hour to complete all the formalities at the border crossings – the Argentian one and Chlienean ones are about 5km apart. There is a nearby minefield – a remnant of the time when both countries nearly went to war over some territorial issue.
Just as you think that the ‘nothing’ will go forever, you get a glimpse of a stunning mountain range on the horizon. As you get closer, through the dust and haze of the plain, they turn into the Paine Range.
After entering the park and paying our fees, we stopped of at the vistor’s centre to look at the displays and see where we would be visiting on the map. Our hostel (Tyndall) was at the far end of the park and it took another hour to get there over some rather rough roads. We did have a few minutes on the way to see some of the views and a waterfall.
On Friday, we completed the major trek for our time in the Park. This was to the Towers of Pine viewpoint. We left at 8.00 am and drove for 90 minutes to the start of the track. The first part of the walk was a climb up a mongrel of a spur in the open sun – about 400 metres of height in the first kilometrre. From there we followed an undulating track for another two hours through the beech forest. This was the Ascencio Track and it followed a raging alpine stream that was grey in colour from the meltwater of the glaciers upstream.
When we reached the bottom of the glacial moraine from the Towers lake we began a climb of another 400 metres over rock and boulders which were up to 3 feet in diameter. This was a tough part of the walk, but I don’t think that it was as tough as our ealier climb to the Fitzroy lookout. We stayed at the top for an hour just taking in the view. Beneath us was an aqua coloured glacial lake in a giant basin. Rising 1 kilometre out of the lake was a sheer rock wall – the previous circque of the glacier (now melted). Continuing above this vertical rock wall, three giant granite towers rise for another kilometre, vertically into sky. What a fantastic sight!
We returned by the same route and got back to the car park by about 7.00 pm. We then had another 90 minute drive back to our hostel and we ended the day with dinner at 10.30 pm. We were absolutely stuffed.
Yesterday, Saturday, we combined a day of travel and walking as we drove to our overnight stop at Port Natales. Our first walk was one of about 2 km along a peninsular to see the Grey Glacier. It flows right of the Patagonian Icecap for 18 km into Grey Lake where it is 6 km wide. From our lookout, we could see giant icebergs that had broken off the glacier and floated down the lake. I understand that they are so big because the glacier is retreating very quickly – 100 metres per year.
From the glacier, we drove to the Explora Hotel which is situated in the middle of the national park. The hotel is the most expensive one in Chile – over US$1000 per person per night. Although this does include everything, even transfers from Punta Arenas – 180 km away. We spent our time there looking at the wildlife and a waterfall that connected two of the lakes in the region. Our lunch spot was a little way down the road on a hill overlooking the Paine Range. This was one of the most scenic places that I can remember ever stopping for lunch. We finished the afternoon with a stop at a waterfall and another lake from which we could see that back of the towers.
It was not until 7.30 pm tat we arrived in Puerto Natales – a little town of 19000 people. Again, we didn’t finish dinner until 10.30 and we fell into bed very tired. We were up again at 7.00 am this morning to catch the bus back here to Calafete. We hardly saw anything of the town.
It’s hard to describe the Paine National Parke with words and do it justice. I’ll put some photos in a following post and then I’m off to buy some shoes.