Once we landed in Punta Arenas airport we went straight to Puerto Natales, excited as we were about finally seeing Torres del Paine, one of the most famos national parks in South America. We knew we had to settle for a one day bus tour as it had become too cold for hiking and the refugios had all closed a few days earlier; certain circuits were already covered in snow and other ones were not safe at all due to the strong winds. Just a few days before we had heard the story of a guide who was lifted up and thrown against a rock and was taken out of the park with a fractured skul. This was a guide, not a novice as we were, so we definitely did not want to take such chances.
When we got to Puerto Natales it was late at night and all we had eaten since breakfast was a sandwich and half a pack of biscuits we had found at the bottom of one of the backpacks. In the bus terminal a lady approached us to offer us accommodation; we liked her offer and she took us to her hostel. We were cold and starving but all the shops were closed, so when we got to the hospedaje we asked if she had any tea we could drink to warm ourselvs up. She not only gave us tea and coffee, but also some bread she had left over from morning and a jar of homemade jam that tasted absolutelly divine! She also had quite good wireless (something we had been missing for quite a while now) so we stayed around the dining table untill 5am with our teas and laptops. By the time we went to bed we had eaten the whole jar of jam and half a can of powder milk. The lady must have had quite a shock in the morning!
The next day we went around exploring the city, finally found a good and educational museum (The History Museum – very interesting information on Patagonia, we do recommend it) and we looked for bus tours for Torres del Paine. Most agencies were quoting around 20,000 pesos but in the end we found one for 14,000 and immediately got ourselves some seats for the next day. It was really windy and we were told that a cold night meant good weather in the park the next day. We kept our fingers crossed and indeed the night did not disappoint us – it was so cold that we had to wear our jackets while inside and go to bed in our sleeping bags, with our hats and gloves on and with 3 blankets on top. We could hear the strong wind outside and it seemed like the window did not do much to protect us from the cold out there. Later on in our conversations that room came to be refered to as ‘THE cold room’.
We hoped it would all be worth it though and although next morning it was cloudy and cold when we left the hostel, we hoped the weather would be better in the park. It wasn’t. It was one of the coldest and rainiest days we had experienced since in Patagonia. At one point we had to do a 15 minutes walk to a waterfall; it was raining just a bit and we had rain coats (no proper pants though) so we thought it would be all right. The wind was so strong though that we couldn’t even look straight when we walked as the drops of water felt like whips on our faces. After 5 minutes our legs and faces were totally soaked and freezing, but we continued walking since it couldn’t have gotten worse after that. We eventually got to the light greenish-blue waterfall and we found it beautiful indeed, but by this time we almost could not feel our legs anymore. We were only at the beginning of our tour and we couldn’t imagine spending the next 5 hours in the state we were in.
We had not brought any spare clothes with us so we had to just hope we would dry. Boca’s situation was the worst as her rain coat was short so even her underware was completely soaked. We were all wearing tights under our pants so we got her to remove her wet pants and wear my tights while in the minivan. It wasn’t the newest vehicle in the world so even inside it was so so cold… we just wanted to fall asleep so we wouldn’t feel the pain from the freeze anymore.
There were 2 people in our van whom we had left at the entrance in the park as they were going to remain there for 5 days of tracking. When we first heard about it we just thought they were crazy, but later on after getting soaked and suffering we almost cried for them… we could not have imagined spending 5 days in that terrible cold and wetness and we genuinely hoped they had proper gear to keep them dry, warm and safe.
The longest walk in the park was to the glacier – it was supposed to take 30 minutes but it ended up taking about 1.5hrs; even though the rain had almost stopped, the wind was as strong as ever. This actually turned out to be great for us as our pants dried really quickly so we could enjoy the walk and sights. We didn’t see much of the glacier as the sky was not very clear, but it was a great experience nevertheless.
When we got back to the hostel we jumped straight into the hot shower to defreeze. We got pins and needles in our feet at the contact with the hot water but being warm again felt soooo so good… I’ve probably never appreciated a hot shower more than that day.
Puerto Natales was going to be our last destination in Chile. We took a moment to think back at the past 5 weeks and were amazed at how much our plans had changed from our initial intention to spend not more than 2 weeks in Neruda’s country. So if we had a schedule, we’d now be 3 weeks ‘behind’… but the good thing about not having a schedule is that ‘behind’, ‘ahead’ and ‘on schedule’ are all the same as long as they’re ‘happy times’ :).
One thing we had to do before leaving Chile was to have some fish cooked a la pobre – a Chilean dish (meat or fish) which they call ‘of the poor’. I’m not sure what rich people eat in Chile then, because our Salmon a la pobre looked nothing like poor people’s food – it was huge and contained a big piece of salmon, a generous portion of delicious fries, 2 fried eggs and some pan fried onion. We were starving and we felt like that food had been sent to our table straight from Heaven! Oh, it’s a ‘must have’ for sure when you’re here! 🙂
The next day we had some of our host’s homemade jam for the last time (at least for now) and headed to the bus station ready for the next country we were dying to explore: Argentina. We were saying good-bye to Chile and we were full of gratitude for all the amazing people we had found on our way and the great experiences we had had. We were deeply touched by the kindness and hospitality the Chileans had showed us while here and there’s no doubt Chile and its people will remain in our hearts forever :).
Thank you Chile for having us here and taking such good care of us too! 🙂