EL FIN DEL MUNDO
After years of trying, we finally reached the end of the world.
Patagonia is the vast area
sprawling through parts of two countries (
Nature doesn't get
any better than Torres del Paine.
But this is it.
Glaciers, mountains, condors, forests, lakes, streams, wildflowers, trails, trekking huts.
All great. The greatest.
(O.K. We haven't seen every natural wonder on the planet. But of those we have seen, Torres del Paine is the best!)
Circuit" in Torres del Paine National Park (
It's a two-hour hike up the trail from Refugio Chileno to the Torres peaks lookout. As we hiked, a lone condor traced lazy circles in the sky overhead. When we finally scrambled over the last boulders to see the spires of granite, we thought: We're so fortunate to be here.
Chileno we hiked along the foot of the mountains to Refugio Los Cuerpos -
"The Horns" - named after the weirdly-shaped peaks behind the cabin.
From Los Cuerpos we hiked part-way up steep Valle
The last trekking hut, Refugio Grey (below), was a charming old mountain cabin where we bunked with four young Australians with whom we'd traveled off and on for several days. We taught them to play a card game ("Oh, Hell! ), and one night sat around on our bunks comparing the relative lengths of our toes. Travel teaches one a lot about the world, but long-term travel makes one weird.
hiked to and from Refugio Grey on the last leg of the "W", strong
winds off the glacier nearly blew us into the iceberg-dotted lake and
rain pelted our bent-over, Gortex-wrapped bodies. Soon after, we were dazzled
by a summery sun as we walked past meadows of spring wildflowers. They say that in
On the bus to
One of the most famous glaciers in the world is in the mountains near El Calafate. The vast Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most active and one of the few still advancing. Global warming is causing most glaciers to recede - some at alarming rates. Just across a narrow channel from the 200-foot high face of the glacier are boardwalks and platforms for up-close viewing. We sat in the sun for several hours one day - to eat lunch and watch the glacier "calve" (drop off hunks of ice) every few minutes. The small chunks sounded like rifle shots; the larger slabs crashed down like the crack and roll of lightning and thunder.
The next day we took a boat tour to other glaciers with hundreds of other tourists, herded like cattle and squawked at over the public address system. (It's probably good to go on a large-group tour once in a while, if only to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to be able to travel independently most of the time.) The boat tour was worth it though, as we cruised through fleets of fantastic ice sculptures - giant luminescent icebergs calved by Spegazzini and Upsala glaciers.
We cruised close to the faces of these glaciers, then got off the boat for a controlled march through a gnarly forest to surreal Lago Onelli, dotted with hundreds of floating bergs doubled by reflection in the mirror-like lake.
Four hours north
of El Calafate near the mountain town of
Meanwhile, Lou took a different ice trekking tour - the one for loco types. It involved a rapid 32 km. (20-mile) round-trip into the mountains with three 20-something fellow hikers. During the trek they took a zip-line across a river (Lou - below left), crunched over a glacier with crampons, then got harnessed up and used crampons and ice axes to climb a vertical ice cliff. Lou came back totally stoked. And went face down on the bed for a long nap.
THE END OF THE WORLD
The town reminds
us a lot of
OUR SHIP COMES IN
While we were in Ushuaia our ship came in - and the next day we watched it sail away without us.
It was the cruise ship we'd planned to take to Antarctica. We'd brought cold weather gear to go on the cruise, but finally decided we were being a bit too greedy. Even with last-minute discount fares, it would have cost $5,000 for the two of us for five days of rough seas to get there and six days of zodiac trips to see glaciers and penguins and feel we'd truly reached the end of everything. Yes, we'd recently trekked on glaciers and seen lots of penguins, but we still felt a bit uneasy to see our ship come in - as if we'd missed a truly special place just beyond the horizon. Well, we can't see it all....
...or do it
all, either. We unrealistically had hoped to be fluent in Spanish by the end of
our eight-month trip. Seven weeks of lessons helped, and we do know a lot of
vocabulary and grammar - including the dratted subjunctive conjugations. But
we're still struggling to bring what we know out of our mental computers quickly
enough, and straining to understand a rapidly spoken sentence as something other
than a very long, run-together single word. We definitely can
communicate whatever we need to in Spanish - we had a rousing
argument in Spanish with a shady taxi driver our last night in
Some of our
experiences were uncomfortable. Lou got food poisoning in
Ah, but the highlights of these eight months!
OUR TOP FIVE EXPERIENCES
JOAN: Hiking the
"W" Circuit of Torres
LOU: Descending into "hell" in a silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia; trekking four days on the Inca Trail and reaching the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu at sunrise; snorkeling with giant green sea turtles in the Galapagos; visiting an indigenous family in a Bolivian village; trekking the "W" Circuit at Torres del Paine.
As always, two people traveling together = two different trips!
Our South America journey concluded in Ushuaia, and we flew home via Buenos Aires, Lima, Atlanta and San Francisco to plan our 2005 trip: AFRICA
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
in the Patagonian
FILM: Missing (
NAVIMAG FERRY: To reach
The trip from Puerto Montt to
Puerto Natales was enjoyable but uneventful, except for a brief stop at Puerto
Eden, a quaint island of picturesque beached fishing boats that reminded us of
our time in
TREKKING: It's easy to trek in Torres on your own, using Lonely Planet's guidebook "Trekking in the Patagonian Andes." Most hikers do the "W" but the hardiest trekkers will want to do the entire Circuit - which takes 6-8 days and goes around the backside of the peaks. If you'd rather trek with a guided group, Mountain Travel Sobek leads good but expensive tours, or you'll find other trekking companies listed under Torres del Paine treks on www.google.com Also check: www.gochile.cl/html/Paine/TorresDelPaine.asp
REFUGIOS: For making an
independent trek (not taking a guided trekking tour) the Torres del
Paine refugios must be booked well in advance for high season
(November through March) and are relatively expensive by South American
standards. A bunk, hot shower and three meals costs about
$50 per person per day, but camping is available at a much lower rate. We
needn't have bothered to carry our sleeping bags for eight months all over
SUGGESTED FOUR-WEEK ITINERARY: (The four weeks include travel days, which aren't shown)
ARGENTINA: Buenos Aires (7 days) including a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay - a short ferry ride away; Iguazu Falls (2 days); Bariloche (3 days)
IF YOU HAVE EXTRA TIME, ADD:
Quark Expeditions: www.quarkexpeditions.com
Adventure Life: http://www.adventure-life.com/antarctica/antarctica.php
Joan and Lou Rose email@example.com