Saturday, December 09, 2006

Last Day

After El Calafate, we had a plane flight back to Buenos Aires. We arrived in the afternoon and didn't really do much other than plan for our last dinner together. It was Argentina, so one last meal of really good, really big, and reasonably priced steak was on the bill. We had a great meal together and then went out to drinks for a bit. It was definitely a melancholy time as we knew it was the end of our vacation and a goodbye to all our new friends. Sad goodbyes were said as one after another people peeled off, generally based on when they had to be up for their flights the next morning (or that morning as the case may be).

The next day I went around the city with those who were either leaving late or staying one last day. This was mainly Sarah and Alan, Oana and Erin. We basically just walked around the city. I had intended to do some shopping, but was just too tired to put forth the effort. One last look at this South American city and I was ready to head home and take all my wonderful memories with me.
Last Buenos

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fast Forward

After the park we spent an uneventful (and tired) evening back in Puerto Natales. We then took a bus back into Argentina and El Calafate. El Calafate is another tourist town and mainly exists due to its proximity to the Glacier with which it shares a name. This is an active, advancing Glacier where you can watch pieces of it break off right before your eyes. We spent a day driving to the Glacier and viewing it for some time. A sample of the may pictures I took are below.
First view of El Calafate
El Calafate from above
El Calafate from the side
Me at Calafate

We also hiked around the area a little bit before lunch.
Group at Calafate
Hiking around
Last view of Calafate

Otherwise, it was another uneventful place. Mostly because it was a little anti-climatic after Torres del Paine. However, we did find a really cool place for drinks after dinner in town. A place called Shackleton's Lounge had a really cool upstairs where we were treated to lounging on couches, browsing the proprietor's CD collection and enjoying drinks. It was basically like our own private club where we could just hang out and be served drinks until about 2 in the morning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mark of the Scorpion

Upon arriving back from the hike up to the Torres, I went into the van to change into a dry shirt and get my big thick Marmot fleece that I had carefully left on my seat. Imagine my surprise when, instead of my fleece, there was a baseball cap with the image of a scorpion on it. All of my other things were in exactly the same location, but the fleece had seemingly been magically transformed into a scorpion cap. We asked the driver (well Klemens did as my Spanish wasn't good enough) and he claimed that nobody else had been in the van. We had floated various theories about what might have happened most having to do with a mysterious scorpion cult.

When our guide, Tadeo, arrived back I explained the situation to him. He looked very angry an then had a very heated conversation with our driver. Shortly we all loaded into the van and I was ready to write my fleece off as lost. We headed out of the parking lot, but then without any explanation turned unto a really narrow bumpy road that went fairly steeply up the side of a hill. The van barely seemed up for this trail, especially with all of us loaded into it. I asked Tadeo where we were going and he said "to get your jacket".

Well, after bumping along somewhat frighteningly up this road we came upon a camp filled with filled entirely with those dome tents painted with very cheesy looking Indian images. Tadeo got out and greeted someone whom he obviously knew quite well. They then proceed to go around the camp occasionally ducking into tents. Another guy came out of one of the tents and he and Tadeo's friend went off to another part of the camp. More time elapsed and then eventually the came around the corner caring nothing other than my beloved fleece. I really thought I was not getting it back and was very grateful.

In the end, we never got the full story of who took it (or why), but we were told it was taken by a tourist who was given a ride. It still all seems a bit fishy, but is now just part of the tale.

The rest of the day was spent driving away from the Torres and back to Puerto Natales.
Leaving Paine

We saw a number of Guanacos on the way back including two of them fighting right in front of our bus.
One angry Guanaco!
Angry Guanaco

We also saw some Emu.

We stopped for one last brief bittersweet stop to take a last picture of the Torres del Paine national park before leaving it for good.
Parting Shot
Bus goodbye


This day we hiked to the actual Torres! I started the day with a run on the road. I probably picked the wrong direction as I didn't remember it being as hilly when we drove down it on the way to the camp. Ah well, uphill would be the theme of this day as the hike was supposed to be the toughest of our trip.

We started out from the site of a rather luxury hotel at the base of the trail. After crossing one open plain the trail started climbing immediately and I felt it immediately. Keeping up with Robin on this day was kicking my ass and I was peeling off layers as the sweat dripped from my body.
Looking down
Looking up

Upon arrival at the Italian Camp I felt a little better and we rested while waiting for the rest of the party to catch up. However, it was a cloudy day and rain was forecast so it was getting a bit cold. Robin and I headed out as soon as the others arrived.
Bridge at Italiano
View from Italiano

The next section was a more rolling hilly section through the woods. This was good as it started to rain and then to HAIL! Those layers (and more) went back on quick.

We were expecting the worst as we approached the start of the rock scramble. Robin and I agreed that if it was dumping we would turn back as the visibility would be no good and scrambling in the rain is no fun (and not safe). However, the weather gods were once again on our side and it cleared up as soon as we reached the boulders.
Boulders at Torres

About this time the Swiss showed up and demonstrated what their long Swiss legs and Alps hiking skills could do on this high-stepping rock hike. They blew by us both and got to the lookout in very short order.

We arrived there soon enough and there is simply no way for me to explain what it was like. All I can say is that I wanted to stay there as long as I possibly could. I waited until the last person in our group arrived and then waited until we were all ready to leave. This spot in front of the lake at the base of the Torres is one of the most wondrous and magical on the planet. I really didn't want to leave.
Torres and the lake
The Torres
Me at Torres

But, eventually we had to go. Once I was down from the moraine, I just felt like letting loose. I strapped my day pack tight and let fly the rest of the way down smiling the whole way. I would be leaving the Torres soon and I wanted the adrenaline of a run to burn it into my memory.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Travel day

Today was another travel day to the next camp again by boat and bus. The boat took us out and VERY close to the glacier before heading to the far side of the lake.
Boat from Grey
Iceberg at Grey
Approach to Grey
Close to Grey
Grey Close up
Grey Extreme Close up

There we caught a bus to take us to the next camp site which was near the actual Torres del Paine where we would be hiking the next day.
Leaving Grey
Bus from Grey

We stopped for lunch in a very nice place beneath the Paine at a campground that had these sort of . After lunch we did a short, but steep hike up to the top of a VERY VERY windy hill with a great view.
Lunch after Grey
Short Windy Hike
Top of Windy Hill
Me on Windy Hill
Valerie on Windy Hill

The base of the hill was a rather unique camping area that included dome-shaped tents and a great little playground.
Dome tents

We also stopped along the way to check out a famous waterfall (the biggest in the park).

The camp was actually at an Estancia owned by the guide company that Tadeo works for. It was just our group and they made us feel very welcome. For some reason I really like the cozy feel of this site.
Estancia Camp
Torres from camp

Tadeo setup a slackline and showed off his skills. I got on and showed off my lack there of.
Tadeo on Slackline
Me on Slackline

We had a really nice dinner after which they prepared some mulled wine for us which we drank by an open fire pit outside. They really went out of their way to make us feel at home.

It would have been the perfect night had some strange birds not insisted on flying and screeching noisily over my tent at 3am. However, I did get to see the most beautiful full moon lit evening as a result (no picture).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Grey Glacier

The trip to Grey Glacier is a short and not fairly easy hike. This was good after the long day we had the previous day. I did get up in the morning with Robin and run about half the trail. Of course, this was the first half which was where most of the uphill was and my legs were already pretty stiff from the day before. It was slow going out, but I enjoyed the downhill back. Robin pretty much ran with me on the way out, but then did his whippet impression home.

The hike was nice with views of mountains and two new lakes including the namesake Grey Lack which is fed from the glacier. It is obvious why it is named as such.
Start to Grey
Going to Grey
Mountain View
First Lake
Grey Lake

We stopped for a picnic lunch along the way in a sheltered meadow.
Stop for lunch

We also got to see icebergs of various sizes that had broken off from the glacier floating around in the lake. Apparently only about 20% of the ice is above water so some of these must be massive beneath the surface.

We were originally supposed to do an ice hike out on the glacier, but it was canceled due to a broken motor on one of the Zodiac rafts. A nice leisurely day about camp was fine with me.

I did some hiking around out on the rocks to see how close I could get to the glacier. Of course, after scrambling over dangerous terrain, I discovered the safe and easy path back.
Walk to Glacier
Me with Glacier
Path back to camp

I spent the rest of the afternoon just siting on the little beach below camp reading my little Shambhala book and writing in my journal.
Reading on the beach