This is the story of our journey back from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Punta Arenas, Chile. We didn’t know that the Chilean Patagonia was prey of a massive strike against the government proposal of rising the gas price of 17%. Getting to the airport turned out to be A LOT more complicated than we expected. I have written an article more focused on the politics behind it, find it here (in Italian).
6 AM, Time since departure: 0 hours
We’re lucky, the bus stop in Ushuaia is just one block away from our hostel! Departure set at 6:00, the driver has forgotten his sunglasses and the rising sun goes straight into his eyes, so I decide to lend him my sunglasses. I’m going to sleep anyway.
7:30 AM, TSD: 1 hours, 30 minutes
Breakfast break. The pastries are good, the coffee is awful, the driver struts around with my sunglasses, which makes me afraid he likes them a bit too much. The break is too short.
10:00 AM, TSD: 4 hours
We arrive in Rio Grande, where we have to wait a few hours for the connection. The bus station is pretty lame, so we take a walk through the nearby cemetery. It isn’t a rich one: coffins are exposed (yes) and holes are dug the old way.
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Day 3, the end
Chile. Patagonia. Torres del Paine National Park. Third day on the trek. Guido and I walked the last 23 kilometers of the trail to reach to the bus stop. We could trek for one more day and complete the “W” circuit, but Guido’s mountain boot is broken beyond any repair. We tried our best so far, holding it together with a big rubber band, but more gashes are appearing on the sides.
Walking and camping for three days in the Torres del Paine National Park has been demanding but beautiful, a true immersion into a well preserved mountain environment. Today we are able to spot a lot more birds: they seem to feel more confident, or maybe they just want to reward our perseverance.
Day 2, the breakdown
Chile. Patagonia. Torres del Paine National Park. Second day on the trek. We are only at the half of today, but Guido’s boot shows the first sign of strain. A small cut opens on one side. We wonder how long it can hold, but hey, we’re optimist!
The views from today’s walk are breathtaking, on sceneries that can only be seen in Patagonia, the closest point to icy Antarctica.
Today’s problem is the path itself. So rocky, and damn hard to walk on. At some point we miss one turn and get lost, and spend the next two hours making our own way through bushes and rocks prone to landslides, before having lunch in the shadow of a big boulder and heading back.
At night, the usual meal: tuna and beans. The two forks that we used were an important part of the meal. Two days earlier, we had bought all the food for four hiking and camping days, but only on the bus to go we had realized that we didn’t have any cutlery. In Puerto Natales, a bus connection for the park, we had lunch in a miserable and smoky restaurant where we waited one hour for two sandwiches. An hazardous thing to put customers through, especially when they are in need of new silverware!
Day 1, the glacier
Chile. Patagonia. Wow, we just arrived in Torres del Paine National Park! Ahead of us, four days of pure trekking and camping! To be honest, Guido’s boots don’t look like proper mountain boots at all, but he reassures me that they’ve behaved flawlessly when he trekked in Turkey. He seems indeed to master the path, albeit very rocky!
This is only the first day but we are rewarded with incredible sceneries! We reach Lake Grey, created by the meltdown of Glaciar Grey. The sky is gloomy and dark, the light is cold. Massive icebergs float on the lake, and the strong wind whistles through the trees. Such an apocalyptic scenery feels like the end of the world.
A few walking hours later, we reach the viewpoint on the glacier itself (image below). It’s gigantic, impressive. The geological layers are all exposed and very twisted, reminding us of past upheavals of tremendous destructive force.
The comeback to the campsite is long, 11 more kilometers to test our legs. Ah, the Everest times seem so far! Luckily, some Pisco Sour will cheer us up. Guido’s boots seem to hold just fine.
Guido and I are getting closer to The End of The World. The LAN flight carried us from Santiago to Punta Arenas, the patagonian capital. As I wrote in the previous post, my beloved Julbo sunglasses were the unfortunate price to pay to some sneaky LAN crew member; here in southern Chile the solar radiations are among the strongest in the world, so buying a new pair was top-priority: does anyone remember the hole in the ozone layer? It was just above Antarctica and therefore here.
I bought new sunglasses in an outdoor shop where we also got a new tent: the one that Mauro & Anna had kindly lent us was definitely too light for the icy temperatures down here. In fact, despite being there during Summer, our only chance to take off the jacket was to stand in the full sunlight, and still we had to face the lethal wind, whose speed can reach up to 160 km/h.
Punta Arenas is a quiet town, very easy to get around as it’s all built in a rigid squared blocks scheme – nothing to see with the uncontrolled development of Valparaiso’s hills. We spent our first morning in Punta Arenas visiting the town’s main attraction: a perky cemetery. Its most distinct characteristic are the trees, all shaped like Barbapapa. The funniest one was a purposedly-shaped, giant green willy. I won’t show it here, though — find it on my Facebook Page!
Despite it being a graveyard, the whole atmosphere was quite jovial. The perfect spot to improvise a dance among the Barbapapa. In this picture you will also see my shiny new sunglasses.
This post’s usual “nature section” is very interesting: from Punta Arenas, we took a boat to visit Isla Magdaleana. Seen from far away, it looks like a big rock with a lighthouse on it:
As you approach though, the boat starts to get surrounded by small swimmers: the island is a massive penguin colony!
The big rock hosts some 100.000 penguins. (This is actually the average between the numbers we’ve heard, ranging from 60k to 140k). They really cover the entire thing, and I marveled at the fact that the ocean feeds them all. They sometimes reciprocate and “feed” the ocean, when hungry orcas feel like a black and white snack.
We had so much fun with them! They walk so clumsily that they look like toys. The emit some high pitch sounds and every now and then they gargle and sneeze! They are for sure the cutest animals on that rock. The competition isn’t much anyway.
After reaching the lighthouse, it was time to go back to Punta Arenas. We stayed at a lovely hostel / camping whose owner Eduardo is the kindest hostel manager you will ever find. He is uncommonly friendly and genuinely interested in your well being. In a few posts we’ll pop back here during an unexpected adventure and you’ll see what I’m talking about.