Torres del Paine

We found a hostel in Puerto Natales and booked tours for the next two days. Because of our snafoo in Puerto Montt, we won’t be able to spend as much time in Patagonia as we liked. Hiking and trekking are out of the question because we just don’t have the time it takes. Getting into Argentine Patagonia, where the famous Perito Moreno glacier is, will also be a little difficult due to our time crunch.

Puerto Natales is a small town with a huge tourist influx due to the beautiful scenery and Torres del Paine, which draws hikers, climbers, and campers from around the world. There is no central bus terminal in town, though there are plenty of hostels, gear stores, and tour excursion companies.

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Even though the tours are a little expensive (30.000 pesos apiece for full-day Torres del Paine National Park) we decided it was worth it–we knew this area would be expensive, and we also knew that if we tried to do everything on our own we would miss some of the sights. Unfortunately, entering the national park costs 18.000 pesos a person. I think that’s outrageous, because it comes to about 30 USD a person, but there wasn’t much we could do. Our hostel booked the tour for us through Tour Express, which I hadn’t heard of before, even though I thought I had done my research online for reputable tour companies. The guide spoke all information in Spanish and English, which was great practice for me, and we recommend the company.

The weather, however, was pretty terrible. It began raining around 3 am in the morning, though at that point I wasn’t too concerned. Weather in Patagonia is notoriously changeable. It was still drizzling when the tour bus picked us up at 7:30, and then when we visited the Cave Milodon at 8:30. It’s a small national park on the way to Torres del Paine (which is still about an hour from Puerto Natales). It cost 4.000 pesos a person, and frankly I wouldn’t recommend it unless there is good weather.

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The cave is impressive, but it’s difficult to get good photos without sunlight. Also, there is a lot of terrain around and above the cave to explore if not raining. Without good weather, it kinda felt like a waste of money. The cave is important because animals skins, human remains, and skeletons have been found here, including a giant sloth. A life-size replica is below, with Jordan. It’s quite famous, I believe.

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For anyone that didn’t realize, Torres del Paine is huge. Like, massively huge. To get a good understanding of the park it is recommended to camp (or stay in a hotel) for six or seven days to hike (particularly the famous W or O trails), climb, and view the beautiful scenery. We didn’t have that kind of time, so we opted for the second best option: a full-day tour. Just getting a bus to the park entrance and hiking a couple of trails really isn’t an option here–the park is just too big. If you want to see things in one or two days, you must either take a tour bus or rent a car and drive on your own.

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This is me happy because it’s the first time the weather cleared up enough to actually take a photo.

Throughout the park are a breed of wild lamas, or guanacos, and rheas, which are sort of like ostriches. There are also pumas, particularly around Lago Sarmiento, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot one of them. Our guide did a fantastic job of narrating the interesting parts of the park, including telling us about the indigenous people of Patagonia and some of the land disputes/politics currently.

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A collective name for the various tribes of people in Patagonia, they were considered “giants” by Europeans, easily over seven feet tall. But by the 1800s, when their height was recorded by other European explorers, they ranged form 5’10” to 6’8″. For more reading about Argentine indigenous peoples, view an article here. For anyone with further interest, here is a link to relationship between Welsh settlers and Tehuelche people, located in Patagonia.

The Selk’nam tribe lived primarily near what we call Tierra del Fuego, in modern Chile close to Torres del Paine National Park. The Yamana lived on islands off the coast. These people lived almost completely naked during all seasons of the year. I’ve heard that the baby fat we all are born with never left these people, providing and extra layer of warmth for them. They also used oil and some blend of alfalfa to cover their bodies, keeping them dry. When they were taken to missions for civilization and made to wear clothes, they disliked the feeling and felt wet all the time. The last of the Selk’nam died in the 1960s, when she was around 90 years old.

While many people believe that the Tehuelche came from the north, where the rest of South American indigenous tribes are, others have found artifacts that lead them to believe the Tehuelche were originally from Polynesia. They viewed land as communal, and didn’t understand the idea of trespassing. Some wealthy landowners in the early 20th century saw them as a threat and had them hunted as poachers. Between that and disease they caught, most died out. There is little written about them in English, but there was a famous French anthropologist that wrote some poetry and books about them in Spanish. The guide is supposed to email me more information about the people, because they sound fascinating.

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On a brighter note, I got to see my first iceberg today (from Lago Grey)! Our umbrella also broke from the wind.

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The weather stayed pretty terrible until around 11 am, when we could actually see the outline of the mountains in the background. A strong wind came up, which knocked me over (near the edge of a cliff, but I survived), but it helped get rid of more fog. By 4 pm, as we were leaving the park, we could finally make out some of the towers of the famous mountains.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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