Sunday, 4 December 2016

Torres del Paine – Days 78 to 81

The Mirador, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

We got back from the bus station where amongst others I'd emailed Hernaldo, our Airbnb host, who we didn't see for the whole five days, who had replied he'd try to contact his wifi provider and sure enough it was working! We were then joined in the house by a French couple, who had been before, had to move out, as we were coming back. It was the strangest of stays, not us, the Chilean family or the French people, or even Hernaldo's friend, who stays sometimes, but the random assortment of Jasmini, Hernaldo's girlfriend and two of her friends who seemed to come and go completely at random.

Waiting on the corner for the bus to Puerto Natales
Anyway, we set off for the bus, which despite all our trips to the bus station we had actually arranged to pick us up outside the cemetery. Will it come past? Will it stop? Will it all go horribly wrong? Yes, yes and no, so that was a good start, feeling quite like locals now! Arrived back in Puerto Natales, felt like locals there too, back to El Sendero, still cake left from breakfast, oh well, along with the crisps the French couple had bequeathed us, a healthy balanced lunch!

A model of the park at the start. I've marked in red the route we did. The blue line is the 'W', going down by the lake, up right in the middle and then on for the last part of the 'W'. The bridge that was closed (see later in the text) was on the very left, just after the middle section of the 'W'. It meant people had to catch the boat back across the lake to complete their walk - choas! But fortunately not for us!
Starting the walk
Right then pack for our overnight in a tent, and what we'll carry for the next two days. Dinner and early night as we have to be in the bus at 07.00 all very well till we were woken at 04.20 by some Americans coming home, where had they found to be till then?

Up, lift from Juan to the bus station, on the bus, (£20 return) off the bus, follow all the other lemmings to buy our park entrance (which we were never asked to show) (£25) watch a short film about what not to do in the park and board the shuttle bus run by the posh hotel another £4.50 but it did save us 7km of a dusty road, finally at the start of the trail. We let everyone rush off and had some breakfast, we didn't have a big day. We caught up with many people carrying big rucksacks of camping gear and food for the five day W trek, sauntered past, though we were sweating in the sun. 

This is how they get supplies to the El Chileno refuge
The steep ascent
Got to the Chileno hut where we were staying ahead of book time, and sadly before check in, still we could leave our overnight stuff and carry on up to the mirador. The whole walk, except just before the hut, was steadily uphill, till the last kilometre which was steeply uphill, the sky was showing tantalising glimpses of clearing so, to see this once in a lifetime view, I powered on, leaving B a bit behind (never has that happened before, except at altitude) sadly I got there just after the clear view, though it wasn't bad, but strangely very similar to the lake and peak of Fitz Roy. What was all the fuss about? Lunch as the weather closed in and it got very cold, we ended up putting on both down and waterproof jackets, so apart from a bit of food we were both carrying empty rucksacks, though Brian was probably still carrying most of the two litres of water that had leached out of the platypus water bladder, into the waistband of his rucksack! We'd stopped at a little waterfall to refill, so weren't having to suck water out of that fortunately! Right then, back to the tent.

While condors fly overhead
Over the first hill and descending down towards the El Chileno hut
Back at the hut we were shown to our allocated tent, close to the amenities, and made ourselves comfortable, well as comfortable as possible on a 7mm bit of foam on a wooden platform will allow. No pillow? I'd said as we were shown in? Apparently not, just as well we have our trusty pillowcases to fold our down jackets into to make pillows (best travel tip ever there, thanks Alex). Dozed a bit, before going to sit by the river, we weren't allowed in the hut as they were laying for dinner, got swooped over by a very large bird of prey who then posed beautifully for pictures. Hurrah dinner. 
The El Chileno refuge coming into view (centre)
Now as at this hut, even if in a tent, you have to be full board, as they don't allow any form of stove, we did expect a good meal. To be fair, what we got was very tasty, but a tiny bit of salmon and salad followed by a soup of a chicken thigh, a quarter of a corn on the cob, and one potato, and then a dried peach in syrup with wheat was not the dinner we expected. Enough to drive us to drink, well we could get a bottle of wine for a tenner, only cost £1.75 in the shops, but hey, we only had a really easy day tomorrow.

The El Chileno refuge
Look at this that we saw on the trail. Eagle?
Went back to the river to finish the wine, well I was hoping a puma might come out of the woods and down to the clearing to drink, it was possible.... Brian decided to join me my side of the table which sadly meant the whole lot, table, us, wine, all went over backwards! We didn't spill much wine, but just as well my down jacket is pink! People were still staggering past with huge rucksacks up to the free campsite (free but fully booked) only another hour and a half uphill for you then, then get your tent up, then cook dinner! At least we didn't have to do that!

At just over an hours walk from El Chileno is the Torres free campsite
Just finishing the wine when the girl who had shown us to our tent came over with two pillows, stolen from a dormitory in the refuge I guess, but how sweet was that? We really have met some very lovely people while in Patagonia. This did mean we could slip the down jackets under our hips as padding (well we've both lost weight), it did help, but it wasn't the most comfortable of nights, though there is something nice being all snuggly, listening to the river, the wind and the rain! Saw the head torches of the nutters going to see sunrise at 03.00, don't be ridiculous, the forecast is rubbish!

And saw this South American grey fox (thanks Helen S for identifying)
Breakfast was almost as disappointing as dinner, two bits of half toasted bread and the tiniest bit of scrambled egg, and coffee to put hairs on your chest. Just as well we were only going down and out, but really not enough if this was day two of five. The packed lunch they then provided was probably the best meal of the three, but at a grand total of £177 for two of us, in a tent, with three lack lustre meals, don't think we'll be doing this again, or recommending it to anyone!

Jackie arrived first, putting on layers quickly as it was so cold!
We milled about for as long as we could before starting our 2 hour trip down! It was really hard trying to walk slowly. Arrived at the shuttle bus departure point a good two hours early despite our best endeavours, to eat lunch and discover it might not quite all be smooth sailing, due to the huge amount of wind and rain the day before we arrived a bridge had fallen down, so preventing the completion of the W and causing chaos with the huts and campsites! The shuttle bus ran early to the carpark, so we thought we'd leave comfort to get closer to the bus, just in case! Fortunately four guanacos heard there were a lot of bored tourists in the carpark so decided to pay us a visit. I was the first to spot them on the skyline so B legged it off up a path towards them, and is now moaning at how many photos he took, before they came and posed for all and sundry in the carpark.

Back at the El Chileno, our home for the night!
It was quite comfy inside and, of course Teddy was there!
On the bus, two hours back and return to El Sendero. I rebelled so we went to 'Basecamp' for beer and pizza, and tales of daring do (or not from us obviously, as we only nipped in and out for one night). Good, beer, pizza, cat and music at a very good price did make for a good evening though.

We are now back at Hernaldo's, having persuaded the bus to stop, for the second time, at the top of his road, so saving us the walk from the bus station. Having a last bottle of wine, (don't expect much wine in Mexico) before getting the first of our three flights up to Mexico City. Tomorrows leg, Punta Arenas to Santiago, 3.40 flight, and all seats reserved leaving us two at opposite ends of the plane!
And then we looked back up at the Torres from the El Chileno and, of course they were completely clear!
This little cheeky chappie (a Rufus Collared Sparrow - thanks for identifying Helen S) paid us a visit, looking for crumbs under the table. Must be related to the sparrow
Enjoying the evening view. Don't both sit on one side! You can see by the construction why, but we didn't notice till it was too late!
Looking the other way, here's the tents on their platforms (ours in the middle) and a bird of prey came to visit (in the tree top right of centre). Possibly a Chimango Caracara, thanks Helen S for identifying
Here's a closer view of him
We enjoyed watching this baby bird throwing itself into the fast flowing river fishing for something
This is mum (a female torrent duck - thanks Helen S for identifying)
And dad (a male torrent duck - thanks Helen S for identifying)...
Keeping an eye on youngster (head under water on the right)
Here are two babies heads down being swept along by the current
Leaving El Chileno the next day over the river bridge
Torres del Paine flora
Not everyone walked out, you could get a horse from the El Chileno. The rider told us it was the first time he had been on a horse as he went past us
Jackie enjoying the view
And this is what it's like on the trail, you are not alone!!
Looking back down the valley towards the lake. Our exit is to the left, the 'W' continues to the right round the lake
The dividing point of the tracks. The 'Cuernos' is the next refuge along, our route to El Chileno and the Mirador goes off right
A typical bridge. No wonder one of the bridges was damaged. see that sign on the right?....
Take note!

Almost back and we saw this little chap. A Southern Lapwing - thanks Helen S for identifying
But this Rufus Collared Sparrow is one of those sparrow type birds and happy to have his photo taken!
This model is at the start/end. We started bottom right and headed up the first valley on the right. The 'W' continues along the lake and heads up the middle valley, abck to the lake and then up left towards the glacier grey. The 'O' circuit goes right round the outside
Guanacos on the skyline
On their way down
Guanacos with white mountains behind

View of the entrance to the park. The road in is on the right, the administration centre is on the right. The road to the Torres hotel and the start of our walk is off to the left, you can see the road in the centre and this photo is taken from the road towards the lake
Jackie walking back to see the guanacos


  1. Love all the bird pictures. Wish I could identify them. Didn't fancy your tent! Happy flying and travelling today xxxx

  2. Love those Guanacos! Stay safe x