What has happened since our last post? Some might wonder.
Penguins! They waddle funny.
Cake! Tasty tasty cakes and biscuits of Punta arenas.
Mountains! Majestical views and campsites on a hike with hot showers and beer.
Wind. Water. Earth. Sun (instead of fire) lots of all of it.
We will make the train! For those that understand the reference. Our wild endurance training came in handy a few times.
Blisters on Hilary’s feet so bad she claims to give up walking (at least in those boots)
Our story continued from where we left you last post:
We set off on a bus to Punta Arenas arriving sadly too late for Chris to go to a brewery tour. We settled into our campsite after finding Chris a new mat. This is the second mat broken this trip. This was a sad moment for Chris as he has had 7 years of adventures with this mat. However this was a joyous occasion for Hilary. Chris’s old mat weighs 800gm and is massive in comparison to hers. Finally Chris has a mat smaller than mine weighing 250gm! Lookout. Lightweight camping here we come!
My excitement that night was thwarted by the all night party our host threw keeping us awake. We then got up early to take a bus tour to see penguins. We bused to a ferry to cross from mainland South America to Tierra del Fuego (fireland in Spanish and what our guide would use as the English name for the island all day which I found amusing). We stopped at Pouvenir where the island was first settled and bought a huge pastry twist thing that was chocolate and walnut flavoured. We also visited a museum documenting the towns history. The museum was an assortment of display cases and photographs without much explanation but our tour guide Gabriel was able to provide a lot of insight. He talked a lot about the eradication of the indigenous group, the selkham people, which was still not taught in local schools but recently a bill was passed in government to recognise this part of their history.
We visited an old estancia which at one point was the largest in the area and belonged to one of founding families of Punta arenas.
Finally at 1pm we visited a group of king penguins. It’s not a colony yet as there are not enough penguins. Archeologists has discovered that king penguins inhabited Tierra del Fuego 5000 years ago and were hunted by native tribes. A few hundred years ago they disappeared from the island. 10 years ago they returned and have been slowly growing in numbers. They are very impressive! Many were incubating eggs that will soon hatch in February. They envelop the egg in fur by their feet which makes it look like they are standing on the egg. All in all worth the 13 hour tour to meet these guys.
On our last morning in Punta arenas I visited a museum whilst Chris got a bit of work done. The museum is a mansion owned by one of the founding families of the town. Most of the rooms open contain original decor and furniture. It was very cool. Chris and I had arranged to meet at the bus station for a quick lunch before boarding. Both of us had found amazing bakeries in our separate morning activities. We ended up with 2 vego empanadas, a chocolate shortbread sandwich filled with duche de leche and covered in chocolate, a pastry filled with custard and berries and an assorted bag of fancy shortbread! What great bus snacks.
Returning to Puerto natales we completed our last minute food shopping for our hike and caught up with our friends Iba and Jenny and their friends. We visited for a second time the southernmost distillery in the world! We tasted their gins and drank mighty fine cocktails. We also went to a popular burger joint in town. It was great to trade travel tales with these two.
After consuming a few too many drinks we returned to our camp for a few hours sleep. Chris had last minute work to do on a submission for work so we got up early to work (chris) and pack (hilary) prior to our morning bus to Torres del Paine national park. The bus ride to the park was incredible. Man this place is special. Constantly changing but still amazing scenery.
We were dropped off at the middle of the park where the wind persisted to blow water from the lake in our face as we tried to pack our bikes. We pedaled with the wind to our campsite for the night. The next day we went for a day hike to get a vista of the mountain range and said hello to a few guancos. We then attempted to pedal to the start of our hike. 20 km later Hilary declared cycling was over for the day. Wind gusts were gale force combined with loose gravel roads and busy tourist traffic made for dangerous riding. Chris found a great campsite with a duck/goose pond and a guanco who we named Frank, he liked to lie down and scratch his back in the dirt.
The following morning the wind had disappeared! And the park was not open yet so no tourist buses. We pedaled the final 24 kms to start the hike that day. Luckily we had only 4 hours of walking to get to the campsite for the night otherwise it would have been a long day. On the hike we met a bunch of guys with massive backpacks on. I later realised they are porters. A bunch of nufties were walking the trail with only daypacks, sleeping in permanent tents set up in the camp site, had a dry bag of things carried by porters from camp to camp and were being fed a three course meal. Wowie. Tough life guys. Our first days walk was average. Nice forest and valley views but nothing spectacular, the second day started with rain and clouds but as the day went on the sun came out and the mountains were is view. Glaciers in every direction.
The third day was supposed to be short and the day after really long. So we did the reasonable thing, take 2 hours off the ling day and make the short day longer. It was great. Sleeping at the edge of the tree line with mountain scenery instead of being at the official campsite in the forest with no views.
However in the morning we were greeted with wind and rain so cold Chris described them as ice bullets hitting your face (we had a headwind too). At the top of the mountain pass you had a birds eye view of grey glacier. And we would spend the rest of the day walking beside it. We crossed 3 swinging bridges. 2 labelled with signs 4 person a maximum and one signed only 1 person. I worried about the last bridges structural integrity. finished walking at 3pm where our compatriots finished around 6pm. We took the extra time to go to a lookout and drink some wine we found for free!
The following day the weather was windy but dryish. Beautiful views of lakes and glaciers. We arrived at the turn off to a side trip only to read that the ranger closes the pass at 3pm. It was 3.30! We ran up the hill in hiking boots and thank the stars that the ranger is walking just in front of us as we reach the lookout. We made it! I think it was in the top three of best views yet this trip. This happens to us a second time the following day with the lookout for Las Torres and again we made it ( with 10 minutes to spare). In both cases it was worth the effort. We made the train.
However the final day of 29 kms walking breaks Hilary both physically and mentally. Blisters and foot pain caused me to declare. “I don’t want to walk anymore. I would rather go cycling”
Luckily you can cycle when you can barely walk and are hobbling about with sore feet! So the following day we pack everything back onto our bikes and started pedalling back. The sun was out and it’s friend the wind joined us mid afternoon. At the end of the day we likened the feeling in our face as blasted. Layers of sweat, sunscreen and road dust that had been blown onto your face into a crust that stings a bit.
The following day was rose the remaining 85km in drizzle and rain. The cycle was nice and would have been fantastic in better weather. We returned to town and bumped into our cycling buddy John! We had first met in Villa O’Higgins and shared a meal together. After restocking foods and eating loads of cake and pizza we board a bus to El Chalten in Argentina. Ciao Puerto Natales. We will miss your great good and cocktails. Hello Argentina and cheese balls of choice pastry!