Our Patagonian adventures did not begin on the most auspicious note. On February 7, we flew from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile, continuing our southward trek. Our plan was to catch a bus from there to Puerto Natales, the gateway town to Torres del Paine national park, where we planned to meet our friends Aileen and Robbie to take on Patagonia. We later discovered that both of us had the same thought that day– that with one month of travel under our belts, everything had gone remarkably smoothly. Right on schedule, we experienced our first travel hiccup: After trekking around to the major bus companies in town, we discovered that all of the buses headed to Natales that day were full. We had to scramble to find a place to stay on short notice (not an easy task in the high season) and cancel our Natales reservation for the night. At the same time, Aileen and Robbie were having flight issues on their way in from Argentina. In the end, they had to spend an extra night in Buenos Aires and rent a car to get across the border from Calafate.
Travel jinxes notwithstanding, we had a joyful reunion on the evening of the 8th in Puerto Natales, a small town that caters very well to travelers on their way in and out of Torres del Paine isolation with great restaurants, delightful coffee, and even a microbrewery. We caught up over dinner, rested up, and headed out the following morning to drive into the park itself. As we were staying in one of the refugios inside the park, our original plan was to get to and around the park via bus. Should you ever go to TDP, don’t do this. Because of A&R’s travel travails, we were lucky enough to end up with an old gray rental car, promptly named Babar, which hugely improved our experience there.
Despite drizzly weather and crazy 70 km/hr winds, we were able to take a short hike to the Mirador Cuernos on the afternoon that we arrived, passing the Salto Grande waterfall en route.
We stayed that night in the unspectacular (and spectacularly overpriced) Refugio Torres Central. The cheapest of the few options located in the park (as opposed to 100 km away in Natales), we paid the most we’ve spent on a room anywhere on this trip and still ended up in a dorm room with a few random trekkers– one of whom had a snoring issue, which I addressed using tactics honed in my freshman dorm (love you, Claire!). The beds were clean and the showers were hot, and for two nights the Refugio was perfectly adequate.
The following day (my birthday!) dawned clear and sunny, with a great view of the Torres, and we set off on the 9 km hike up to their base. Patagonia weather is notoriously difficult, however, and within a few hours we were hiking through a steady rain. The Torres were entirely hidden behind clouds, and remained so even as we stretched out our lunch break close to the top in hopes that the skies would clear. We ate our sad Refugio-packed lunches shivering in a little campground shelter, surrounded by backpackers on multi-day treks (much tougher than us, and we envied their hot food and especially coffee), until eventually it became clear that the Torres were hidden for the day, and we still had to retrace our footsteps all the way back down the mountain. Although that was a mild disappointment, the hike itself was beautiful, and we had a nice dinner in the bar of a nearby swanky hotel, complete with birthday champagne, candles, singing, and some cutthroat games of hearts.