If you have had it with the pretty mountain pictures on this blog, well i can’t help you. This is going to be all about mountains and a bit about us. Maybe a bit about Chile and Argentina?
The national park Torres del Paine, pride of all Chile, can only be reached on land by driving through Argentina. Yeah, these is where South American geopolitics and borders become fuzzier than a furby. Get this, we drove out of Chile, spent 3 days in Argentina, continued driving in the same direction (South) and are going back into Chile. All this to visit Torres del Paine National Park.
I know you are thinking to yourself: “I know Spanish..i got this. Ivan, is it Called the Bulls of Pain?”
No, sadly, because that would be quite literal to what it actually does to people hiking there.
No, it means the “Blue towers”…just wait a second and you will see why.
Speaking of names and their meanings, the previous blog post Perito Moreno, just a dude’s name. And Patagonia – land of giants apparently. Boris Ahumada, is this where you come from?
We couldn’t leave Argentina without filling our fridge with various meat products. Only to remember at the Chilean border that you cannot bring any of that in. My heart and mostly my stomach could not imagine throwing these away or giving them to the customs officials. So we did what any of you would have done – hid them. Now if this is ever used in a court case the following story is purely fictional. We pulled over in a gas station and hid steaks and veggies all over the car, the best hiding place being our dirty laundry. But between the hand soap and shampoo was pretty good too.
The customs lady came out, looked around the car a bit and let us go in. This time we marked on the customs form that we were NOT bringing any fresh foods with us. I can’t even describe you how lucky we were to get away this time. In the next post i’ll tell you what happens when we weren’t so lucky and why i’m no longer welcome to Chile with my Russian passport.
After Peru, every time we saw a llama looking animal we called them Vicuna…shit, we just looked it up and apparently these are Guanaco. Whatever they are called, they are present in large numbers everywhere in Patagonia. They are super cute and have a ‘smart’ look in their eyes when they see you.
Near the entrance of the national park the road switches back to paved. By this point in the trip we have done something like 2000-2500 miles off-roading (without pavement). And it went from being fun to painful, no, not literally, it hurts to hear the squeaks and rattles as Hodori goes across the washboards. I’m sorry buddy, I’ll take care of you when we get back home.
You can get a real sense for the sheer size of this mountain, as it gradually comes out of the valley floor. The trees get smaller and smaller, and become just green paint on the slopes.
Camped in front the mountain lodge and cooked our illegal steak. Since we were in the parking lot next to the main trail, a lot of people returning from the hike stopped by and had a chat about our journey. After we added the flags to the car people are more enthusiastic to come and talk to us. For some reason in Chile and Argentina almost every time we stop at a gas station someone comes over and starts chatting in perfect English to us.
Got up at an ungodly hour of 7am, yup we have been super lazy and getting up around 10:30-11am. The relative safety of the remote regions of Patagonia give us the freedom to drive whenever we want, mostly causing us to go to sleep later and later.
The hike up to the famous towers is 10 km each way for a grand total of 20 km. It is supposed to take about 8 hours. What everyone seems to be forgetting is that we haven’t walked in months. Some days going to the bathroom at the gas stations is the most exercise we get in a day. And now we need to hike 20 km.
No, we didn’t ride the horse. But if you got the money or arthritis you can rent one to get you to the halfway point in the hike. We…well, we are young and stupid, so we trudged through horse cakes instead.
Started out with 4 layers of clothing, 20 minutes of uphill and i was ready to be naked.
After the initial climb, you round the mountain and hike at even altitude for a while on the side of this beautiful valley.
Somewhere in the back there is a lodge with food and drinks.
As you hike along, you progress is very well outlined by these nice maps. Also, with our experience of not knowing the trail in the Guatemalan volcano hike, I was worried that we might get lost on this trail. Boy, was I wrong. If you don’t leave early enough you will not be enjoying the gorgeous views, but instead staring at somebody’s sweaty butt in front of you.
There are hundreds of people on the trail and it is clearly marked, like a new highway.
Crossing the bridge right before the halfway mark of the Refugio, a place where people hang out, get some food and water. If you are doing longer trails, you could reserve a spot to camp or even a bed in a hostel at this refugio. The hike that we are doing is just a small part of the “O” hike that goes all through the park. So people sleep in these refugios and fill up on food if need be.
Just before you reach the lake and the three famous peaks (you can already see them in the top right corner) the trail goes from nice to “are you ready for this, weak sauce?”
Parts of the trail become so steep that you have to use your hands to support yourself against a tree when climbing up. Or maybe we are so weak that only we have to cling on, while normal people just casually walk up. At the end, above the tree line, it’s hard to see where the trail goes, but the brightly colored hiking jackets tell you just how far you still have to go. Its like finding the cities on a night Earth from space just by the light outlines in the black.
Ooops, there it is. If you just scrolled down here to see why they are called the “blue towers”, you are cheating…go back and read the rest. For the rest of you…well you can obviously see the tower parts…and the blue lake, but it seems a bit green. I’m confused, so why is it blue?
Could it be the sky? Not sure anymore. Did a bit of searching around and all i could find is the translation Paine=blue, but not the reason for it…whatever.
Remember guys, Hyein just did this part and she recently had Chikungunya…she is a super trooper.
At the lake it got seriously cold, we put back on everything that we had. Even the winter mittens came out. I thought we would hang out there for a while and take in the views. We got there took the pictures, put on our clothes and got the hell out. It was getting late in the day, the weather was changing and we still had 10km to go back to the car.
Cute little foxes, running around among the tourists.
So now i’ll tell you the real translation for this park – “Towers of PAIN”. On the way down, i noticed that Hyein started to walk slower and slower. And with every step she winced in pain – shit, its chikungunya acting up. By the time we got back to the refugio, Hyein was eyeing the horses and thinking of riding back down. We asked, and there was only one horse left or we only had enough money with us for one horse. Eitherway, i said i would walk but she could ride down. I realize now that it is hard to truly understand another person’s pain and that I should have listened to Hyein much closer. I know that I could have insisted instead of offering for her to ride. I’ll remember this and be better in the future.
We started back down from the refugio, one step at a time. At first Hyein was just walking slowly by herself, then i was supporting her with every step. We know it was something strange because actual grandmothers that we sprinted by on the way up, were now passing us an offering help. Hyein stoically refused my offers of a piggyback ride as long as she could humanly endure. But with each successive step shorter and taking longer than the one before, we both realized that it would take a while to get back.
Finally, got the GoPro out, but the backpack on Hyein and Hyein on me and ran down the mountain
Drove an hour to Puerto Natales, a town near the park and camped for a few days in a hostel to lick our wounds and start researching the shipping options to Korea. The next part we are thinking would start with the car arriving in Busan, South Korea. Then take the ferry to Vladivostok and once on the mainland go as far west as the road will take us.
Car shipping across continents is not as straightforward as buying a plane ticket online. Takes time, proper research…and you are never sure of the final price until you get the car back.
Sent out over 20 requests for various shipping options and waited for replies.
And while having dinner we joined a pair of fellow travelers from France. A cup of mate was shared, followed by a few bottles of wine, good times were had.
The French guys (of course we drank too much and forgot to write down the names) are backpacking around South America for 4 months and have done a lot of hitchhiking. Finally, we can tell them in person that our car doesn’t have space so we dont have to feel guilty anymore.
Next up, we drive to Ushuaia – the end of the world.
1^ – Shit and other profanity. My grandmother, who reads this blog in Russian with the help of Google Translate, recently told me that she absolutely loves reading this and that we should continue writing. But she said, she did not enjoy the use of profane language by her dear grandson. Okay, i will try to refrain, but whatever I use doesn’t sound that bad in English and given the circumstances that i describe would be appropriate even in the gentlest of all the gentlemen circles.
PS. Love you Ba.
PSS. Looking around found another blogger with the same translation of the park name – great minds think alike Mike and Veronica.