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07 JAN 2008

Monday, 7th January 2008 – Torres

This morning we are off very early, as in to the airport at 04:30 AM for a 06:10 flight to Punta Arenas then 3 hours by bus to Puerto Natales. This might not have been so bad except that we had a late dinner and were up until midnight vanishing packing up. Ah, well, this was just like my younger days; mind you, in my Golden Age of travel I make every attempt to fly during the day.

The restaurant we went to last night was good and located off the main boulevard in Santiago. We sat around a wooden table with small wooden chairs on the sidewalk where we could see all who passed by, including an ambulance. There were two small boys, maybe 9 years old, with a drum on their backs and cymbals atop them activated by a tether to the ground where they could step on it with their heel. They beat the drums with drum sticks pointing backwards and stamping on the cymbal cord; they did not a bad job of making music. Then there we the many dogs that passed by and we were told by our Turkish waiter that the restaurant fed them, I guess for ambiance We had good salads and shared a plate of meat after which we shred some chocolate fondue. Just before we left a saxophone player came out and played for all who were dining on the street. Yes, this makes for an interesting, if not late evening. Then, of course, we have not had dinner before 8 PM since we left Panama; they do eat late here.

Now at the airport, checked in, and on our way south where we would enjoy the coolness of Patagonia. Bob and Paula had a package tour so left us at the airport. Efficiently Isa and I were taken into Punta Arenas to one of the central bus stations where we checked our luggage for the bus then went to a nearby hotel café for a coffee and a bite to eat. Now on the very nice long distance bus we were on our way drowsing and sleeping our way.

The plains around Punta Arenas are vast with sheep and cattle then, of course, the Straights of Magellan on the southern edge. I could easily imagine the tall sailing ships passing by on their way to and from California avoiding going around Cape Horn.

From my window seat I could see the vast expanse of undulating prairie before me. The weather was clear and a multitude of large puffs of white and dark clouds hung overhead for as far as one could see. Such an expansive sight only heightens my imagination and thought processes and I realize I am almost at the end of the world and it laid out before me. My mind meanders from the swaying bus out into space and the beautiful sky; I can think now very clearly of thoughts not processed before and envision new ideas.

As we went along the hills became more pronounced with small snow capped peaks protruding above the hills; the mountains of Torres were enlarging. Along the road were wonderful bunches of bright purple, orange, and yellow flowers; there were cattle and sheep lazing about in the summer brightness behind the fences. I could see a new natural gas pipe being laid along the highway. There were also sections where the old road could be seen and I was glad we were traveling on the new one.

The mountains now were growing and lakes appeared everywhere as we rolled down the hill into Puerto Natales. The bus company, Fernandez, was very efficient at getting out luggage out and into the station once the bus backing into a covered garage space. Each bus company employee dressed in uniform of pullover sweater over a shirt with tie. Once we captured our baggage we determined where we had to walk to by asking about for our hotel. Well, it was only about 5 blocks away so off we went pulling our cases behind us, two each. Fortunately the sidewalks were in pretty good shape. Our hotel was a good one, three stars but at four star prices …ah, well..

We then set off to make arrangements for a bus to the boat to cross the lake to our Grand Paine Lodge (hostel) as well as make arrangements for our return trip to Punta Arenas. We found out that our Lodge did supply towels so we had to buy a couple. I should have guessed this since this is backpacker country and we did have to rent a couple of sleeping bags. Fortunately, our meals could be purchased as part of our lodging package. In these modern times most hostels of the world have full set of supplies to rent or come with the room, but time has not caught up with them here apparently. On the other side we will be in an almost new lodge at the edge of a large lake on one side and beautiful high and snow capped mountains on the other.

Tuesday, 8th January 2008 – Puerto Natales

We found a good restaurant for a good meal then headed to bed for some extra sleep.

Finally we have caught up on our sleep and went down for a simple fruit, coffee, and toast breakfast. After catching up on our email we are going to wander the town for a while before the bus takes us to the ferry. While the town is small it has many hostels and restaurants/coffee houses since this is a serious tourist destination. A funny small and very old steam engine adorns the center of the town square complete with a young couple making passionate kisses with each other, right there. Well, this was happening all over Santiago, there seem to be full public expression of Love here in Chile.

Our arranged bus picked up in the early afternoon about 14:30 and we were off to the Torres del Paine National Park and our Refugio Grande Paine Lodge. Three hours later we arrived at the boat dock area and had to drag our luggage about 100 yards over a dirt and rock road to the boar dock. Oh, for a good back pack, but that was not the way were traveling with ship cruises and nice hotels for the past 5 weeks. I guess if I had thought differently, as in world travel, I might have modified my traveling ensemble, well I took extra to accommodate more formal attire and cold climate venues all in one trip. I would come to realize that I should have also brought along my standard set of travel gear that includes a cup, chamois towel, as well as nail clippers, beard trimmer, extra power plug converter, and my most useful pair of pliers and eye glasses repair kit, then, I would have left home my good shoes keeping only my boots and good mocs. Of course, none of these are necessary but sure are handy when needed. Then too, I am not traveling alone but with a nice woman so a few more good clothes are required. Perhaps a larger roller duffle with back pack straps would have accommodated all the requirements versus my regular smaller red back pack rolling bag. Ah, well, we are getting along just fine and finding what we need everywhere.

The lake catamaran is now loaded and we are away across the glacial waters, with the wind really blowing down from the mountains. As we went the skies became clear and great mountains were towing above us. When I mean great I mean very high sharp peaks with deep glacier valleys separating the peaks. There were great patches of snow on them with small glaciers to be seen hanging from the high valleys. One mountain was almost vertical and clear of all vegetation, light brown in color, with multiple sharp majestic peaks.

We arrived at the dock for the lodge, then next task being to haul our cases over the rocky road. Fortunately, we met a nice Australian teacher who gave us a hand. We checked in and hauled all our stuff upstairs to our typical hostel room with one bunk bet and we made do with our little space. The toilets and showers were down the hall, as usual. While fairly clean, were to find out that taking a shower was a challenge – first turn on the hot water to see if it works then quickly adding cold to soap up. By this time the unregulated hot water was gone and there you stood all soaped up with ice cold water flowing from the shower head, ugh. Acton, turn the cold off and turn the hot up until new hot water came out, mix cold, and rinse off fast before it all changed. On the other hand, there was hot water and we were staying in a great mountain retreat.

Now down to a very good dinner of turkey, soup, noodles, salad, and peach nectar to drink with a nice pudding for postres.

here is quite a group of folks staying here, including a number of mature folks as well as Bob & Paula who were moving on early the next day, but it was good to see them. Most were pack packers going and coming from the several other hostels in the Park, all within an easy day’s hike. After such a travel day we slept well.

Wednesday, 9th January 2008 – Torres del Paine

Tired we were so we almost missed breakfast. I had scrambled eggs, bread & jam, cold cereal, fruit juice, and hot chocolate providing a good start to our day. We packed up our day pack and dressed for the cool wind then headed off to the north for as far as we could go in a couple of hours.

Up the green bush covered valley we hiked stepping on the well worn trail of shale. We took our time and a number of the younger crowd sped on by. We reached the saddle and just beyond was beautiful small lake on our leff, deep blue in color. Along its edges were stubby pine trees and small flowers all about. Then as we stepped over the trail rocks we glanced to our right to find that straight up was towering mountain with jagged peaks too. Fortunately the sky was mostly clear, but I had felt a few drops of rain, and the sun was warm. However, at times as we came to ridges we could feel the biting wind, but not strong enough to put on our heavy jackets, just yet. Then it happened, we came to a bluff where all around us were snow capped mountains and a large blue- green lake below that was fed by a large glacier. Yep, the white thing floating in the middle was a large chunk of ice too. It was now time to head back and relax for the afternoon before dinner. Relaxation here means sitting quietly in the lodge dreading or working on my notes while periodically watching the shadows change on the large mountain near by with the lake below; this is a difficult life. But, I must note that hostel living is not for everyone since the ambience is that for the younger backpack crowd not demanding the amenities of an older group; however, I did wish electricity flowed to the plug in our room. The sleeping bags and sheet sacks are working out for sleeping, if one is used to them, but I wish towels were included in the package. Now for dinner and a good sleep.

Thursday, 10th January 2008 – Torres del Paine

Right at this moment; following a good dinner of rice, lamb, pudding, and salad; I am chatting with a bunch of young Canadians about housing. Interesting to hear about their fixing up an older home. Yes, a hostel like this has a large selection of folks from all over the World - French, Dutch, Germans, Brits, New Zealanders, Aussies, Chileans, and US folks.

Following dinner I walked outside to see the sun on the high mountains near our lodge and feel the very brisk breeze, just beautiful. Today we picked up our sack lunch and headed off towards another hostel. Along the way we came across yet another beautiful lake right at the foot of the high mountains. As we gazed across the lake we could see swirls of wind whipping up moisture from the lake as a prairie dust storm. As we were hiking back the rocky trail we would get gusts of wind right on our faces and even took us off balance. A look at the lake showed a sudden whipping up of white caps that would knock now any sail boat. After 5 hours of hiking it was good to see our lodge and sit down for some late lunch.

Now for another good night’s sleep

Friday, 11th January 2008 – Torres del Paine

This morning I had oatmeal with which I mixed some trail mix making it very good. The food here in the Grande Paine Lodge is quite good and abundant but each morning the menu is the same with scrambled eggs plus a slice of ham and slice of cheese. I can no longer take ham and cheese for breakfast. Isa and I left late in the morning and went for a hike up the local valley and the air was still and nice for hiking. After an hour and a half we had enough of going up and to take care of Isa’s knee we turned around and walked back to the Lodge where we just relaxed and read. Isa managed to catch a cold so it was good to stay in. Then at 6 PM the Lodge lit a wood fire in a stove that really heats the place up.

As a hostel on the Torres track people and coming and going all the time. The trails are good and well worn and in places there are dual tracks for passing.

Saturday, 12th January 2008 – Torres del Paine

Since Isa seems to be catching a cold so we are headed back to Puerto Natales to a good hotel for her to recover. Of course, this means getting down to the boat with all our luggage, easy except for the stones that the wheels do not roll on so well. The boat ride was a nice 50 minutes across the lake watching the sky scraping mountains pass by. We made it to the bus and headed out of the Torres del Paine Park. On the way we came across a shallow green lake with flamencos at the edge. Our stay was good and we would come back again for some more trekking, but for now we are moving on.

We found a hotel and were very glad to have a hot shower.

Sunday, 13th January 2008 – Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is not big but has a large number of hostals and trekking outfits catering to backpackers from around the world.

We caught our bus to Punta Arenas and had a nice 2 hour ride back. We went to our Hostal Ora Fuegino, a very nice little place on the hill. We have the best room in the place and can see the whole city and look onto the Straights of Magellan. We then took a walk downtown to the city plaza which was just as I left it 5 years ago. Punta Arenas is a clean city with many old architecture buildings dating back to the early 1900’s. The only caution for tourists is that when crossing the street one has to watch your step and not trip on the one foot high cylindrical barriers to keep cars off the sidewalks. Of course, in any such town you must watch your step everywhere since sidewalks may be discontinuous, have a hole it them, or other obstruction.

Back at the Hostal we had a good dinner in the dinning room that once was the car garage. There are neat old photos of yesteryear on the wall and a grand old large white enameled stove in the room for decoration, not cooking. Now for another nice sleep.

Monday, 14th January 2008 – Punta Arenas

We walked around town doing some shopping and visited a grand old home that is now a museum. The elegance of this house was something special. Since Punta Arenas has been the center of commerce with shipping going south around South America and the countryside supporting large sheep and cattle ranches there were bound to be barons of local commerce. Bob and Paula showed up in the afternoon and we all went for dinner. Some of us had eel, others calamari, and pork chop.

Tuesday, 15th January 2008 – Punta Arenas

Today is tour Punta Arenas day and we walk around town and then out to visit the penguin site. The day was nice, that means no rain but plen We drove in a van about an hour out in the middle of range land then over to the edge of the sea where the penguin colony was.

The wooden walk takes one right through the middle of the colony of 20,000 penguins, each with a family borrow. It was great fun to watch the many tux dressed penguins pup up and down. The moms sure love their young and you can often see then snuggling. The young birds at this point are almost as big as their mom and dad. The juveniles have a light brown fuzz that they are loosing, little by little. Soon they will learn to swim, dive, and find food in February.

I did some shopping this morning and purchased a new travel bag, a duffle on wheels, to replace my aging one that I had been dragging along with broken zipper and limited space. Since we have traveled into several different venues and climates I tended to take more than I usually do so I needed a little bigger case and the duffle is more flexible. I must admit that I really could and probably should have traveled with much less as I have in the past since less makes it much easier to move from here to there. Alas, one of my rules for travel was violated and consequently there is a bit more struggle with the bags. My new computer bag did not work either since it was too fat to fit in most of the overhead storage in the plane – take note, use a soft pack only.

Wednesday, 16th January 2008 – Punta Arenas

Today we fly to Ushuaia, Argentina (Tierra del Fuego) to look over this southern most city in Argentina and an important jumping off place yachts and cruises to Antarctica. The plane was a little late due to high winds but we finally took off for Ushuaia. Yes, flying south the temperature dows change for the cooler. Upon arrival we hired two small taxis to take us to our Hostal Malvinas that we had arranged previously, which was a good thing since almost all the rooms in Ushuaia were taken.