Walking in Chile

Since Porvenir – our ultimate hitchhiking goal reached after two days – is not really a tourist destination, it takes some effort to determine when a ferry leaves for Punta Arenas. We end up asking for information in a number of shops, a museum and a cafeteria. The common denominator is that a ferry departs tonight, and the next one is due in a couple days. We actually wanted to stay for the night, but we decide to briefly check out Porvenir and walk towards the harbor at five, fighting against the wind for an hour and a half for one and a half until we find some shelter in the ferry terminal. The tickets are sold out so we have to wait and see if some last-minute spots will be available. Finally we board the small ferry and set sail onto the Magellan Strait. As icing on the cake we are accompanied for a while by Commerson dolphins. In Punta Arenas another hour’s walk from the harbour awaits us to reach the city and we are relieved to hit our beds in a nice little hotel at half past two in the morning. With real hotel breakfast in the morning, wahw!

In addition to exploring the city, we use the time in Punta Arenas to have photos printed, send Christmas cards and reserve two camping spots in Parque National Torres del Paine so that we can at least spend three days in the park. When the internet connection in our hostel decides to coöperate, we receive a full reportage from Sinterklaas and his servants who surprise our beloved little men, their dads and mothers in Simpelveld with a visit. Thanks to a few dear helpers who made sure that our Sinterklaas tradition continues. Even though we are thousands of miles away and there are no Sinterklaas-sweets to be found.

After waiting for three hours along the Ruta 3 with an almost frozen thumb in the air we give up. No hitchhike this time, but a bus ticket for the ride to Puerto Natales. In the comfortable canteen of Camping Guinea in Puerto Natales we spend the evening with the documentaries ‘Patagonia: Earth’s secret paradise’ by David Attenborough and we get to know some lovely travelers. Nadieh discovers a piece of chocolate in her mountain shoe the next morning and Ruben gets an extra night camping at Torres del Paine as a Sinterklaas gift. With a bit of improvisation we can walk the entire W-Trek in four days. Since we have to wait another week before we can do the hike, we plan a three-day walk together with Ines and Theo. The French-German couple is also traveling for a year so there is a lot to talk about. We set out for the Cuevas de Milodón and Laguna Sofia. In the caves remnants of the Milodon, the largest sloth were found, but there is really not that much to see. The view and the walk trough its surroundings is nicer as far as we are concerned. After the second stage of our trip we camp on a hill near Laguna Sofia. When we wake up, it turns out to be the perfect camping spot, as the lakes backdrop of snowy peaks reflect fairy-like in the undisturbed water surface until ten minutes later the wind picks up again and the beautiful picture vanishes.

Back at the campsite we start the preparations for the famous W-Trek in Torres del Paine. The tasty Christmas bread in the supermarket is a welcome and appropriate change for trekking lunch, the extra weight we take for granted. Furthermore, soup, rice, noodles and muesli are on the menu for the next four days. The bus and boat take us to Paine Grande, the campsite and ranger station in the Torres del Paine park where our route begins. Between the jungle of tents we seek shelter from the infamous Patagonian wind, set up our tent and embark on the first walk to the Gray glacier. In the westernmost valley, a large forest fire raged in 2012, the consequences of which are clearly visible. When we climb the first viewpoint, we see some small pieces of ice float in the glacial lake, and a moment later the first glimpse of the mighty Gray glacier awaits us. The weather is not too bad, the sunlight turns the ice surface brilliantly white and blue. After eight o’clock we are back in Paine Grande to cook quickly and crawl into the tent. Day two and three we walk packed from view to view, climb to the end of the beautiful Francés valley and meet some people who we met at the campsite in Puerto Natales, including Theo and Ines.

Towards the end of the third day we camp in Torres Central, from where most visitors start their day trips. The last couple of days we laughed a lot about the ‘hikers’ who jostled from campground to campground with enormous backpacks, dangling with cups, hand soap, crocs, solar panels and much more nonsense and expressed their sincere disappointment about the lack of ATM’s in the park. The last day starts stormy and rainy, while we plan to start the climb to the Mirador de Torres at five o’clock in the morning. After a while the sun peeks through the cloud deck and we dry up rather quick. The fight against the wind just continues. At the top we are briefly greeted by a beautiful rainbow and sometimes even all towers emerge from the clouds. During the descent the wind gets a grip on us regularly and there is nothing else to do than to dive to the ground in order not to be blown in the direction of the cliffs. Back at the campsite we are relieved that our tent is still standing and decide to have lunch in the cooking tent. When we walk back with fresh energy to pack our bags, the tent looks rather strange from a distance. When we get closer, the last 30 minutes of the storm turn out to have been too much for one of the poles. In Puerto Natales we carry out a provisional repair and then collect as many items as possible to repair the tent properly.

In the meantime, Nadieh’s mountain shoes produce an impressive odour, they have accidentally been left wet in the backpack for several days. The freezer compartment of the fridge at the campsite offers a solution, luckily no one looked in the garbage bag to check what we were freezing!

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