Sunday, December 12, 2010

Torres del Paine

So I can now say that I made it to Torres del Paine.  It has been on my to-do list since before I left the States, and it took me until the end of my year to get here, but I made it.

I was glad to have found a good deal for a full day tour: 15,000 pesos (about $30) not including lunch or the park entrance fees.  Every other tour company wanted 20,000 pesos, or about $40.

As I waited for the tour van to show up, I chatted with a woman working at the hostel.  When I showed her my ticket, she told me that the price was so low becuase it didn´t include a tour guide.  The van then pulled up, and the driver confirmed that there was no guide for the tour I bought.  I was pretty upset seeing that I specifically asked the woman who sold me the tour what was included and what was not included and she never brought it up, but at this point there wasn´t much that I could do.  I could either take the tour and make the best of it or complain and not go on it and risk not getting my money back and lose the day.  I decided to take the tour and make the best of it.

The park was actually about an hour from Puerto Natales, and then to get to the sights it´s about another hour after that.  The first thing I noticed after the beauty of the moutainsand landscape was the extreme wind.  It difficult to walk without losing your balance, and it must have gusted easily to 50 miles per hour.

Along the way we stopped to take some pictures, and we also came across some wildlife.  Here are some guanacas (a type of llama), and we also came across a herd of cattle.  We had to stop and wait for them to pass, and their incessant mooing was an interesting event I wasn´t expecting on the tour.

In the park we got to see mountains, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, beaches, and caves.  The beauty of the area was amazing, and it was interesting to see such a mix of all these geographic features all in one area.  I think the most surprising thing for me was seeing glaciers in the ocean and then seeing chunks of ice washed up along the shore.  Some people decided to save some of the ice in plastic bags to bring back with them. 

To get to the beach with the glaciers we had to cross a suspension bridge.  At the start of the bridge there was a sign that I thought was pretty clear:

Yeah, that says that there is a maximum capacity of 6 people at a time on the bridge.  It sways to the left and right based on the weight on each side and how people are stepping, and some people thought it would be fun to jump up and down on one side and then the other side.  Others laughed at the 6 person maximum warning and stepped on the bridge behind me as the 7th and 8th people.  On the way back for some reason people were carrying wheelbarrows with luggage and backpacks with them, and others carried suitcases over their head.  They also proceeded without any hesitation across the bridge, going over the recommended limit.  I made it across safely each way, but not without my heart skipping a beat a bit each time.

After that we also visited a cave called La Cueva del Milodón (The cave of the sloth).  It reminded me of when I visited the caves of Nerja during my semester in Granada in 2004, along the Mediterranean Coast.  The cave was open-air and absolutely huge.  Stalagtites (or stalagmites, I´m not sure which) hung from the ceiling, and water dripped from some areas above slowly.  The sloth used to live here until it was extinct 10,000 years ago.

I´ve spent the rest of my time here just exploring the town and drinking hot chocolate at various cafés to keep myself warm.  Horseback riding tours here are ridiculously overpriced, as most places want $50 for a 3 hour tour.  I also got some grilled lamb for dinner last night, and I also got a semblance of a bagel with it:

I´m not normally much of a bagel guy, but seeing something reminding me of home was a welcome sight.

Tomorrow I´m catching the early bus back to Punta Arenas, and I´ll have the whole day there before my fligh back to Santiago Tuesday morning.  I´m hoping to get to see some penguins on a tour that is hopefully not overpriced, but we´ll see about that.  And after that I will have 6 days until I fly back home.

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