Sunday, November 27, 2016

Patagonia - Road Trip - Part IV - Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine National Park

Well, well, here we were again - back on the road! You'd think I love cars with all the driving we do. But this is what happens when you want to see a lot of stuff in a limited amount of time - take the matter into your own hands. To be sure, there are ways to see Torres del Paine without renting a car. It's easy enough, from what I understand, to get a bus to/from Punta Arenas. But it was lovely to be out here on our own. The views were amazing, as usual, and we departed El Chalten ...

We were headed for the the Argentinian/Chilean border. Traffic was light.

Care to stay for a night? Looks like there is a vacancy...

These roadside memorials (?) that are picture above were interesting. I suppose the plastic bottles were left for eventual pickup, or maybe it is part of some tribute? I can't say. We asked a few folks, but never got a good answer as to what exactly they might have been. Some of the little huts had an obvious religious significance. Otherwise, a bit of a mystery to us.

Above, the friendly and efficient Chilean border crossing. We had options but ended up going the same route we had traversed on the way in. We saw the same border agents we'd encountered on our exit a few days earlier, nice guys, here.

It wasn't far to Puerto Natales and our next little hotel/hostel/inn. This was a cute little place, a bit nicer than some of our previous stays and very comfy. The view from one window of the joint is shown..

And this was our welcoming room at Hotel Hallef...

Puerto Natales is a quaint little town.

We had to come back a second time to enjoy the pizza served up at Mesita Grande, above.

The next morning we had a few stumbles on our way to Torres del Paine. The wifi problems we'd continuously experienced had hampered my travel research a bit. While I'd tried to do as much as possible, I found online info to be a bit lacking.

Out of town, we drove further and further to the park. It had gotten cold while we were there, with recent snows. I started to become concerned that we had not filled up our gas tank before we left town. 

Long story short, we ended up driving back to town to gather a bit more information, formulate a plan, and fill up the gas tank. I felt better after taking care of that stuff, and we were finally on our way.

The drive to the park was simply stunning, ranking for me among the most beautiful landscapes I've seen. Here I would compare it to the scenery one might enjoy in New Zealand, Montana, Alaska, etc

Just up the hill from where the photo below was taken is a hut where you can get information and pay the park admission fee. There are maps on the walls and you get a park map with a small amount of trail info. To me, the printed information can still seem a little sparse; you do get to talk to the rangers in person, they are generally informative and we spoke with a ranger that seemed to me to be an American. Our questions were answered in English, but there's not much more here to guide you than what is online, so it's best to come prepared. 

A view like this one was a dream come true. 
My expectations were not to be met on this trip though, and they had to be tempered. I kind of threw a fit when a park ranger told us a hike to the Towers, as I'd planned, was basically not happening. I'm not sure exactly why, but they were insistent that we would not be able to do the hike. It left me wondering later what thru-hikers do at this time of year. I was frustrated and upset, not least because we can hike quickly. I'm a good judge of distance and time; if it looked like it was getting late we'd turn back before reaching the end.  However, I wasn't quite sure where the trail head was or where to park. Since the ranger was not willing to help us, we had to come up with another plan.

You can see the famed Towers of the park in the background of the photo above - to the right, shrouded in clouds. I had come all this way to hike to the Towers, and we were already behind schedule and likely facing bad weather. It was windy and cold where where we were

This waterfall was the first of many stops. Here, we saw a local tour company taking a tourist around. We were really happy to be on our own out here.

Our drastic change of plans may have been a wonderful turn of events. Aside from avoiding what was likely to be a grueling and strenuous trek in poor conditions, we were richly rewarded by the time we spent in the park. We took the long drive through it, stopping many times to hike or take photos. The roads in the park were packed gravel, but presented no issues in terms of terrain and we easily traversed the park in a rental car without four wheel drive.

There was a lot more in store for us on our day in the park, to come..

Check out other parts of the trip here
Patagonia Trip Report


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