South America | Chile | Torres del Paine National Park – Starting the ´W´ trail
The trip to Torres del Paine started with a fairly mild morning weather wise compared to the weather we had been having in Puerto Natales, but a slightly hectic rush to make our bus to the park. I had accepted a deal with Walter after reflecting about some of the pain I had with my back in Peru while hiking. He had offered this: if I took care of the administration things, he would carry the bulk of the items we needed for camping, eating and surviving for the five day trip, a heavy load no doubt. I smiled and gladly accepted this deal, and as a traveling British friend I had met back in Bolivia had put it, ¨Sloane, you are just good at that sort of stuff¨. Thanks for that compliment, Andy…
Staying in the best hostel in town, also meant it constantly hummed with activity, and most of the people would get up together to take the bus in the morning to the park, the main attraction for travelers in the area. Despite over 12 people departing in the morning, all up showering, packing their things, having breakfast, I slept through my alarm! I never do this: roll over, look at the time, jump up to a standing position, scream ¨9 minutes until the bus leaves¨, and throw myself together to make it out the door without a shower. In fact, my first thought after feeling some relief that we had packed our things the night before, was darn, I cannot get clean before heading out into the woods…this doesn´t make sense I know, but a shower would have been lovely.
We made the bus just fine since it arrived a little late. The tour company, JB Tours, came straight to our hostel, Casa Cecilia, (which I highly recommend, fresh baked bread each and every morning and this is not your ordinary S. American bread mind you!) Our two and half hour bus ride to the entrance to the park followed our bike tour route for a bit, and then kept going on the dirt road past our turn off for the cave. We passed estancias (ranches, primarily sheep and cattle ranches in this area) and one solitary little town. Hoping out for a bathroom break at one of two restaurants in the town we noticed the local estancia had just completed rounding up the sheep with their horses and sheep dogs. A huge flock of sheep, not too pleased with the dogs nipping at their heels frantically raced down the street through town to get to their new pasture while the wind howled down the same dirt road.
Arriving at the park, we could see most of the famed towers of pink granite peaking through the clouds covering their tops. Most of the blue sky hinted at a beautiful weather day, so we decided to depart the bus at this entry point and hike on into the park with the intention of eventually reaching the observation point of the towers by the next day. We lined up behind about 15 others waiting for either a truck or a boat to transport people across the rain-swollen Rio Paine. The bridge which had been uderwater could now be seen, but the river clearly reached its waters beyond the normal boundries. Luckily, as Walter put it, we had the perfect opportunity to see a real commercial for a huge Chevy truck to do some cool driving. We opted for the more adventurous small boat to transport us across the river.
Reaching the other side we realized most people took the shuttle to the closest Hosteria. Not for us, we decided, speaking to each other (jokingly) of the non-purists unwilling to hike the hour and half to the Hosteria because of an available shuttle. So, after our hike down a road scattered with boulders and rocks which would litterally break into 100 pieces if you barely touched them, we rounded a corner for a view of the Hotel plus Hosteria las Torres. The complex includes camping, a refugio (where one rents a bunk bed for staying the night and thus avoids camping outdoors, they are scattered throughout the park) a fancy hotel, a spa and the shuttle parked in front of the hotel.
We sat down in one of fields inside the complex, indulging in a coffee and coke bought from the refugios store and enjoying our lunch in the shade of a big alarce tree. Avocado, tomato and cucumber sandwiches again, but no complaints here! We left after an hour break and hiked up a tall hill across a large stream and slightly behind the Hosteria. The hill quickly became the side of a mountain, and two hours later we rounded the corner of the trail at the same time reaching the highest point of the trail, and getting the reward of seeing our refugio campground for the night down below us along the raging river.
After arriving, we both had a hot shower!! This refugio, Chileno, allows its campers to use the hot showers inside and has beers too. So we enjoyed a beer (after cooling it down by just setting it outside for a few minutes) while cooking our dinner on a picnic table. We enjoyed a conversation with an American couple traveling for a year, and hearing about their adventures. It was their last night on the trail, and our first, so they gave us their left over butter for cooking. Thanks guys! As we climbed into the tent, content with our delicious meal of spagetti with peas, it started to sprinkle rain. I cringed at the thought of my tent leaking, since I had no idea how it would hold up in the rain mixed in with some wind. Falling asleep was easy after the long day of hiking, but I had that worry on my mind during the night. Luckily, we woke up in the morning dry even though the rain had not stopped, but had picked up during the night and continued in the morning.