Sunday, 12 January 2014

Blood, sweat and tears - Happy New Year!

Blood – the ends of our fingers blistering in the cold and peeling off, as well as the cold sores cracking and splitting
Sweat – trekking with full bags including tent, cooking equipment and food
Tears – from the big, fat drops of rain dripping down our faces and the despair of a day we called ‘dog sh*t day’      
This all refers to our recent 7 day trek around the grand circuit of the Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia’s premier trekking destination; probably the most physically demanding trek that we have done to date because in this part of the world, so far south, the weather can be harsh, cruel and completely unpredictable.
We had a week of blazing sunshine, heavy rains, blizzards, gale force winds and waist deep snow and on some days all of the above!
Was it hard, yes, but was it worth it; completely, as hopefully the pictures below will portray.

However, we must backtrack a couple weeks in order to come around to the trek itself but before I do so I need to raise something that has perplexed me on this trip – seat numbers!
On a bus or plane ticket would you say it is hard to locate the number of your seat on your ticket? No? Me neither.
So why is it that on every journey there are multiple tourists that wander up and down the bus / plane trying to find where to sit and sometimes when they do finally sit down they then have to move because they are in the wrong one?
As I write this it has just happened again – we really live in a world of complete morons.

We flew to Punta Arenas, the most southern city in Chile, which is where we would be spending our Christmas. Never before have I got into an airport bus that then acts as a door to door service but I can tell you that this is how all buses should be – as long as you aren’t last because you will be waiting a long time to get home.
We had tried to choose a hostel that looked as though it may have some sort of backpacker community feel to it so that we could enjoy our Christmas day in the company of others and whilst it was really warm and cosy (it may be summer in these parts but our southern location means that it is always cold and the wind can cut you in half) it didn’t really have that atmosphere we craved.
So we decided to explore the town to find an alternative plan of action of the Day. It quickly became apparent that we had made a wrong choice in Punta Arenas; it really is a place that is not worth taking the time to visit. The place felt like a ghost town and as for Christmas Day festivities there weren’t any to be had.
In Chile it is tradition to celebrate on the evening of Christmas Eve and spend Christmas Day indoors with the family. Having searched all over for any sign of activity our choices were to spend a lot of money having an Xmas Eve meal at one of the two main hotels in town or go to the one restaurant that was open of Xmas Day for lunch.
Having discovered that the Xmas Eve meal would be just that ie. no fiesta or dancing we decided to get drunk on our own in the hostel and have Xmas Day lunch.
Fortunately a few backpackers had now arrived so Xmas Eve, although low key, was still boozy. Remember we had been carrying 2 bottles of wine with us from Santiago, so these along with a bottle of port sorted us right out.

Coping well with the time differences we made our Skype calls home to opposite sides of the world and Xmas Day morning was a success as we both liked each other’s presents. Phew!
As for Xmas Day itself, it was a bit of a let-down before some last minute genius by myself.
The restaurant we had chosen for lunch was an absolute disgrace and a real disappointment. They had a shortened menu for the day and I chose well by having the traditional Xmas meat of roast lamb, whereas AJ chose the king crab.
The portions we were delivered were pitiful and we had actually paid a decent amount of money for once. Also, when you order a side dish of potatoes do you think it is warranted to be unsatisfied with paying $4 for just 2 boiled spuds?
We actually enjoy the theatre of gong out for dinner, the food, the ambience and the experience and nothing annoys me more than being served within 5 minutes of ordering.
It makes me feel like a bum on a seat with a quick turnaround required.
Needless to say we left hungry, a little peeved but at least they didn’t have the cheek to automatically include the tip because they weren’t getting one.

We were about to walk home feeling very dejected when I told AJ to follow me because I wanted to check something and Xmas Day was saved! A cruise ship had arrived in town that morning so one business decided to open its doors to capitalise – the Swiss chocolate café.
In a packed but very cosy café we gorged on cups of white chocolate hot chocolate and caramel filled Churros. Sitting there we wished we had just come here for a sandwich and desert and not wasted our money but at least we now a warm fuzzy feeling in our bellies.

Little lambs in the supermarket



Pulling off the Xmas alchy look?

With no love at all for Punta Arenas with left on Boxing Day to enter Argentina! We were only going to visit Argentina for a few days before returning to Chile, but it was a definite ‘must do’ for our South American adventure.
At the bottom of the continent the borders are a little messy with Chile claiming a lot of the land except for the final section of mainland that belongs to Argentina. If you then want to visit the islands lying even further south, the real final frontier before Antarctica, you must then re-enter Chile.
We were heading to Ushuaia, self-proclaimed ‘fin del mundo’; end of the world. This is the place where the road ends and you reach the bottom of the South American continent.

To really get to the ‘end’ you must hop onto a ferry to Isla Navarino but as this meant re-entering Chile, paying a tax and a $100+ ticket for a 40 minute journey, it was never going to happen.

The journey here was a long one and upon reaching the border with Argentina I saw my first and certainly not last sign declaring ‘Las Malvinas son Argentinas’ – translated to ‘The Falkland Islands are Argentina’s’.
Obviously I am well aware of the ongoing issue with regards to the Falklands but I was surprised that there would be official signs up at the border gates declaring this.
In Ushuaia there was also a sign declaring that the English were pirates!! I liked that one.
No semen allowed over the border!

As stated in my last post this journey was a poignant one because after leaving Canada on March 12th we were now taking our last ride south. It had taken close 10 months but after entering the USA following 2.5 months of snow induced fun we had now reached the end as far as going down was concerned. After this we would now be turning around and heading back in a northern direction. Boo hoo!

Ushuaia is where we should’ve have spent Christmas – it was custom made for the day. Hemmed in between the southern ocean and a wall of snowy mountains, the end of the Andes range (which we had now travelled down its entire length) you couldn’t really ask for a more atmospheric place to celebrate in the southern hemisphere, especially as it snowed every day that we were there.
So much for summer!   

It didn’t quite sink in but we were now in Argentina, if only for a little time. Should I lie that I am from England or just go with it? Does everyone care that much about an island?
Maybe I will encounter some hostility later on in my trip (I did get some remarks in South East Asia about it on my last trip) but as far as this first Argentinian experience was concerned, I am going to love this country and its people.
Being in Argentina also introduced us to our first foray into the ‘Blue Market’.
Argentina has a serious lack but huge desire for US dollars and as a tourist you can capitalise on this. The current official exchange rate is around 6.3 pesos to 1 dollar, but on the streets you can exchange your US dollars on the ‘blue market’. Everyone does it and it is such the ‘done thing’ that the blue market rate is printed in the daily newspapers and has its own websites.
Currently the blue rate is around 9.8 pesos to the dollar. Therefore, by going down the unofficial route you can get up to 40% more for your money.
Now this has a detrimental effect as far as the Government is concerned because there is a lot of unaccounted for money floating around in the system but it only has itself to blame. The Argentinian Government has been accused of purposely fixing its rates of inflation in order to drive to value of the peso up, so why wouldn’t you go onto the street to get a rate of exchange that more closely represents the real value of the peso and so get more for your hard earned money.
In Ushuaia we tried our best but could only get 8 pesos to the dollar (I think the best rates are to be had in Buenos Aries) but this is a lot better than withdrawing from the bank at 6.3.
It is all a bloody hassle though and gives you one more thing to think about in terms of budgeting etc.

We only really came to Ushuaia so that we could say that we reached the ‘bottom’ but at the back of our minds we still held onto that little dream of capturing a last minute deal to Antarctica.
If we were closer to the beginning than the end of the trip I would now be describing to you our journey to the real ends of the earth and the final continent that we need to set foot on because there were last minute deals to be had and I reckon that holding out to the very last minute would see even bigger savings.
There were 11 day cruises for $3,900, which I think is a bargain, but given that the boat wasn’t leaving for another 3 days I wonder what you could’ve got it down to with hours to spare?
I will let you know one day because we will have to do it and given that Ushuaia also has skiing on offer, it could be a really good place to return to.
Argentina is also markedly cheaper than it neighbour Chile. You get more for your money in terms of accommodation and eating out.
As Xmas lunch was so appalling we decided that Boxing Day dinner was in order and for a third of the Chilean price we shared a massive meat feast that was barbequed at your table.
The meal contained it all and we were completely stuffed afterwards – there was lamb, pork, beef, chicken, sausages, intestine, blood sausage (black pudding), liver and brains!!
I have to say that the brain was really good but the intestines and black pudding were not for me.

Quite expectedly Ushuaia was a very popular location meaning that getting a bus ticket out was a bit of a battle. We had wanted to stay a little longer but the only seats we could find meant that we would need to leave after only 2 nights in the town to return to Chile.
It was no hardship though, we would be returning to Argentina very soon and its promise of meat and a feast, once we had completed our final Chilean Patagonian mission.
It took 14 hours to get from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales in Chile and we were knackered by time we got to our hostel at 11:30pm.

Puerto Natales is a quaint little town on the edge of a mountain fringed lake (a common but never to be taken for granted theme in Chile) and is the base for the multitudes of travellers setting off to explore the Torres Del Paine National Park.
This park attracts travellers of all types with a range of activities on offer. You can day trip it and enjoy the sights of the glaciers from the luxury of a boat, you can stay overnight and make the day long walk up to the Las Torres; the most famous activity of all is the W trek that is a 3 / 4 day hike along the southern route of the park, or there is the Grand Circuit, a 7 / 8 day trek that circumnavigates the park and entitles you to experience all the area has to offer as well as conquering what we thought would be the easy 1,200m high John Gardner pass. (To be fair it would have been very easy in the sun)
We chose the circuit as we had agreed that this would be our final trek in South America. We have worked out that we have done close to 10 treks over the past few months with over half of these being 3 days or more. We love nothing more than leaving it all behind and being isolated for a few days but I can’t take anymore camping, my body is wrecked.
Send me back to Nepal any day, it may be cold and difficult at altitude but at least you get hot cooked meals and a bed with a mattress!
We did the circuit in 7 days and it pushed our aging bodies to the limit.

We didn’t want to waste any more time than necessary so with one full day in Puerto Natales we gathered all of the information that we needed for the trek as well as hire our camping gear and shop for supplies.
We did the same things in Peru on the Santa Cruz trek but it is crazy how doubling the amount of food from 4 days to 8 days can make such a difference to the weight of your bag.
Still, it wasn’t too bad and this trek would mainly be at sea level and not an average of 4,000 metres.

We were packed and ready to go the following morning so treated ourselves to a pizza for our last evening without pasta / rice / soup for the next week.
At dinner we got talking to a couple who had given up on the trek halfway through because the conditions were so tough and at our hostel a group of 4 had sat in a tent for 2 days waiting for the pass to open because of the weather and in the end had to return to the beginning and give up.

We set out for Torres Del Paine with a little trepidation to go along with a healthy amount of stubbornness (me) to ‘f*ck the weather’ and get the job done.

I was going to leave it until the end to summarise on our time in Chile but I need to bring up one of my gripes now – it is a country of money grabbers. There is an awful of penny pinching and taking tourists for as much as they can and Torres Del Paine National Park is no different.
The park receives millions of visitors per year and each (international visitor) must pay the equivalent of $36 each just to enter the park.
The bus drops you off at the gate and if you want to get to the ‘centre’ at the Las Torres Hotel you can take a transfer for $8.
If you are trekking you are faced with 2 options:
1)      Stay in a refugio – a lodge where the cheapest bed is in a dorm room at a whopping $55 per person
2)      Set up your tent and on the back of the trail pay $8 each or on the front side pay $12 each!
As far as the refugio is concerned I think that it is fair enough for a roof over your head even though it is still crazy expensive but to have to pay between $16 - $24 for the privilege of kipping in my tent after we have already paid $72 to enter the park is a liberty.
Add to that the daily rental cost of $16 for our tent and cooking equipment and it isn’t a cheap excursion.
By the way, the refugios also have little kiosks where you can stock up on your supplies, in our case copious amounts of chocolate, but for things such as a can of coke it was $4.
Paying to enter a national park where the money goes directly to its upkeep is acceptable, but in Australia this is a nominal fee and sometimes voluntary.
In Torres Del Paines we were paying a nightly fee to camp where the toilets were either blocked or wouldn’t flush and overall the facilities were pretty shoddy.

Honestly though, the trek was amazing! Serious; these are just little things that annoy me about our western society and being taken constantly for a ride.

So to the trek:

Day 1: Administration to Camp Seron
First things first, pay your entrance fee and then all shuffle along into a small room to watch a mandatory video. The key message here was ‘FIRE!’
Apparently a few years ago a camper sparked up his stove to cook a little lunch and with the help of the wind managed to burn down 10% of the entire national park!
The video was only 3 minutes long but the word ‘FIRE’ was mentioned at least 20 times.

It was possible for us to start the circuit from the administration building and so eager to get going to we set off on our own with no other backpackers in sight.
Of all the people that visit the park apparently only 2% of those choose to do the circuit.

Our trek didn’t quite start according to plan – we went the wrong way. It took us about 30 minutes to realise this and by that time we had little choice but to continue to the Las Torres Hotel and take an alternative trail from there that would link back up to where we were supposed to be.
The first day’s trail was supposed to take around 4.5 hours to complete but we walked 1.5 hours out of our way only to get to a trail that would still take 4 hours to get to camp.
Yep, you could say that we were a little annoyed about that.
Once we finally did get onto the correct path it was all plain sailing and one thing to be said for this circuit was that the scenery was completely different on each and every single day, which is an amazing thing.
On our first day we had sprawling green hills and fields full of millions upon millions of daisies. Along the way we also encountered a stampede of 30 or so horses being driven back to their stables by their masters and if we were on one of the narrow stretches of the trail it could’ve been a little hairy for us to be in their way.
We finally got to camp, still ahead of quite a few people despite our little detour and we became acquainted with what would become our trekking community. Essentially we were all on the same path for the same amount of time. We just left camp, arrived at the next one and walked the trail at different times and speeds throughout each day.
The temperamental weather also held out for us on the first afternoon until evening when it began to rain.


Day 2: Camp Seron to Camp Dickenson
Day 2 was a wet start and nothing is worse than trying to pack up for belongings and a tent in the rain, especially when you know you are going to need to sleep in it again that night.
This day also brought about the physical nature of this trek to us. The backside of the route wasn’t just a trek, it was an assault course.
There has been an unseasonal amount of rain and snow this summer in Las Torres and as a result a lot of the route is flooded. This meant that we had to skip and jump over boggy patches, hang onto trees and swing over little lakes, leap from rock to rock to cross swollen streams and balance precariously on this strips of wood to navigate through the marshlands.
I am completely certain that I wasn’t the only mug to slip off and have to walk in sodden boots on more than occasion!
I felt like I was a contestant in the Krypton Factor.

Having made good ground we approached the campsite in the early afternoon, always being one of the first to arrive.
With the day now turning out to be a warm and sunny one we were greeted by a glorious site. From high above we looked down onto an open grassy campsite horseshoed by an opal blue lake which was itself fed by two bluish glaciers that crept down the side of the mountain to the water below.
This alone was a sight worthy of our trek.
As the sun was out we were able to lie back on the grass and relax as we waited for everything to dry out from the earlier rain.

This day also happened to be New Year’s Eve and whilst there was a party that went on until about 2am, which we somehow missed and only realised it was happening when I had to take a middle of the night wee, we did treat ourselves to a beer each (we don’t drink on trek, it is hard enough without feeling rough) which we cracked open on the stroke of 9pm; midnight in England.
By 9:30pm we were asleep – last of the party animals.
Besides once the evening sets in it is too cold to be sat about outside. It is freezing and you just want to curl up into your sleeping bag which should be at least -10 degrees. I was in my +5 degrees comfort level bag and let me tell you now, I made a mistake! I was cold and even 3 layers of clothing, 2 pairs of trousers and a woolly hat didn’t rescue me.

Day 3: Camp Dickenson to Camp Los Perros
If I was cold the night before, this day takes the title of my most uncomfortable ever!
We had options today:
a)      Attempt the pass today knowing that you would need to climb 600 metres and then descend 1,200 metres of steep mountainside after already doing a decent walk, or
b)      Do a short day today and rest for a long one the next day

We decided on option B and in the end we were right in our choice but for all of that actual day we thought we had made a serious error of judgement.
The walk to Camp Los Perros was simple enough and we were treated to a superb close of a hanging glacier along the way before arriving at about 1pm.
As we were the first there we stood about for a little bit wondering if maybe we should do the pass as the weather was good and this campsite in particular wasn’t very nice. It was wooded and quite sludgy in places; nothing close to the beautiful grassy one we had left that morning.

All of a sudden, literally with the flick of a switch the temperature plummeted and it began to snow. It was like in the film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ as the frozen vortex descends to the ground and freezes everything and everyone.
Quickly we set up camp whilst we could keep everything dry and decided that we would stick with the original plan.
Over the next 2 hours we huddled together in our tent as the snow continued to blow down from the valley above and whilst it was cold, at least the trees kept most of the snow away. The problem we had was that not very many people at all were stopping at the camp. Most were having a quick pit stop and then continuing on to make the pass today whilst they definitely still could and braving the aggressive snow showers.
By now we were changed out of our trekking gear and trying to keep warm in our other clothing, so the thought of packing it all away and getting back out there was not an appealing one; but what if we were left stranded and the pass was closed?
All of this procrastination was put to an end at about 5pm when the last group attempting to make the pass that afternoon had to return after an hour of battling strong winds and zero visibility.
We now had to hope that things improved overnight.
That evening was so very cold. I need say no more than to say that the water bottles had ice in them the next morning.


Day 4: Camp Los Perros to Camp Grey. Pass Day
The day of the Pass is always the one that sticks out in the trek, after all, it is going to be your hardest day and once it is done you can somewhat relax.
At 3am that morning I was anything but relaxed. I made moves to exit the tent for a wee, which I was loathed to do as I was so cold, and was dismayed to find the tent bowing under the pressure of a couple of inches of snow. If it was like this here, how was it going to be at the top?

We were up early the next morning to be greeted with 3 inches of snow cover but were pleased to see at least 3 groups move off before us. Better for them to leave a trail through the snow than for us to try and find the covered one and as we were about to leave the ranger asked us we were sure about going up as it would be a difficult journey.
The thought of sitting shivering in that miserable campsite was enough to make me risk an avalanche. We get itchy feet at the best of times and cannot bear to backtrack, so there was only one option to us – up and over.
From this campsite, up, over and down to the other side was supposed to take 6 hours, and on a clear day we would easily have done it in less than 4 hours. It took us 5 hours in what was one of the most gruelling walks I have ever undertaken and we overtook most of the others that had set out before us meaning that it was up to me to make a path up to the top for AJ to follow literally in my sunken footsteps; which at times was exhausting.

The first hour was actually really nice. We were trekking up through a wooded winter wonderland and it was so pretty with about 3 or 4 inches of snow hanging from every branch. Along the way we also saw some rather interesting paw prints and our only conclusions knowing about the wildlife in this area was that not too long before us (probably within 30  minutes as it was snowing and the print was still clear) it is quite possible that a puma had walked this very same path!!
We then got above the tree line and it all changed.
The wind was ferocious. I have no idea how fast it was blowing but it was coming at us head on and lifting me up and moving me off my desired path. This wind then of course was creating huge snowdrifts and on more than one occasion I found myself waist deep in it, tiring at the best of times without a bag and tent on your back.

The next 2 hours were a battle, it felt as though it was us versus the mountain.
By now the tracks of the previous passers were fading and could only be seen on rare occasions and the snow was pelting down with such force from the wind that we were snow blind so couldn’t see anything anyway.
There were 2 occasions when I was a little worried. One was when I put my full weight onto the snow and fell straight through a 6 inch snow bridge that left me hanging by my outspread arms as my feet dangling into a freezing stream.
The next was trying to cross an obvious stream and having to make a leap of faith not quite knowing where or what I would land on. Answer, I landed on unstable ground on my front and my legs sunk down into yet more freezing water.
I now had wet feet whilst trying to fight my way through deep snow or over ice covered rocks. On more than one occasion all I could do was fight my way through before I had to drop to my knees to rest before just shouting out of frustration to the heavens above – it was all quite dramatic.
Now I know this all sounds like some sort of nightmare but I was enjoying it. Yes it was bloody hard but it was an adventure and it is not like we were on our own, there were the lots of people in front and back behind us that gave you some sort of comfort.
I wish that I had taken more photos and filmed some of what we encountered but to be honest it was the last thing on my mind. We had one goal, to get to the top.


After 3 hours we got there but we couldn’t enjoy it because the wind had reached its pinnacle and there was no standing about whilst it whipped the snow into our faces which left us with raw skin and burns.
It was even hard to breathe because you couldn’t take a breath in the fast moving air.
It wasn’t until we had descended about 200 metres from the summit that we could really stop to take a breath and reflect on what we had just beaten and more importantly what we were now seeing.
Stretching out in front of us was Glacier Grey – proof that mother-nature rules in these parts and this is sort of power she wields.
Glacier Grey covers 270 square kilometres and is 28 kilometres long.
It is an awesome and vast thing; never to ever be forgotten amongst all of the fabulous things we have seen.
We saw it from various points throughout the afternoon before reaching camp and every time we stopped and stood silent.
A friend of mine said that she cried when she first saw the glacier and it touched her soul and we would both concur that this place is very special and one which leaves you in no doubt as to how perfectly beautiful our world really is and at times can render you speechless with a daft grin across your face.


Now getting up to the pass was difficult but I would gladly do it all over again than have to tackle the 1,200 metre descent down the other side to the next campsite. The way down was steep enough in places that there were ropes for you to lower yourself on, once again bringing the Krypton Factor element into play. Seriously, you had to dangle on the rope and lower yourself down.
Now with this ridiculous gradient incorporate the fact that over the previous few days many trekkers had made the same journey under wet and snowy conditions leaving the route akin to a mud chute.
There are no other words to use than dangerous and potentially bone breaking.
If Arancha, who is as sure footed as a gecko slips over than you are in trouble. Nearly everybody we saw had the tell-tale muddy marks on them and I went over twice. Once I slid down the slope and did 180 degrees amongst the trees and the other I slipped and landed on and snapped a thick branch which caused people to turn around in fear that it was actually a bone snapping.
It took 2 hours to get down through this death trap and we were physically and mentally exhausted once it was over; only for lunch that is.
The campsite was still too high up and we didn’t want another cold night so we would push on for another 4 hours to get back to sea level and some comparative warmth.

Crossing the barrier of the pass was literally like crossing the divide between 2 worlds – on one side it was cold, white and ferocious, whereas we stepped over the threshold into a parallel dimension where it was sunny, green and the butterflies were floating amongst the dazzling array of mountain flowers with that great cream and blue glacial beast lording it up all the way down the valley.
Literally it was winter vs summer divided by a clear and evident line.

The walk to the next camp was anything but easy. We had to navigate between valleys which meant descending dodgy ladders before crossing rock falls and climbing similarly wonky and swaying ladders back up to the trail.
Along part of this route we very happy to look up and see a condor swooping by, although not completely overjoyed when you remember that they scavenge upon the dead!
If you weren’t completely up for it and at a certain level of physical fitness this trek could leave you stuck somewhere on your own!

Camp that night was in a glorious location in an open field under the watchful eye of the mountains and best of all it was warm(ish).

Day 5: Camp Grey to Camp Los Cuernos
We were now entering the realm of the W trek and the day trippers and it didn’t long for us to not enjoy it. There are only so many times you can day ‘Ola’ to the passing hordes and only so many times you can bite your lip until you fire off at the ignorant prick who doesn’t say thank you for letting them by.
We decided to make a big day of it this one to save us an extra night in a tent and this day was to be officially recognised as ‘dog sh*t day’.
We made decent ground by getting to Camp Grande Paine for lunchtime and from here we were able to view for the first time the famous curved shaped mountains used on every piece of advertising literature for the park. This camp also acts as the start or finish to the W trek and so there was a camp kitchen full of bits and bobs that the W completers had left behind. We took advantage and hoovered up some much needed coffee, noodles and condiments to make our final couple of days a little more bearable.
Now the clouds started to close in and it wasn’t belong before it started to rain and it was not just a shower.
For 4 hours we trapesed through the continuous downpour, not loving this part of the journey one little bit and the amazing sights from the day before were now a distant and soggy memory.
We had to laugh at one point though as we, covered in mud, saturated with heavy backpacks walked by a group of day trippers, 2 with umbrellas and one in a pristine white fur-hooded coat and white handbag!!

We decided that if at all possible we would try for a bed in a refugio. It may be overpriced by ourselves and our belongings were so wet that we just couldn’t bear the thought of having to put up the tent and lie in it all night in a cold and damp camp.
You would not believe how many people we found at that refugio. It was packed solid and there wasn’t space to stand let alone one spare bed to be had. It we thought that was bad, the shelter next door for the ‘campers’ was like an overflowing soup kitchen meets a Chinese laundry. Every available space, hook, nail, seat and table was taken up with a body, a camp stove or a dripping piece of clothing; it was horrendous.
We managed to squeeze onto a table end and hang out our belongings as best we could, as well as take a much needed hot shower and for 2 hours we just sat there, quiet and uncomfortable. We did our best to be polite and hang our items where they wouldn’t affect other people’s own drying clothing but as usual with humanity, there are always some who do not give a flying f*ck about anyone else and on more than one occasion we found our nearly dry clothing was again wet because of some selfish nob end who had just come in and plonked his stuff on top of ours.
With no rooms available and a wet tent of our own we took the next best option – use one of the camp’s own tent which were permanently set up, spacious and dry!
So now not only were we expected to pay $24 for the right to camp, we had to pay an extra $22 for the dry tent.
It didn’t matter because as you can see below, we set up our own Chinese laundry in the tent and they left a -20 degree sleeping bag behind which I cannot begin to explain how warm and cosy it was and most important of all, we were dry. Ps. Lesson’s definitely learnt on the bag front!
Actually, the price really didn’t matter at all because the camp was so packed and everyone was in such disarray that nobody ever approached me to pay and obviously I am not honest enough to go to them am I? Bonus.


Day 6: Camp Los Cuernos to Camp Torres
We awoke to quite literally a roaring sound; the wind. I don’t know how strong it was blowing but during the early part of the walk the water from the lake was being blown over 30 metres up the mountain slopes to spray us, it was that strong.
However, we could not begin to complain about the wind because today the clouds had been blown away and we marched on into our final full day below a warm sun and blue skies.
The mostly uphill walk to the camp was supposed to take 8 hours, but somehow we stumbled onto a shortcut and made the distance in 4.5 hours.
The original plan had been to make camp, rest for the evening and then get up at the crack of dawn to climb 1 hour up to the Las Torres lookout but as we had made camp and set up by 3pm and the skies were still clear we decided to get it over and done with that afternoon and leave ourselves a very easy descent for the following morning.
On the back of a 4.5 hour climb the walk up to the lookout was a little harder going than we imagined but once we got to the top it was all worth it. We found ourselves a little shaded alcove away from the bluster and gust of the wind and sat back to enjoy the epic views of the Las Torres towers with a packet of chocolate biscuits – consumed in a record 3 minutes.

Day 7: Camp Torres to Administration
Finishing off the trek was as easy as peas and with some pleasure we skipped down the hills by all those day trippers and W trekkers that were puffing and panting their way up to where we had come from.
Once at the Las Torres Hotel we just couldn’t be bothered to take the 90 minute walk back along the road to the bus stop at the administration building so AJ used her charm to blag us a free ride back.
Unfortunately we had misread the times on the bus tickets and arriving by 11am for our 12:30pm bus didn’t seem like a big deal until we realised at 12:20pm it was due to come at 2:30pm!!
There was nothing else to do but lie back on the grass, read, snooze and hang with the other finishing trekkers.

The trek was done and after 123 kilometres in 6.5 days were hanging for a decent junk food meal which we had in the form of pizza, a coke and a beer that night!
As you know we have done a good many treks on this and our previous adventures but for the sheer battle with the weather and the elements as well as 6 nights in a tent this must go down as the hardest and most tiring one. It is hard to trek and camp for multiple days on end but with the chance of snow, rain, sleet, wind and sunshine all in one day, the Las Torres circuit is a trek for the purists – it is beautiful, raw and wild – but obviously not in the places where the bird in the fur coat and handbag was.
And also there was Glacier Grey!!


We returned to Puerto Natales for 2 days R&R and finally our time in Chile had come to an end.
Unbelievably and quite unrealised we had spent 51 days in Chile, had spent a small fortune but had travelled thousands of kilometres from the northern desolation but sublime pastel shades of the Atacama Desert to the southern delights of icy Patagonia and the end of the world.
I think we can pretty safely declare that nowhere else on this trip, or possibly the world will match the natural wonders that we have been so fortunate to discover in Patagonia and we will forever look back to our time here with great fondness, but will we ever return?
I am not so sure. Chile’s stunning natural beauty is unfortunately matched in the opposite sense by its people and I can take them or leave them.
It is such a shame but I found them unfriendly, cold and only concerned with the cash and at times we were left yearning for the happy smiley faces of the more indigenous South Americans such as the Peruvians and Ecuadorians.
Still, let’s take nothing away from Chile itself which at many times was nothing less than breath-taking.

Argentina; what have got for us?

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