February 9, 2023
It was a beautiful morning, so we decided to head out for one last hike. The hike was listed as "moderate" by AllTrails, so we figured we could handle it. It was supposed to be good for condor spotting. We knew it was going to be about 1,000 feet of climb, but we took it slow. The trail is pretty short but very steep; they estimate 2.5 hours up and down. We chickened out on doing the hike to mirador base torres as that's 3,500 feet of climb and takes 6-8 hours to go up and down. There is a refugio about half-way up that hike so that you can split the upward hike in two, but you have to book that way in advance (and it's not cheap.... $129 for a bunk without a sleeping bag and $60 bucks for dinner and breakfast per person). We thought we could handle this one instead.
We were very proud of ourselves for making it up. We did spot a few condors flying about, but they were too far away to get good photos. The lookout point at the end of the trail is beautiful as you can survey so much of the landscape in either direction. You have a perfect view across two lake valleys. We hung out at the top for about 30 minutes, but the wind started to pick up, and because it was such a steep ascent, we were worried how that would work coming down with the wind. Stephen decided to do the steepest section down on his butt.
February 7, 2023
We had another early morning so that we could get to Hotel Lago Grey for a boat trip to see the Grey Glacier. The hotel is about 1h45m from where we are in Puerto Natales. The ticket said to arrive at 8:30. We went to check in and they said they'd be "ready" about 9:00. They failed to mention that we had to come back to the check-in after 9am. Somebody called, "group 2," and we realized we didn't have a group number, so we had to wait again in the line to "officially" check in and get our group number. While this was not quite as disorganized as the penguin thing, it ran a close second.
We took a dinghy to the catamaran that would take us to the glacier. We had been to Alaska a few years back, and so knew what to expect, and Grey Glacier didn't disappoint. With a smaller boat than a cruise ship, we were able to get amazingly close to the glacier. The pictures of the glaciers don't quite do enough justice to the brilliance of the blues you see in person. The glacier is retreating significantly, unfortunately, due to climate change. Even just 10 years ago it covered another 100 feet and the rock that spits the now three pieces of the glacier.
February 6, 2023
We got up bright and early and headed to the offices of Solo Expeditions to check in for our penguin experience. They are one of only 2 games in town if you want to see the magellanic penguins. There is a third tour company that does day-long trips to Tierra del Fuego to see the king penguins, but that was too much of a time commitment for us. Since they are only 1 of 2, we have a hard time not recommending them as we loved seeing the penguins, but their customer service left a lot to be desired.
The boat ride takes about 45 minutes to get to Isla Magdalena, where the penguins nest. Meanwhile we spent a good hour and a half waiting before getting on the boat. Once there, though, it really was a magical experience. They really are as cute as the seem in nature videos and in animation. You spend an hour on the island, and then head back. Occasionally the tour will take you to another nearby island to see sea lions, but the seas were too rough today to get out there. Luckily Stephen had his scopolamine patch on, so he was totally fine. This bodes well for the Galapagos.
Another travel tip (almost learned the hard way): always fill up your gas tank, even if you think you can make it. When we left Punta Arenas, we had 3/4 of a tank left, so we figured we'd be fine to get back to Puerto Natales. We did make it, but it was by a hair. We didn't account for the strong winds that affected our mileage. We thought we would have 80km left in the tank when we got to Puerto Natales, and we made it to the gas station with only 11km to spare. That was a little too close for us!
February 5, 2023
Stephen taught YMHFA today, and Eli worked on the website a bit. We then drove the almost 3 hours to Punta Arenas, which is the largest town in Patagonia. From there we'll embark on a boat to go see the Magellanic penguins tomorrow. We're staying overnight at a local hostel for about $75, because we leave for the boat at 6:30am. We had dinner at an unremarkable joint in town as it was Sunday and many restaurants were closed.
February 4, 2023
It was rainy today, and not wanting to risk any potholes, we stuck close to home, visiting the Mylodon Cave. Geologically it is completely different from the other places we've visited here so far. The cave was formed at the end of the last ice age, as retreating glaciers created a lake and volcanic and earthquake activity left batches of stones and pebbles that coalesced into the stone that formed the cave. You can actually see (although it's difficult in the pictures) all of the stones and pebbles that make up the cave walls. Evidence of human inhabitants dates from about 10,000 years ago, and the bones of a mylodon (along with sabretooth tigers and other animal remains) were found in the cave.
We enjoyed it just because of how different it was from what we had seen up until this point. We were thinking up hiking up to the top of the rock formation (it's only about a 1/2 mile), but it started to rain harder again, so after visiting for about 45 minutes, we headed back to eat some soup.
For dinner, we headed to Santolla, a take on the Chilean word for king crab, centolla. Eli wanted to get plain crab legs, but you could only order a whole king crab, which was way too much food (and too much money), so he instead got king crab leg meat in a spicy cheesy stew. He felt like it covered up the natural sweetness of the crab, so it was just okay for him. Stephen got rabbit loin. The meat was very tender, but the balsamic glaze was a bit overdone. We thought the meal was just so-so overall, but the spicy scallops appetizer was worth it; we lapped up the delicious broth with plenty of bread. With drinks, we spent close to $100.
February 3, 2023
Our fourth day in Patagonia and we are now on vehicle number 3. On our way to Glacier Grey today, we hit a pothole that did us in. We flattened our front left tire. And of course, as soon as we get set to change the tire (Stephen's first attempt to do it without AAA), it starts to rain. As soon as we finish, our relationship still intact, the rain stops. Our rental car insurance offered by the agency doesn't cover tires, so we thought we would take it to a tire shop and see if we could get it repaired ourselves first, but it was completely gashed on the side and irreparable. We'll have to use the benefits of our Chase Sapphire Reserve and request reimbursement under their rental car insurance coverage once the bill from the rental agency comes through.
We headed back to the rental car agency (they looked nonplussed to see us again), and let them know what happened. Originally they thought we would have to drive the car on the spare because they were fully booked, but they were able to find us a Chinese SUV called a Chery (yes, with one R) to drive. It's got all kinds of electronic gizmos, but the ride is pretty harsh. Not sure we'll enjoy it as much as the Subaru we had. In any case, after this experience, we just decided to lay low at the house today. We'll venture out again tomorrow.
February 2, 2023
We consulted AllTrails for some ideas for a day hike for today in a different area of the park, and one of the ones that came up included a waterfall (always nice) and would also take us past some of the miradors (lookout points) we had marked on our google map, so we were all set. Many of the day hikes are up and back, as there are very few routes that go in a circuit to get you back to where your car would be parked. It's fine for us, though, as we take a slow pace on the way in, looking at all the scenery and stopping to take photos, while on the out we just book it quickly (and raise our heartrates a little).
The drive today took us on a different route into the park. Yesterday we had been mostly on route 9 before entering where they're building a new concrete decked road to replace the asphalt road. In the meantime, most of the travel on route 9 until they finish is on a temporary dirt road next to the future roadway. We decided that it is much better to have a well-maintained dirt road than a poorly maintained asphalt one, which was the case today. We now get what they were talking about when they mentioned potholes (which they call baches in Chile).
The drive today took us to the opposite side of the granite outcropping to see the cuernos (as apposed to the torres). We stopped at a number of miradors on the way to our trailhead, each one a little closer to the cuernos. The views kept getting more spectacular each time. Our trail started at the Mirador Salto Grande, a nice waterfall (with quite a bit of water volume). Most of the water in the lakes and rivers here has an ice-blue tinge to it from the minerals in the water. Sometimes the photos don't capture the brilliant color well.
From Salto Grande we hiked about an hour and 30 minutes further in toward the cuernos, stopping frequently to take photos. The trail ends at a cliff overlooking a lake that sits right in front of the cuernos. We sat there for a while, took pictures and marveled. Occasionally we could hear rumblings; we were told it was snow cleaving off the back side of the mountain. Way to go, global warming. We booked it on our way out in about an hour, and then decided to head to another waterfall, Cascada Rio Paine, before heading back to the house to make dinner.
Our AirBnB has the absolute minimum necessary as far as kitchen furnishings go, so we are having to make do. We got some aluminum pans; we used one last night for roasting the chicken and today we had to use it to cook rice since the one pot we had was being used to braise the beef. We don't even have bowls for salad or soup and are using the coffee mugs for that.
Similar to Atacama, we've been very surprised at how much you can see that is accessible by car (even if not on the best roads). We would encourage older people who may not have the mobility to do hiking to still consider coming for a visit. There are things to see here at all levels of mobility.
February 1, 2023
Best laid plans... We woke up this morning all ready to get our hiking game on, went out to the car, and the car wouldn't start; we had a dead battery. Luckily the battery didn't go dead somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We called the assistance line, and it took them about 90 minutes to send someone. They got the car jumped, but they told us the battery was not in good condition. Rather than chancing it, we drove back to the rental agency and asked them to swap our vehicle. Luckily they had the same make and model, just in a different color. By the time we got all of this sorted, though, it was about 11am, and we were not sure if we wanted to head to the park. If you're not camping or staying at the refugios (hostels) inside the park, the lodging in the park is unbelievably expensive (over $500 per night). Even the refugios are not cheap; at the Chileno, which is halfway up to the Mirador Torres hike, it's $119 per person for a bunk plus $62 for dinner and breakfast. Most people stay in Puerto Natales and drive the hour or hour and a half up to the park to do day hikes. We decided to head up, just to get our feet wet. We had done some researching online for easy to moderate hikes, and we decided to head to Laguna Azul to do about a 2 hour hike with views of the torres from afar.
Laguna Azul is at the eastern and northern edge of the park and about as far as we were going to ever travel, so it took us about an hour and a half to get to the starting point of our hike. When you arrive at the trailhead, the view of the torres is magnificent as you look across the lake. The trail is very easy, walking along the shoreline mostly. The only thing is that you're heading directly toward the torres along the trail, and so the view that you get at the start of the trail is pretty much like the view you get at the end of the trail. At the speed you're walking, you're not that much closer by the end. Still, though, it is a magnificent view. On our way back we saw a nandu, a South American ostrich. They're endangered, so very cool to see.
January 31, 2023
Up at 3am was hard, but the drive to the airport for our flight to Puerto Natales wasn't too bad; it's 4 lanes the whole way. From the airport we picked up a cab and the fare was about 10 dollars to town, where we would pick up our rental car. We had been told that the roads in Patagonia were bad and we should have a 4x4, so we splurged and got a full-sized SUV, but it's costing us about $900 for the ten days. Our first experiences say that the roads here are not any worse than they were up in San Pedro, but that having the added wheelbase and larger tires make all the difference in our experience of the roads.... no more feeling like our teeth are chattering all the time from the bumps.
Our AirBnB is about 3 miles outside of town. We have some nice views out the kitchen window. They were probably better at some point, but then other houses got constructed in the way of our view. The wind here is something else.... gusting all the time today to the point where it throws your car doors open and when we open the windows of our cabin, the wind howls through any crevice in the place.
We picked up some groceries for our first meals at the place here. We're going to do a couple of soups we think, as it is cool here today (especially with the wind). On our way back to the house from getting groceries, we drove along the water for a bit and stopped and took some photos. On our way in we had noticed these beautiful water foul and it turns out they are black-necked swans. We also got some photos of the mountains viewable from the town and a couple of dilapidated fishing boats left on the shore.
We picked up our tickets online for Torres Del Paine park. You can get up to 3 days for $35 and any number of more days for $49. Since we're going to be here for 10 days, we got the $49 to cover all the days we're going to be here, and then we can use them if we feel like it and not have to worry about a schedule. The park covers a vast area, so seeing a little bit each day will be a good way of doing it.