Day 2: P. Arenas/Torres del Paine

After a much needed night of extended sleep, we enjoyed breakfast at the Rey Don Felipe Hotel and were ready for our pick up by Explora.  The van arrived right on time and we drove back to the airport to pick up our fellow American (Boston by way of New York) travelers Dan and Tara.  Their flight was a few minutes late, but once they arrived, we were ready to go.

Breakfast with historic photos of Punta Arenas

Airport sunrise. It looks like it’s 6AM, but it’s 9:30AM

It is winter in Chile and Punta Arenas checks in at about 53 degrees latitude south, so the eastern sky starts to lighten around 8:30AM and the sun finally rises at about 9:30AM.  About two hours into the drive we stopped for lunch at the Hotel Rio Rubens, which seemed to appear out of nowhere.  We ate lunch by the wood fire stove for extra warmth and fueled up for the rest of the drive.

Along the way, we were treated to beautiful views, and a glimpse of the gaucho life.  There are few trees here due to the harsh conditions in the area, which made for an interesting landscape. We saw a sea lion feeding in the water, along with a lot of sheep, cows, and horses.  We also noticed a unique signaling technique that the drivers use to say hello to oncoming traffic… they turn on their driver-side blinker as they approach each other. Really?!

Gaucho and his sheep dogs herding sheep

Winter roads

As we neared the park, the views continued to amaze.  Explora is one of the few hotels located inside Torres del Paine National Park and open during the low season.  The tourism significantly decreases in the Winter, so we’ll practically have the place to ourselves the next few days.  We received a lovely welcome and tour of the hotel, then quickly prepared for our first exploration, a hike to Condor lookout.

Not too shabby, Chile

Heading to Mirador Condor

Our guide, Nacho, stopped along the way to tell us about the flora, fauna, and geology.  One thing we did notice, is that all the guides here REALLY like their birds.  Our driver this morning spoke very little English, but would point out every time he saw a condor.  Nacho also stopped mid-sentence while explaining the parasitic mistletoe plant to draw our attention to the “condor!”

Nacho describes the flora

This mistletoe is fake!

On the way to the top

We made it to the top of the conglomerate for a 360 degree view.  Only 40 percent of the people on the hike got engaged along the way… Congrats Tara and Dan! Winter is the “non-windy” season, but it was still plenty windy for us.  Nacho produced some (celebratory) coffee from his pack and we warmed up while we enjoyed the view before heading back down.

This rock looks cool…

…sort of like a fish head

Windy coffee

Rio Pehoe (between Lago Pehoe and Lago Nordenskjold)

Heading back through the burned out forest

We arrived back at the hotel with time to relax with a Calafate Sour before our Welcome Presentation where we learned about Explora and the explorations they offer.  We spoke with one of the guides who explained tomorrow’s weather forecast and suggested which explorations we should do.  We decided a horseback ride to Laguna Negra in the morning and a hike around Lago Sarmiento in the afternoon is the best choice.  The guides also offer a short talk every night on various topics.  Tonight, we learned about the history of Patagonia before going to a fantastic dinner and hanging out near one of the fireplaces in the lounge.

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