Day 5: Torres del Paine
Today’s adventure started with a short walk to the hotel dock and a 30-minute voyage aboard a catamaran to the north shore of Lake PehoÃƒÂ© “€ a welcome change from the slightly carsick-inducing roads. We were joined once again by Dan and Tara as well as our guide Nacho from the Condor Lookout hike we did on Sunday. The boat docked at the Paine Grande Refuge (a summer campground and hostel inside the park), Nacho briefed us on our route, and we were on our way toward the French Valley (the middle part of the “W” circuit).
Nacho led the way and made a few stops to explain the flora and fauna. One fun trick he showed us involved freaking out a couple of small birds with an owl call he played from his phone. This probably wasn’t as much fun for the birds, so he only played the call twice so as to not stress them out for the rest of the day.
We also stopped to try some chaura berries. Pronounced like someone from Boston would say “chowder” (so, easy for Dan), these berries are small and red, and accordingly to Nacho, taste like cotton candy. They bloom twice a year, but not in winter. The bush we found had been preserved since the last season (flash-frozen, essentially), but alas, they did not taste sweet.
As we neared our lookout point in the French Valley, we crossed a suspension bridge with a maximum capacity of… one. That’s always comforting. As each of us passed over the bridge, we noticed many of the planks could use some attention. We later met the ranger (who was LITERALLY the only other person we saw all day) and he mentioned he’s been meaning to replace some of the planks. Um, good idea.
Rounding the last corner, the hanging glacier atop the Paine Grande massif came into perfect view. The clouds dispersed, and we enjoyed an unobstructed view. While we were eating lunch, we heard a loud rumble, similar to thunder, and spotted an avalanche. Usually, cold temperatures diminish the chances of avalanches, but the recent snowfall apparently bumped the odds back in our favor and we were lucky to see a couple of them.
After lunch, we hiked back down the same path, including parts of the forest that had been destroyed by fire in 2011. Thanks to the rapidly-shifting winds in this area, you can see pockets of the forest that were spared from the flames in and amongst the charred white husks of the dead forest trees where the fire spread. Although the fire was almost 10 years ago, the trees are remarkably well preserved due to the dry environment.
The morning clouds that were blocking our view of the Los Cuernos across Lago SkÃƒÂ¶tttsberg on our way to the French Valley were no longer present. We saw two jet trails pass overhead in the clear blue sky, which were likely our flights “€ both into and out of Punta Arenas “€ and by 4PM, we made it back to the dock with our catamaran.
We arrived back at the boat a bit earlier than planned, so the captain sailed us around the lake for some great views before we returned to the hotel. To ease our well worked muscles, we ventured over to the hotel spa and throughly enjoyed the outdoor jacuzzi.
Finally, we headed back indoors to pick tomorrow’s adventure(s), eat dinner (turns out Jo likes guanaco too), and relax on the comfy couches. There are a couple new guests in the hotel each day, but we still have the fireplace to ourselves in the evening!