Day 6: Torres del Paine
This morning we started with our (now) usual scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast and gathered in the lobby at 8:45AM to start another adventure. Our guide for the day’s first activity was Mercedes and we were joined by John and Angela, a couple of friendly Kiwis who arrived at Explora last night via an overland drive from Argentina. After a 40-minute van ride to the eastern sector of the park, we embarked on our hike along the Aonikenk Trail with clear skies and brisk morning air.
Our route was a one-way, 7km path that runs south toward Lake Sarmiento “€ often right along a fence that separates the National Park from private property (owned by a couple of Croatian bros). This natural pampas area (fertile lowland) is known for having a variety of wildlife and beautiful views of the Paine massif from the southeast.
We hiked to a series of conglomerate formations that rose above the landscape in the morning light. Here, we could see a few of the 4,000 year-old cave paintings left on the rocks by the Anoikenk, the original aboriginal people of Patagonia who were nomadic hunter-gatherers.
We enjoyed a quick snack while checking the rocks for other ancient cave paintings, and then continued walking towards Lago Sarmiento. Plenty of guanacos roamed the landscape. Mercedes told us that guanacos travel in families, but one guanaco will usually act as a lookout “€ watching for pumas “€ as the rest of the family eats.
We also spotted a gray fox. It looked interested in catching a bird at first, but realized that might be kinda hard, so we watched as it stealthily approached a bush and pounced on a mouse instead “€ a delicious afternoon snack.
As for pumas “€ the prime wildlife attraction in the area “€ we saw plenty evidence of their presence (many guanaco bones and puma prints), but no actual pumas. When we got back to the van, our driver, Raul, showed us a photo he took of some pumas he saw while we were on the hike.
Back at the hotel, we had time for lunch and prepared for our afternoon horseback trip at the Explora stables. We suited up and headed out to meet the horses once again (we each had a new horse today). This time, we rode south through the pampa where our horses had space to spread out. The views during the ride were spectacular. Afterwards, we warmed up by the stove, continued increasing our tolerance for mate, and still could not win the gauchos’ ring toss game.
Yesterday’s spa visit was pretty great, so we returned for some more outdoor jacuzzi time. Many of the guides have suggested jumping into the river for a cold dip (some more seriously than others). After spending a few minutes in the sauna to heat up, Matt was adventurous enough to try it.
Refreshed and rejuvenated, we headed back inside to pick tomorrow’s exploration and attend the nightly talk, this time about geology. We have been joined by 14 new guests at the hotel tonight. But do not worry! It turns out they are a group of Oxford and Cambridge University alums who were up in La Serena for the eclipse a few days ago. They asked the Explora guides if there were any astronomy-related talks (which we asked about earlier to no avail) and when they found out not so much, the group jokingly suggested they could give the guides a talk. We immediately chimed in and told them we would 100 percent attend. And with that, I believe the department chair and professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University (Roger L. Davies) was conscripted into giving us a lecture tomorrow night. Awesome!!!