Torres del Paine - The Towers of Paine.
Torres is a national park in southern Patagonia, with one of the most spectacular mountain landscape in the world. Giant glaciers next to rivers and lakes, snowcapped peaks next to straight rock pillars piercing the clouds. And in all that: We. We decided to properly test our gear against snow and ice, walking the W-Trek, a 60km long trek that brought us to the glacier Grey, the valley between the two highest mountains here, and a nice viewpoint of the name giving Torres. All in all we experienced a lot of snow and ice in the mornings, which turned into mud and ice water in the afternoons, sleeping on our punctured, deflated mattresses on the free camp-sites provided by the park. We stayed 4 days and did most of the W. Some areas were inaccessible, due to too much snow. We hitch-hiked in and out the park, bringing our food with us, so all in all it was not too costly, we only had to pay the ~15€ entry fee. Most of the Refugios were still closed, because it is off-season and we had most of the park for ourselves. The first day of trekking we did not even meet a single person...
It was awesome. Since pictures say a lot more than words, we will post Torres del Paine in all it's icy glory and let you decide if it is a fun place to hike, or a frozen nightmare ;)
After Chilean Torres del Paine we continued onwards to Argentina, to the Parque National los Galciares. A short bus ride brought us to El Calafate, which is the base for the Perito Moreno Galcier. It's also a nice town in itself, but overburdened with tourist infrastructure. The main street is a wild mix of Casino surrounded by outdoor shops, tour agencys and restaurants, since a great many people come by to see one of Argentina’s biggest attraction: The glacier.
The 250 km2 (97 sq mi) ice formation, and 30 km (19 mi) in length, is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water.
Essentially, what you see is a jagged rough 70m wall of ice coming up in front of you, shining bright blue in the sunlight. Three things are offered: Walking near the glacier, walking on the glacier and a boat ride on the lake next to it. Since we do mountaineering and glacier walking is not all that exciting for us, we opted to just go there, have a look and see if we will take a boat or not. But seeing that the boats do not come really close, due to the risk exposed by falling ice blocks, we just had a nice daytour and some proper touristy sightseeing. We hitch-hiked, once more, to the location from El Calafate, paid the 15€ park entry and made hundreds of pictures, somehow looking rather alike. Still, we hope you can appreciate the scale of that monster, because unfortunately there is no point of reference on the photos we took. A massive glacier in front of snowy mountains and a lake filled with floating ice blocks bigger than the boats. We had a fun day, doing every way offered, walking down to the lake, having a picnic with a view...
(Click for fullscreen)
After this rather relaxing stay in El Calafate we continued on to El Chalten, this time by bus, because it is a small village at the end of the road and not many cars go there, especially not off season. Even from the bus approaching the town we could see the Mount Fitz Roy, another jagged peak here in Patagonia. El Chalten is nicknamed the Trekking capitol of the nation, and hosts a number of easy day hikes with great viewpoints and free camp sites at the end. A bit like a smaller, more welcoming brother to Torres del Paine. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not as forthcoming. A wall of clouds blocked the view of the mountains, as soon as we arrived. We did do 3 of the treks offered, one to a waterfall, the second one to the Laguna Capri and the last to Laguna Torrres, from where you should be able to see a grand panorama, at least according to the pictures we saw. But no, all we could see is fog and clouds, and the raindrops all around us. But we saw some interesting bird life, a condor came really close to us and in the evenings the scorpions came out for a photo shoot.
Again by bus, we left for Rio Gallegos, the next big city on the Ruta 3, the big highway that will lead us north. The bus was curiously leaving at 03:30 at night from El Calafate. That meant backtracking from El Chalten, and then a long wait. In Rio Gallegos we started to hitch-hike again, with many trucks to choose from. We found a northbound truck quite soon and covered the distance to Puerto Madryn in 1,5 days. Another, final hike from the Highway into town, and there we are.
Puerto Madryn is a rather nice, touristy town on the coast right next to the peninsula valdez. This peninsula is one of the best places in the world for whale watching and known for orcas. The orcas developed a unique method to hunt here, they jump on the beach to kill sea lions and then wiggle back awkwardly into the waves and the ocaen. A rather dangerous thing for a whale to do, but it seems to work, in the last 20 years only 3 orcas have been known to strand and all these have been rescued by the park rangers. The rest of the wildlife is not too shabby as well, sea lions, sea elephants, grey fox and guanacos and magellanic penguins. Cute little black and white birds, waddling along... with burning red eyes that look like the eye of Sauron.... srsly.
After stocking up at an ATM we paid for a tour to this peninsula, the Parque National Valdez. 2 Colonies of sea elephants and the mentioned penguins are on the program, and whales if we are lucky... most people also do a boat tour, but that was just a bit too much for us. We asked for trekking also, but were told that the whole tour is about 430km, so, yeah, no thanks. Together with 10 other visitors we were driven around, just to have a few minutes at each sight, the time always seemed too short. Still worth it though, the penguins are awesome and adorable and really really close, the sea elephants required a little more distance due to their rather aggressive nature, and a sly grey fox conned some tourist out of food, he was my favourite of the day :)
Whales we could only see from far away, the fins breaking the surface of the ocean, but nothing more... maybe next time.
We returned to Puerto Madryn, spend some time finally doing some work on our blog (just for you guys ;) ) and uploaded our pictures for September. After that it was time to hitch-hike further towards Cusco, with Mendoza being our next destination.
Mendoza is one of the last places in Argentina we had not seen up to this point, a big city with wide avenues, plazas and museums, surrounded by bodegas (wine yards) They produce the finest wine South America has to offer and even the outdoor options are not too bad. Rafting, Skydiving, Biking, Rappelling and mountaineering are on the list. Especially mountaineering is interesting in this area, because of the Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain of the continent with 6962m above sea level. A worthy goal to reach. Right now we stand in our hostel in Mendoza, planning our next steps. Return to Cusco ? Climb the Mountain ? Only time will tell, and probably our next blog entry ;)