I guess it is not too surprising, but the average tourist in Torres del Paine was packing a pretty significant camera. Sure, there were some pocket-sized point and shoots, but nice DSLRs were more the standard. The visitors came expecting to be to take pictures that would make Ansel Adams weep, hopefully with joy. With the nice cameras and the massif backlit by the sun in the evening came the desire to get out early and take pictures in the direct warm glow of the morning sun. Hosteria Las Torres was obliging, like they were for pretty much everything, and a made a driver available almost every morning for a photo safari. The night before we learned that there would be a 6 am photo trip on our last day. I equivocated. Six in the morning was mighty early and we were already pretty tired on what was already set to be a long day. I chose to decide whether to go when I woke up.
At 5 am the wake up call came to the room. It was brutal. I rolled over and looked out the window hoping that the weather would be bad, I would get a reprieve, and would be able go back to sleep. No such luck. It looked cold, but it always looked cold. Out the window, the weather was cooperating with the photo outing. Well, at least as much as the weather ever cooperates in Torres del Paine. Devoid of all reasonable excuses and with the compelling thought of the Towers in the morning glow, we got out of bed and got ready.
With assistance, I took a triple dose of Nescafe and headed downstairs for the van. In the lobby we met, Dave, a geologist from Houston who was the ringleader for this outing, and Louise from the UK. Becky also came along. She had a camera, but I suspect her true purpose in coming along was to see me suffering trying to function in the early morning. Payback of sorts, I guess, as I had watched her suffer trying to navigate for us in the car on poorly marked foreign roads with inadequate maps
In the predawn light, the weather was surprisingly temperate with little wind and partly cloudy skies. As hoped, the Towers and the massif did glow dramatically in the morning sun. We all took a lot of pictures.
After a few stops, the warm glow of the sun had faded and we headed back across the Black Bridge to the ranch for a quick breakfast. Just because it was our departure day, didn’t mean that we couldn’t head out for another excursion. So, soon after breakfast, we were back on the horses with two guides and Dave the geologist’s youngest son, Bruce. We would go on a faster paced three-hour ride from the hosteria for a view of Lago Nordenskjold.
My horse, Milico, may have had an automatic transmission but, if it did, it was stuck in first gear. The horse was intent on moving as slow as possible. My legs were quickly getting sore from trying to get the horse to move faster and keep up with rest of the group.
“You know, if you had lost a few pounds, I’d be moving faster,” Milico eventually told me after twentieth time I tried to get him to pick up the pace.
“Wow, talking horses again,” I thought. “It must be the ozone hole. I just hope the radiation is effecting the horses and not me.”
“Thanks for that,” I eventually replied to Milico, finally getting over the shock of the talking horse thing. Boy, the horses here sure do speak their minds. The horse may have been fresh from running free so much of the time, but perhaps they lost some of their civility at the same time.
“Milico is just lazy,” Carlos, our guide, put in. I’m not sure he had heard Milico and my conversation but Milico certainly didn’t seem to care much for that comment.
“At least the guides are polite,” I told Milico as he eventually agreed to keep up with the group but not to push the pace.
The group moved down the boulder-strewn banks of the Rio Ascencio, across the rushing, silty-blue waters, and up the steep rocky bank on the other side. Rather than turning up the valley and paralleling the river like we did on the first ride, we continued southwest along the edge of the massif eventually reaching an overlook for Lago Nordenskjold. Torres del Paine, in the bright warm sun on a partly cloudy day, was beautiful. We’d seen the massif and the lakes from all different angles and in all different light condition. It never failed to impress.
After lingering a bit, it was time to turn back to the lodge. Our return route took a slightly different path than the way out with the horses wading through a mirror smooth pond and loping and trotting through the golden low grasses of the gentle foothills. The loping and trotting thing was killing me. It is hard to view much of the scenery when your eyes are crossed and watering from the pain induced by the pounding against the saddle. I guess the agony would have been easy enough to avoid, if only I knew how to ride. At least that’s what Milico told me. By the time we reached the lodge, I was so sore I could hardly walk. And I had thought horse riding was supposed to be the easy way to see the park.
Off the horse and at the lodge it felt like a full day already, but things were just beginning. I tried to avoid whimpering from the horse-induced pain as we loaded up into the hosteria’s van with Dave’s family, The Becker Bunch, as we call them. Las Torres provided us a weeks worth of sack lunches and we were on the road to Punta Arenas, our departure point from Patagonia. Torres del Paine’s massif became distant in the van’s rear view mirror as we headed past vivid blue and green lakes in to the dry steppe of Southern Patagonia.
It’s a long road, over five and a half hours, to Punta Arenas from Torres del Paine. Punta Arenas is the southernmost city in Chile and one of the most southern cities in the world. As the van moved south the terrain, vegetation, and light gradually changed. Gone were the rocky granite spires of Torres del Paine replaced first by the low hills of the steppe and then by the flat green lowlands of the peninsula at the tip of South America. As we moved south, the guidebooks advised is to stick near the road as the countryside still had land mines left over from the last conflict between Chile and Argentina. Everyone in the van noticed the light. Punta Arenas is at 53 degrees, 10 minutes south latitude. It is hard to label, but the quality of the sunlight at extreme latitudes is different and has an ominous feel perhaps enhanced this time by the thought of the landmines nearby.
The Becker Bunch arranged with Las Torres to visit a penguin colony on the way to Punta Arenas. After a little confusion with the driver, we headed to the water and the colony. The colony did indeed have penguins, though not the massive numbers I had visualized. In fact, I suspect that the tourists may have out numbered the penguins. The penguins were generally better behaved and were certainly better dressed than the human visitors.
It was dark and drizzling when we reached Punta Arenas and our room on the Strait of Magellan. The restaurant at our comfortable hotel, Hotel Noguirea, was “fully committed” when we arrived. Thankfully, the staff agreed to deliver food to our room saving us a food finding trip out into the cold and wet of the night. We ate quickly and consumed some cheap Chilean wine that we had purchased long ago in Puerto Montt. It had been a long day and, with the food and wine, we fell asleep quickly.