Recent Entries


December 04, 2004

Surprise--Photos and More!

Who am I kidding? Did I really think I could be pretty much alone and without too much to do for 3 1/2 days and not upload photos? It was my entertainment for the early evening yesterday, and helped pass the time perfectly. And now you can reap the benefits--check out the Torres del Paine photos, and also some from Punta Arenas and the penguin tour I took on Thursday. I also took some videos of the penguins, but they were taking too long to upload, so that's for another day.

It was great to finally see some penguins--I've passed up several other chances to see them because Isla Magdalena, an island in the middle of the Strait of Magellan near Punta Arenas, is supposed to be a really good place to see them. And it certainly was--the island is simply covered in penguins and their little burrows, which they are preparing for a new crop of youngsters in a few months. They are cute, funny little creatures, totally clumsy and flopping over all the time as they try to climb over rocks near the water with their pretty much non-existent legs! These are Magellanic penguins, also called jackass penguins, and as soon as you hear them it's clear where the second name came from! They really do sound like donkeys, and it was cool to watch them open their mouths, pointing beaks straight up in the air, lungs expanding and contracting like crazy, as they make these crazy noises. You'll get to see a video of this, eventually.

Today I went to Puerto del Hambre and Fuerte Bulnes. Puerto del Hambre, or Port Famine, is the site of the first Spanish town settled here in 1548, about 30 years after Magellan discovered the strait. A bunch of people pretty much got stranded there, and when the English came along a few years later everyone was dead, hence the name. Fuerte Bulnes was established by the Chileans in 1843, after they won independence from Spain, in order to claim ownership of Patagonia and the strait. It was deserted just five years later, when they decided that there was a better location 60 kilometers north, and that's where they began the town of Punta Arenas, on a spot called Sandy Point by the English.

Visiting the fort wasn't very notable in and of itself, and there's nothing left at Puerto del Hambre except a plaque and a corner of the original church, but it was cool to see more of the coastline here. I'm psyched to be right on the Strait of Magellan--it's the stuff of adventure stories and legends, and I can't believe I'm seeing it myself! It's interesting to think about the explorers and how big a deal it was when they discovered something like this, which opened up new shipping routes. I think I read that one of Magellan's original ships returned to Spain, and it was the first to travel all the way around the world. Pretty cool.

I'm honestly not sure what else to say about Torres del Paine (which, by the way, means Towers of Blue--"paine" is a Tehuelche Indian word for blue). The pictures certainly speak louder than words in some cases. But I suppose a few people might like to hear more, so...

I completed a W-shaped circuit (called, aptly, The W) that started with a catamaran ride, then a 4-hour hike in the rain to a glacier I could barely see through the clouds. I hiked that day with a couple who lives in Paris, although he's originally from Queens. They were even slower than I am--a rarity--but considering the rain and that it was my first day with the pack it was good to go slow.

I stayed in lodges called refugios all four nights. They're expensive, $20-27 a night, but I decided it was worth it to not have to carry a tent and sleeping mat--and potentially have to set up a tent alone in the wind and rain! The refugios all have bunk rooms and you bring your own sleeping bag. The amount of space in the rooms and in the common areas varied quite a bit. The first refugio was the most crowded, and thankfully not an indication of those to come, which were newer and roomier. I carried most of my own food--cheese, salami, and bread for lunch, and dehydrated soups for dinner--but ate a few overpriced meals in the refugios too.

I hiked alone on the second day, heading back the way I came, but it was a completely different hike because the weather was beautiful and there were amazing views everywhere. I enjoyed going at my own pace and taking lots of pictures. That night I met up with Chris and Amy, the Americans I had Thanksgiving dinner with, and we hiked together the next day. We were able to leave our packs at a campsite and climb up Valle del Frances with just daypacks, which was a welcome break, and a necessity--I definitely wouldn't have done it with my full pack, as it was a tough climb. We didn't have enough time to hike all the way to the top of the valley, but after 1 1/2 hours we had a good view, so took a lunch break on a peak in crazy-strong winds, then hiked back down, picked up our packs, and continued to the next refugio. That afternoon I ran into Kristin and Brian, an American couple I'd traveled from Copacabana to La Paz with! Unfortunately this is the last time I think our paths will cross in our travels.

That night Chris and Amy and I hung out with Ben, another American who I met on the Ruta 40 tour (he's the one with the dog--his dog hiked in TDP too!), playing cards, sharing food, and drinking wine. Chris and Amy and I hiked together part of the next day, then headed to separate campsites/refugios for the night. That afternoon I ran into two couples I know from the Inca Trail--it sure is a small world down here. I hiked to the Torres by myself on the last day, and enjoyed the solitude during some stretches of the trail. It was a hard scramble over huge rocks to the lookout, but worth it. I stayed for an hour, braving the rain and hoping the sky over the towers would clear. It cleared a bit, but I didn't get the blue sky I was hoping for in the background of my photos.

I really enjoyed the whole experience, and it made me want to do more hiking at home, maybe even some overnight trips. I don't think I've ever hiked in such spectacular surroundings, and it was well worth all the effort.

Posted by Amy on December 4, 2004 02:06 PM
Category: Patagonia

If you come back to SF, you can take a 3-day backpacking trip with Marisa and I. We know of a great place. But, um. . . at this point, I'd be afraid you would totally kick my ass, you crazy hiker girl.

Posted by: amber p on December 7, 2004 05:24 PM

Ha! Not likely. I was wondering today, why am I such a fast city-walker and such a slow hiker?

Posted by: amy on December 8, 2004 04:23 PM


Your pictures at Torres del Paine are the best. My favorites so far.

Posted by: Duyen on December 10, 2004 12:21 PM
Email this page
Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Designed & Hosted by the BootsnAll Travel Network