We had arrived to Santiago one week earlier without any onward travel plans and now it was time to say farewell, but to where? When I suggested we turn south to Patagonia, Alina’s face turned white at the thought of more camping and rough hiking. Despite my attempts to change her mind (normally, it is so easy to bend her to my will…) we agreed to go our separate ways.
The U.S. Embassy (a.k.a Starbucks) at the huge Cosantera Mall in Santiago became the headquarters of our independent research efforts. Alina, whom by this time had already booked her flight to Buenos Aires, was content in her research of coffee, ice-cream, chocolate & cake.
My main goal was to do the ‘W’ hiking trek in Torres del Paine National Park – a four night, five day hiking route where one can lodge at campsites or refugios that are located within the park. A refugio is a hostel style dormitory that sleeps 6-8 people with toilets and showers.
Wishing to travel light, I reluctantly decided against camping (it took about 4 seconds to make that decision) and instead booked different refugios along the trail. In hindsight, I was very fortunate to secure these at short notice as most are fully booked during the high season. (And for many of those campers I encountered, every month seemed to be a ‘high’ season – if you catch my drift!)
So after almost two days of planning and correspondence, the outline of my Patagonia trip finally looked like this:
- Flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. (5hrs) One night in a B&B
- Bus to Puerto Natales (2hrs). One night in B&B
- Bus to Torres del Paine. Four nights in refugios.
- Ferry and bus to Puerto Natales (3hrs). One night in B&B
- Bus to El Calafate and another to El Chalten (9hrs across the Argentine border). Three nights in hostel.
- Bus to El Calafate (3hrs). One night in hostel.
- Flight from El Calafate to Buenos Aires (3hrs)
Just typing that itinerary was painstaking, so you can imagine what it was like to plan it (en español!).
We set off to the airport at 5am so I could put Alina on her flight to Buenos Aires. Speaking of BA, I did consider using this approach to putting her on my flight to Patagonia, but I quickly reconsidered.
A short time later, my own flight south was ready for departure. Before I knew it I had touched down in Punta Arenas and was sharing a taxi with an Australian couple I befriended at the airport. Traveling solo means being more social – especially when there are pesos on the line 🙂
The town of Punta Arenas doesn’t have much to offer tourists except as a base for day-trips or as a gateway to Puerto Natales and Ushuaia (for expedition cruises to Antartica). Nevertheless, it was nice to get a first whiff of the fresh and extremely windy Patagonian air. And blue skies until 11pm.
The B&B turned out to be nice – friendly hosts, warm room, good shower and a decent breakfast the following morning.
What more could a man ask for? Ah yes, Alina!
A town much the same as Punta Arenas. The B&B I stayed at for one night gave me the option of leaving behind my large pack while I travelled north for the ‘W’ trek. I almost regretted that decision the next morning as a German couple had their camera equipment stolen from their room as they enjoyed breakfast a few feet away. Ouch! Anyway, it was back to the bus station for me, now with just a small daypack, and onward to Torres del Paine national park.
The ‘W’ trek was enjoyable and I would recommend it to others. Each day brought different terrain and scenery along the well marked trails. Within a single day the weather could vary between sunshine to rain & sleet, from calm to strong winds.
The refugios were very comfortable and each site had a cafe to buy meals and drinks – luxury in comparison to the Inca Trail. Below is the only hotel in the park – I did not stay there!
That said, returning by ferry and bus to a B&B in Puerto Natales was welcome after five days of ‘roughing’ it. The big pack that I left behind was still there (was there ever any doubt?) and I had some time to ‘wash’ my hiking clothes for the next circuit in El Chalten. And by wash, I mean soak in the bathroom sink and dry above a radiator. The next morning, I was up early and off to catch a bus across the border to Argentina.
El Chalten is in Argentina and the home of Mount Fitzroy. Arriving at 7pm, my first impression could not have been much better.
The hike to Lago del los Tres, which is the most popular view of Fitzroy, was where I hiked to on my first day (9hrs). Simply amazing – I pity the fool who does not make it here (Editor’s note: who are you calling a fool?). And the highlight of my Patagonia trip. Subsequent hikes on the many trails which lead from town were great too.
After eleven days of traveling solo I was excited to leave Patagonia and see Alina in Buenos Aires, though a little sad to leave this place where I ate like a king (empanadas and trail mix), drank from the streams and hiked through pristine landscape.
As Hannibal would say, “I love it when a plan comes together”.