First up, a warning. This is a long one, so grab a cushion.
Patagonia. This one was a bit of a change to the last few weeks of sun and sweating. Patagonia is where it gets chilly. You are on your way to Antarctica after all…
So we left the last post up in Mendoza, where we had just been drinking wine, and generally just enjoying ourselves. It was now time to head south to Patagonia to go and start the hard work of trekking. We decided to take a flight down to the south, as the bus was a pretty monumental journey and you didn’t really save anything by taking it. But first we had to get ourselves over to Santiago in Chile. Country number 4 here we come!
The journey over by bus to Santiago has some brilliant views, so definitely bag yourself some seats upstairs at the front for this one!
Coming into Chile was a lot stricter than it was entering Argentina. They are very thorough searching you for plants, fruits, vegetables and other prohibited items. It’s always best to declare the items, even if you are not to totally sure that they are a prohibited item. The officers will only confiscate what is prohibited. On this occasion all we lost were two oranges. They looked damn good when I bought them, so it was a little bit of a shame not to get to eat them. The sniffer dog picked up that I had had oranges in my bag before too. Wish my sense of smell was that good! I also got stopped after the x-ray machine for my hand luggage. They thought my travel toothbrush was something suspect for some reason. The only thing I could think of was that they thought it was stolen goods. I did borrow it long term from the airplane toilet from our flight to Brazil after all (it was new and complimentary, I don’t steal other people’s toothbrushes….).
That evening we stopped at an Air BnB in Santiago, and just popped out for a chinese (it was average, and more expensive than we thought), as we had to be up at 4am to head to the airport to catch our flight. We managed to sort a taxi with a guy that lived in the same apartment block as our Air BnB was in, which was so handy as it meant we didn’t have to worry about it. Flew with Sky Airlines, and they seem to be by far the cheapest for flights in Chile. They do have problems taking payment on a foreign card though, so be mindful that you will either have to call them to sort out payment or book through a third party like kiwi.com (will pay a bit more with the third party of course).
Our flight landed in a town called Punta Arenas. This is one of the major hubs for changing and continuing to other towns in Patagonia. We had one more bus to get from here to Puerto Natales, which we wanted to get from the airport but there were none left unfortunately. Book this one in advance to save yourself time – we didnt, as we didn’t know how long it would take to get out the airport, but it was under an hour so fairly quick. We ended up jumping in a taxi share with some other people and got to the main town for 6000 Chilean pesos (is now around 820 pesos to the British pound in chile, so about £7.50). In the main town we had a couple of hours wait until our bus, so we headed to the shops to pick up some trekking food supplies. Supposed to be a bit cheaper in Punta Arenas than further south and the smaller towns for this type of stuff. To be honest it isn’t that different really.
The bus is about 5 hours and this seems like a walk in the park for us already, so no sweat there. We arrived at our hostel (the singing lamb), and this was one of our favourite hostels so far. The beds were comfy, it had proper duvets, the showers were good, had a nice communal area and the staff were very nice. We had a couple of days here before we headed off on the trek to sort out gear etc, so we settled in and just headed over to their bar that evening to have a beer.
El Calafate austral beer is very nice by the way!
The next day we walked around town looking for camping cooking equipment rentals and other foods. We were recommended Don Busco supermarket for dry ingredients and dried fruit. We also went to the bus terminal to get our bus tickets to the national park where you do the trek and managed to get our entrance tickets to the park as well. You can pay by credit card if you get them here (cash only at the park), and it does save you some time when you get to the park. We also went to the 3pm talk at erratic rock; a rental and hostel company that provide a free talk on the dos and don’ts for hiking round the W trek (they also cover the O circuit).
Next day we changed to a private room so we could sort all of our stuff out without having to be mindful of everyone else in the dorm room. We went for a walk along the coast in the morning while the room was sorted, which was beautiful, and came back for lunch. Checked in and had a nice long nap. We’re a big fan of a mid afternoon nap!
We then later started packing for the 4 Day trip. Hostels let you leave your big bag with them while you go and do the trek which is so handy. Your bags go into separate locked cupboards, so they are nice and safe while you are away. We also booked the rest of our time in Patagonia including buses, plus our air bnb in Valparaiso, so we were sorted for the next few weeks.
In the morning we woke up early, had a shower and breakfast, and walked to the bus station for our 7.30am bus. We managed to get to the park in 1.5 hours, and by 10.20am we arrived at our campsite. We dropped our bags off and only had food for the day in our bag, so were travelling light. We started the hike to the highest peak (Mirador Las Torres) of our 4 Day hike. It takes you up to 830m above sea level and we climbed from 530 to 830 in an hour (I think our campsite was at about 380m or something). Unfortunately when we got up to the top, the weather was so bad we couldn’t see the main attraction… We did see it on the bus on the way in, but that really isn’t the same… We spent a chilly, wet and windy 20 minutes at the top, and even though the weather was poor and we couldn’t see the peaks in full, it was still an amazing place to be.
On the walk down I managed to injure my knees and struggled to get back down but we managed to do it slowly. We walked with a canadian girl from our hostel who was doing it alone, and she patiently waited for us, and also let me use both her walking sticks which was very nice! We told her to carry on though, as we (I!!) were slowing her down. Going down was a bit of a crappy time to be honest, nearly every step was painful, but kumu helped me all the way. I was slower getting down that mountain than paint drying. A big thank you to Kumu for sticking with me through that <3.
We eventually got back to our campsite just after 7pm and started cooking dinner in the rain. It still tasted good, especially after the hard day we had had. Kumu got herself sorted with a shower and wrapping up in as many clothes as possible before jumping into her sleeping bag. I didn’t bother, as I was just in a general mess of life! The sleeping mattress in the tents were actually better than some hostels we have been in, so we had a pretty good night’s sleep that night.
Us cooking dinner in the rain after the eventful downhill journey
The next morning woke up to rain. But it seemed worse than it was when you are in the tent. We got ready and decided against cooking breakfast in the rain. Who wants a mediocre porridge that is half rain water really… Instead we had eggs, nuts and breakfast bars. We decided to have the porridge for lunch when we arrived at our next campsite which is only 4 hours away.
We headed off and we had heard that the walk to the next site wasn’t too bad really. Only 4 hours and pretty flat. Although I soon discovered that even the small inclines were a real problem for me. We walked for about 30 mins and then we had to make the call that this was a bad idea to keep pushing on. The next campsite is only accessible by horse and the extra walking would do my knees no good. Safe to say, I felt like a pretty big let down to the team (as in Kumu and I) at that point.
We went back to the office so we could get a bus back to town. We couldn’t get our money back on our reservations unfortunately, but managed to sell one night to a couple for 1/3 of the price; anything is a win at that point really. After a bit of waiting around for the next bus, we headed back to town and went for a beer and pizza to make ourselves feel a bit less crap about the whole situation. This was at a place called Base Camp, which I thought was 1, ironic at that point in time, and 2, very nice.
Well….It wasn’t quite the ending we were expecting either…. But, the flights to Patagonia are not out of reach and we will be back in the near future to finish the trek. I’ll get a set of bionic knees if I have to!
I’ll make it up to the team at some point, I promise!
A few lessons we learnt from our trek experience:
1. It is super expensive to do the trek if you don’t take your own tent and gear. They have a bit of a monopoly there and they are trying to keep numbers low, so prices for pretty much everything are high.
2. From speaking to others, doing the trek the opposite way to what we were intending to do it, may have worked out better. It sounded like it would have spread out the walking a bit more and not meant that the hardest part was on your first day…
3. For the Mirridor Las Torres, the final part that is very steep can probably be avoided if the weather is really bad like it was for us. We would say, you just don’t really gain much from going up. But on the other hand it is definitely hard to come away thinking you were so close to completing it, and to not. Truthfully this is a big part of why we still headed to the top.