Torres Del Paine, Chile.
Waking up before the crack of dawn in Southern Chile during winter does not mean much given dawn arrives late. Sunrise was at 8:15 AM, the same time I got picked up for my day excursion to Torres del Paine.
Two Germans were already in the car. They asked about my plans and looked at me like I was a complete pussy for only going on a day tour. The duo were getting dropped off to hike to the Mirador involving a 2 day trek with 1 night tent camping. Next stop, a Dutch couple from Rotterdam embarking on the W: 5 days & 4 nights. Now I really felt like a complete pussy lacking the cajones to embark on the W trek today. Fuck that! They live in frigid areas.
I’m not the Queen of Paine
When faced with something hard, the harder it is, the more I like to ride it out to the bitter satisfying end. Once I start something, come hell or high water I finish! For example, during the grueling Volcan Maderas hike in Nicaragua almost every inch of me was telling me to turn. The last stubborn inch inside my brain would be damned if I did! The caliente companions and I all wanted to die but killed the steep, sometimes muddy hot, humid hike in 7 hours.
Today, I need not to feel like a complete failure because I was not even attempting the trek. This was a scenic scoping out mission for my summer Patagonia expedition that would include both Argentina and Chile during months sans snow.
I confessed to the group, “I am not the queen of pain”. Despite being born in New York, my growing years in Florida turned me into a lover of warm climates and summer sports. Although my best chica lives in Jackson Hole Wyoming, an excellent place to pursue winter sports, I only visit her during the summer months. I prefer to hiking the ass-burner trails in the AM and cruising down the Salt River in a bikini and inner tube to cool down.
San Francisco is extremely close to Lake Tahoe but I prefer camping, hiking and mountain-biking over snowboarding and skiing the snowy slopes. Although I love camping, my preference is not to wear my entire wardrobe to do so. Bottom line, I came too late in the season (for me) to trek the W more power to them.
The sun rose over the snow covered ground. The landscape morphed from snow to savanna, sabana en espanol. I sat shotgun next to Jose our friendly and funny driver. He seemed relieved to have me in front since I was the only one who spoke Spanish. He jokingly informed me my Spanish was more at par with a 6 year old than a 3 year old. I ended up translating for him and the others.
Shortly into the drive, we stopped next to the frontera to pee, grab a coffee, pay the park fee and for the others to fill out the forms needed for their overnight excursion. During the stop I chatted with the lady and 2 men who owned the tienda/cafe. They asked about my life. It began with “Viaje sola?” “Si”.
I did preemptive damage control since I was going to be alone with the driver after we dropped off my German and Dutch friend by showing my handy photo of me and former boytoy. I shared my fictional story with the new word I had recently learned: amante meaning lover aka in addition to your esposo, novio o prometido. Me: “No busco para un amante de Chile o Peru o todo de Sudamerica. Hay solamente un hombre para mi en el mundo.” Well, at least as far as the driver was concerned.
At the administration, we dropped the Germans off. Since they made fun of me for not being tough enough, Jose made fun of them after they were gone since they were wearing jeans and had nothing to cover their sleeping bags from the snow or rain.
And then there were 3: me and the Dutch couple. They were starting to stress. First, it was already 11. They thought they would be trekking by now. I had to relay information back and forth between them and Jose. Their main questions: What time are we getting to the trailhead? 12:30 mas o menos. How many hours does it take to get to the refugio? 4 horas mas o menos. What time does the sun set? 17:30 (5:30) mas o menos. Second, I am not sure who realized it but out of the provisions they had on hand, the cheese had been left behind in the hostel’s refrigerator. The other supplies were powerbars, candy bars, soup, wraps and nutella. They really wanted their cheese to have more variety.
We stopped at a picnic area for lunch. Actually there is a restaurant there during “the season” but now esta cerrado. There was a tienda that was abierto. Much to my friends’ delight, the store had cheese!
The day, the next 5 days, was saved! This area also had a proper toilet. Both of them went to use the facility for “twosies” before they would have to start digging holes for those. While they took care of “business”, my main item was eating my sandwich and soaking up the cold but beautiful vista.
After the short pitstop, we were on the road again. 15 minutes later we stopped to say goodbye to my brave Dutch friends. They grabbed their gear & cheese and set off for their journey by foot. I hopped back into the warm van to complete my day’s journey by car.
In another 15 minutes, Jose stopped and told me it was my time to hit the trailhead. He told me I could go play for up to 1.5 hours. Sweet! The trail took me to a beach where I could see a few glaciers and theoretically see las torres if it weren’t for the damn clouds! I hiked and explored. The area reminded me a lot of Wyoming. Torres and Tetons = same same but different. Regardless of where I
was in the world, I was out in nature and I was in my happy place. Yes, it was cold but tonight I knew I had a lovely warm room and bed with my name all over it.
When I mad it back to the van, I found Jose was amusing himself with music. I plugged in my iPod which I had loaded with my Spanish lessons from Rosetta Stone, Daddy Yankee, J-Lo, Shakira and Pitbull, among others. We listened to music. I made sure to skip especially raunchy or sexually-charged songs like Rihanna’s S&M and the like to not cause any problems for me.
After only 20 minutes, we made a stop. Jose went to negotiate with 3 people waiting for a ride. The other hikers eagerly accepted his offer. The bus they were supposed to take for their return was non-existent. The hikers: a nurse from Toronto, Canada and 2 Brits from Briton who had just finished University. They said they barely survived 3 nights and their asses were officially kicked. They told me I was smart to avoid the winter.
I retained my translator title. Jose understood what they were saying but also asked me to relay some information. I chatted with new crew and relayed a few of Jose’s jokes aka bromas.
The scenery changed from green back to white. We passed several packs of suicidal guanacos, they seemed to only want to cross the street when they saw the van coming. They were running off into the sunset. It was also rush hour for the sheep.
Almost back to Puerto Natales and time for sunset, we made one last stop at cueva (cave) de Milodon. There was a large model of an extinct toothless herbivore, milodon at the mouth of the cave. He looked like he needed a hug. Sorry you are extinct buddy, I understand how difficult it can be to be a herbivore in Chile.
We made it back to Puerto Natales just as the sun set. I was happy I did not have to deal with setting up camp and to have a warm room and bed waiting for me. I was satisfied with my day excursion and was looking forward to getting up early tomorrow for my continued journey toward the end of the world.