January 23, 2006
The trek finally ended today. John and I slept till 10:00, and we thought we were in jeopardy of missing our bus back to town. We quickly packed up and walked 2.5 hours to the next campsite before taking a break. At the campsite, we took another look at our bus tickets and realized that the bus didn't leave until two hours later than we thought it did. After finding this out, we took it easy and chatted with some other trekkers for an hour or so before continuing on to the last leg.
The last four hours of the trek took us around Lago Nordenskjold, a long, narrow lake that connected the last two campsites. It was one more beautiful scene to see before leaving. Besides the usual mountains, there were also emerald green hills in the background, and the lake water itself appeared turquoise at times.
When I got back to Hosteria Las Torres, I still had three hours before the bus left, so I checked out the wildlife information at the hotel. The area is full of endangered animals, but I didn't see many of them on the trek. I guess they are too afraid of tourists.
Later, John and I met up with Jackie and Rebeca, the Canadian girls we met on the trek a few days ago. We also me an Argentine guy who was carrying 40 KG with him on the trek! I don't know what he possibly could've needed that weighed that much, yet somehow he managed to make it to the end. The five of us vegged out until the bus left.
We didn't get back to town until 10:00 PM, so there wasn't much to do other than get dinner. Tomorrow I'm going to have to get caught up on my personal hygiene before I kill somebody with my stench. I'll need a few recovery days before moving on.
The photo album for this entry is here.
I have mixed emotions about ending the trek. One part of me thinks that I could stay in the national park for a month, so I'm sad to leave so soon. Another part of me realizes that at some point, I need to wash my sweaty clothes, shave, shower, and restock my severely-dwindled food supply. It's kind of strange reentering civilization after being completely away for over a week. You realize that you don't need to stay connected to the world for it to keep moving. Society will continue on without you.
Now, for some information about the park for anyone interested in going. Your last stop in civilization before entering the park will be Puerto Natales, a small, friendly town located three hours away from the park by bus. There are plenty of places to stay in Puerto Natales, and it's a good town to stock up on food and gear. It seems that the entire town revolves around tourists going to Torres del Paine. Even though there is a small airstrip near town, as far as I know, the closest city you can fly to is Punta Arenas, three hours south of Puerto Natales by bus.
Getting to the park from Puerto Natales can either be easy or cheap. The official price for a bus ticket is $30 round trip, but the cheapest ticket I found available was for $10 each way. There are at least half a dozen agencies that you can buy from in town, and they'll probably all give you a different price. All of the buses leave at about 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM, and the tickets are open, so you can return to town whenever you want. Another option is to rent a car, which will be expensive if you are going to stay in the park for a few days without driving, but at least it's convenient. A final option is to hitchhike. It might be tough to do, though, because the road to the park doesn't go anywhere else, so you will see few cars. Still, I met a few people who found a ride within few hours.
The park entrance fee is $20. After you enter the park, you can stay as long as you like, but if you leave and come back, you'll have to pay again.
Once you get to the park, you have many options for places to stay, the cheapest of which is to camp. Campsites are everywhere in the park, and none of the ones I visited were full. Most of campsites cost $7 per person, but there are also a few free ones. The pay sites all include free hot showers, and most have a small store and a shelter for cooking. The free sites are very basic with the only amenity being a toilet. If you want to trek the whole circuit, you'll need to camp at least one night because there aren't any other options on parts of the trail.
Another option for accommodation is to stay in "refugios," or refuges. Don't get scared by the name; I went in one and it was really nice. There are several located on the path of the "W," but not as many toward the back of the circuit. All of them cost $38 for a dorm bed without linens. If you don't have a sleeping bag, you can rent one for $6. You're allowed to cook at them, but tf you don't want to carry any food with you, you can have the refuge cook your breakfast and dinner, and give you a bag lunch for $41. So, if you want to hike the "W," but don't want to carry anything with you other than a small daypack, plan on spending about $90 per day.
A final option is to stay at a "hosteria," or hotel in the park. The only one I went in was "Hosteria Las Torres." The prices for a single room there ranged from $156 to $245; a double room was listed from $177 to $286. Food for the day was listed at $100. If you stay at a hotel, you won't be able to go on multi-day treks, but you'll have better access to activities like horseback riding and boat tours around the park's many lakes.
* All prices listed are in US dollars assuming an exchange rate against the Chilean peso of 500:1. Considering the tourism boom currently happening in Patagonia, the prices can, and probably will, rise in the near future.