Monthly Archives: January 2006

Lost Cause

January 29, 2006
Day 123

Last night I stayed in a really bad hostel. It was just some guy's house, and he threw a bunch of beds into a few of the rooms to make dorms. The owner told me I could use the Internet last night. A few people were waiting to use it before me, so I waited patiently for over an hour. Before I had a chance to use the computer, the owner quickly turned it off and then got mad at me for wanting to use it! As much as I tried, I just couldn't understand why he would do such a thing.

The hostel owner was in a bad mood all night, so today, John and I packed up and left at 1:00. When we paid for our room, the owner got mad again and told us that checkout was 10:00. John doesn't understand much Spanish, so he thought the owner was asking for 10 more pesos. When John looked confused and didn't say anything, the owner said in Spanish "You understood me." I've probably stayed at fifty different places on this trip, and they all have different checkout times. It's not at all unusual for me to leave a hostel late in the afternoon. If the owner wants us to leave at a certain time, it would be helpful to know what that time is beforehand.

I've noticed a trend in this region. Tourism is growing rapidly here, and the locals want to get some of the tourists' money. They turn their house into a hostel, but they don't care about anything other than making a few extra bucks. Then they get mad at the people staying there for breaking the rules which have never been written down or even verbally communicated to anyone. I would think it would be common sense that if you want to open a hostel, you should at least have some desire to meet people from other countries, and have some social skills. Anyway, I found a much better place to stay with a pleasant staff and clearly communicated rules, so hopefully I won't have to deal with these problems for the rest of my stay here.

I didn't get much done today because of the late night last night. It's Sunday, so almost everything in town is closed anyway. Tomorrow, I'll probably go on a trek of some sort with John and possibly Kevin from New Jersey, who I met on the bus yesterday. There is a lot to do in this area, so I may stay here for awhile.

Greetings From The End Of The World

January 28, 2006
Day 122

Picture of me at the Straights of Magellan.

Me at the Straights of Magellan.

The bus to Ushuaia left at 8:00 this morning. After a few hours, we crossed the Straights of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego on a ferry. When I got off the ferry, I got a quick picture by the sign welcoming me to the island. I stared walking back to the bus, but it was already leaving! I ran after it and frantically waved my hands to get the bus driver's attention. I thought I would have to hitchhike into Ushuaia and search for my backpack later in the day, but the bus finally stopped for me. I guess a bunch of people noticed the empty seat and were shouting at the driver. I think he just wanted to play a cruel trick on me.

Once we got to Tierra del Fuego, we saw a lot of nothing. We had to cross the border back into Argentina, and we passed through a few small cities, but otherwise the bus ride lasted twelve long, boring hours.

Ushuaia is a nice little city. It's only about four blocks wide, but it seems like it is 100 blocks long, stretching itself out along the Beagle Chanel. The ubiquitous Andes mountains are in still in the background. For almost my entire trip so far, the Andes have always been nearby. Now that I've reached the end of the line, they have gotten much shorter before taking their last plunge into the ocean.

The city is very touristy, but also fun. Every little store seems to sport a sign proclaiming that it is at the end of the world. Tonight I went out to one of the clubs in town with some people I met on my bus. You'll be happy to know that the famous Argentine nightlife does extend all the way to the far southern regions. The "night" scene was still going strong when I left at 6:30 AM, long after the sun had risen.

The photo album for this entry is here.

La Zona Franca

January 27, 2006
Day 121

The local cemetery.

Some graves and stuff.

Today I went with English John and Nitzan from Isreal to the Zona Franca, the duty free zone of the city. There was a big shopping mall with a few good bargains, but mostly the same prices you'd see anywhere else. There were also a bunch of large warehouses selling just about everything you could imagine. It was OK to visit for a day, but all I bought was a few cans of beer for forty cents each. I'm not sure why I heard so much hype about the area.

We also checked out the city's cemetery. It wasn't unlike any other cemetery I had visited, but it was interesting to hear Nitzan's take on it given that he's Jewish. Apparently, the Jews don't put up huge monuments with lots of flowers in their cemeteries; they don't feel the need to get all elaborate with dead bodies.

John wanted to make another soup tonight, but Nitzan suggested getting steaks. Nitzan won tonight and cooked a great meal. I like the idea of hanging out with two chefs because they both want to impress each other with their culinary skills and I get to eat like a king.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Museum Day

January 26, 2006
Day 120

Picture of a diving suit.

An old Navy diving suit.

It was cold and rainy all day, which seems to be the norm in Punta Arenas. I'm not sure what would make someone want to live here. Winters must be horrible. At least the weather made it a perfect day to check out some museums.

The first museum I went to was the Museo Naval y Maritimo (the Naval and Maritime museum). It was full of old Naval stuff and information about the important battles that took place in this region. There was also a video shot around 1930 by an American who sailed with the Navy around Cape Horn, which is the southernmost part of the continent and one of the most difficult places in the world to sail through.

Next, I visited the Museo Regional Salesiano "Maggiorino Borgatello" (the Salesian Regional Museum "Maggiorino Borgatello"). It was an old mansion that was donated by some rich family and turned into a museum. The first few rooms were still set up in their early 20th century decor. I bet they had some wild parties there. Suddenly, as I walked through one of the rooms, I heard a noise that sounded like a veceloraptor. The next room was an exhibit about the extinct animals of the area! It was quite a strange change of pace from the beginning of the museum. The last part of the museum was in the basement and included the servants' quarters and kitchen. Even the servants appeared to live pretty well in this mansion.

My final stop was the Museo Regional de Magallanes (the Magallanes Regional Museum). Opened in 1893, it is one of the oldest museums in Chile. It was also by far the biggest one I visited today. The first floor was full of stuffed animals and included a replica of the Cave of the Hands. The second floor had an exhibit about the local native people. Sadly, most of the original tribes are now extinct. The third level had information about the first Antarctic expeditions. The fourth floor had a bunch of propaganda about how great oil is. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many good museums in the city, although I wouldn't recommend visiting all of them on the same day.

John and I also got tickets to Ushuaia today. I didn't realize this before I got here, but not many buses go to Ushuaia. We got really lucky and got some of the last tickets for Saturday (two days from now), but most of the companies we checked out didn't have any seats available until Monday. Punta Arenas is an OK city, but I wouldn't want to be stuck in the raininess for four more days.

Maritime Museum Photos
Salesian Regional Museum Photos
Magallanes Regional Museum

Moving To Punta Arenas

January 25, 2006
Day 119

John and I couldn't get a bus ticket to Punta Arenas until 6:00. If you're not preparing to visit Torres del Paine National Park, there's not much to do in Puerto Natales, so I just worked on my blog all day. When we finally did leave town, the bus trip was basically three hours of nothing. It was raining the whole way, but there didn't seem to be anything at all between the cities.

When I first walked through Punta Arenas, I was surprised to see that it was happening place. There are lots of chic department stores in town, and there is a duty free zone that I'll have to check out before leaving. Despite being so far south, the city has over 100,000 inhabitants. I guess it shouldn't be a big surprise because it's located at a major harbor for ships that are going around South America.

Catch Up Day

January 24, 2006
Day 118

Today I caught up on a lot of things that I hadn't done in the last week, the most important of which was my personal hygiene. I took a really long shower, shaved, and took almost all of my clothes to a laundromat. Afterwards, I felt clean for the first time in ages.

The rest of my day was spent putting together photos and blog entries from the last few weeks. Later at night, John and I met up with Jackie and Rebeca for dinner and hung out at our hostel for awhile. It's good to be back in town again, and tomorrow I'll be ready to move to Punta Arenas, my last stop before Ushuaia.

Torres Del Paine Trek Day 8

January 23, 2006
Day 117

Lago Nordenskjold.

Some clouds over Lago Nordenskjold.

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.

Torres Del Paine Trek Day 7

January 22, 2006
Day 116

We had been moving at a grueling pace for the entire trek so far, so John and I figured today would be a good day to relax. Not only were we physically tired, but we both wanted to enjoy the park a little more before leaving. Torres del Paine is such a great place, at times you feel like you're detracting from the experience a bit when you walk ten hours per day without looking around much to soak it all in.

Right after we woke up and had breakfast, we said goodbye to Tony. He went on the last 6.5 hours of the trek on his own so he could get to Lima ASAP. John walked back to yesterday's campsite to have another look, but I just found a nice spot by the river and read a book. It turned out to be a good day to stay put because clouds covered most of the mountains and it was raining most of the day.

Torres Del Paine Trek Day 6

January 21, 2006
Day 115

Picture of a campsite.

Tents set up in front of a mountain.

Today was a long, yet relaxed day. We had to walk 3.5 hours to the next campsite, set up our camp, and do another walk of 5 hours round-trip to a mirador without any gear. On this trek, I've noticed that I need a lot more sleep than normal when I do a large amount of walking during the day. Because of this, we got another late start, putting us in somewhat of a hurry to begin the day.

The first part of our day wasn't difficult, but it did take a long time. We walked around lakes and through forests, up and down small hills. Tourists were everywhere. Along the way, we stopped for some calafate berries. I almost had a Poppler-like reaction when I ate my first one, but was eventually able to quit.

When we got to camp, we pitched our tents, ate lunch, and relaxed for a bit before heading off to the mirador. The best part about this part of the day was that we got to leave our backpacks behind in the tents. There is another campsite at the top of the hill, but we didn't feel like dragging our gear up there only to take it straight back down tomorrow. Partway up the hill, the river was roaring past us. The glacial ice was melting off of the nearby mountains, and was pouring into the lakes below.

A bit further up the hill was the first mirador. Behind us was a lake, a forest, and some mountains. It looked like someone painted the scene into the background. In front of us were the mountains from which the glaciers were melting. Every now and then, we would hear loud cracks and booms as the glacier broke apart. Rebeca crossed our paths on her way back down, and we all sat around for an hour or so. I easily could've stayed there all day.

People kept telling us that the rest of the walk was flat and easy. This was in no way true. It was definitely uphill the entire way. After another hour we reached Camp Britanico. Only two tents had been pitched, an exclusive club for the most hardcore backpackers to go to the remotest campsite on the circuit.

Finally, after 2.5 hours of walking straight uphill, we made it to the mirador. The view was great, and there were no other people in sight, but it wasn't quite as good a view as the mirador below. At least the weather was nearly perfect: mostly sunny, warm, and no wind.

Tony has to leave tomorrow, so tonight we had our last supper together. Tony wanted to make spaghetti again, but John would have none of it. I fancied the idea of the somewhat bland, yet filling noodles, so we ended up cooking two separate dishes. By the time we finished dinner, it was almost 11:00 and it was getting dark, so our long day ended abruptly.

After discussing how to end our trek, John and I decided to stay another day at the same campsite. We still have enough food left, camping is free, and it's in the middle of some of the best scenery in the park. We've had six tough days so far, so it will be nice to take a day off to recharge our batteries before making the final 6.5 hour journey to complete the circuit.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Torres Del Paine Trek Day 5

January 20, 2006
Day 114

Picture of Tony, John, and I in front of Glacier Grey.

Tony, John, and I in front of Glacier Grey.

We set off a little earlier today because, even though the trail was supposed to be flat, it would still be a long day of walking. The weather was a lot nicer: clear skies and warm sun. The sun felt great hitting my skin after having gone through a few miserable days on the circuit.

After a few hours of walking, we reached the main lookout point for Glacier Grey, which we first saw yesterday from the top of the pass. Because of the good weather, this time the view was perfect. It looked a lot like the Perito Moreno glacier, but even bigger. The ice continued all the way to the mountains that were sitting far off in the background. From where we were, the glacier looked tiny, but when I saw the little dots near it and realized that they were boats full of tourists, I knew it was huge.

As we continued on the next segment of our trek, we began seeing more and more people, and most of them were only carrying daypacks, or no backpack at all. We were back on the "W." In some ways, I was glad to be back in an area with people. In the back of the park, if we had run out of food or if any of us had gotten hurt, it could've taken a long time for someone to find us, but now we could buy food (albeit at highly inflated prices) or find help easily. On the other hand, seeing people everywhere takes away from the feeling of being in the wilderness.

According to the map, the next segment of our trek would take 3.5 hours, and for the first time, it was accurate. Usually, our pace was so fast that we beat the suggested times on the map by at least 25%, but for some reason, this time the map assumed a grueling pace. When Tony and I got to camp Pehoe, we waited waited for John for forty minutes. He had caught up with Rebeca and Jackie, the Canadians we met a few days ago, and continued with them.

Our original plan was to continue to Camp Italiano, a free site which was only two more hours away, but we were all too tired to move on at that point. Still, the campsite we were at was great with a nice view of the lake and mountains, and hot showers. I had a hot shower for the first time since leaving, and it was fantastic. It's strange how great something so simple as a hot shower can be when you're deprived of it for so long.

I think John was really mad that he had to eat such "poor quality" spaghetti yesterday. He made a soup tonight that was bigger and hotter than ever. It was so spicy, in fact, that John and Tony couldn't even finish it, and I reaped the spoils. It was obvious that I liked it because by the time I finished it, I was covered with sweat and my nose was running everywhere.

Tony is going to leave the park in two days, and John and I will most likely stay for three. Today's trek was long, but it's getting easier. Our backpacks are lighter and our spirits are up because we are in the most scenic part of the park. It's too bad it has to end so soon.

The photo album for this entry is here.