Day two in Torres del Paine and we were keen to get to the western side of the park.
So we took the catamaran from Pehoe to Paine Grande and then hiked for three hours up to the Glacier Grey lookout.Thisfelt like the windiest place on earth – ahead of us was the Southern Patagonian Ice Field which covers an area of nearly 5,000 square miles.
We returned to our Torres Norde Lodge just in time for a three-course meal to finish off a great day in a majestic landscape.
Make a promise to yourself to come here – but book early, especially if you want to do the ‘W’ or ‘O’ multi-day treks.
Everyone warned us to expect rain, horrendous winds and mist. But after a tough but enjoyable four hours of trekking we reached the iconic Mirador Base de las Torres in bright sunshine.
We sat here for over an hour just enjoying the awesome setting.
A great first day at the Torres del Paine national park where we had been able to book two nights at one of the Refugios. We reserved online two weeks ago just managing to get in whilst many others turn up to discover all refugios and campsites are full.
We are back in Chile getting ready for three days in the Torres del Paine national park; widely considered the most striking natural environment in the whole of South America.
At Puerto Natales we’ve confirmed our accommodation inside the park – reservations are now compulsory – bought some provisions, hired hiking poles and filled up our wallets. With so much gore-tex on show here, there’s a serious back-packer atmosphere, especially in our hostel where we all watched tonight the wonderful French Oscar winner Amelia. It’s simple shared moments like this that make travelling such a pleasure.
We had the good fortune to meet two inspiring Canadians, Brian and Kathleen, who very generously invited us aboard their yatch, the Pelorus Jack, for dinner and beers.
They have been sailing the world for four years. From their home in British Columbia down the west coast of America, then through the Panama Canal, up the east coast of the USA and to Europe via Greenland. Then across the Atlantic and down the east coast of South America to Tierra del Fuego. They shared their knowledge of what it takes to travel safely and successfully by yacht; basically a lot of pre-planning and much bureaucracy and paperwork.
There are clearly major advantages over us land travellers, like staying in deserted bays and reaching hardly seen views, but – because of the need to stay near their vessel even when it’s moored – they envied our ability to see inland sights.
Argentinians are moving south to Ushuaia attracted by a booming tourist economy and tax breaks. These are the economic migrants of the region and their entrepreneurial “gold rush” spirit extends to unofficially clearing the forests to build their homes.
For us this was in microcosm the development of a shanty town – or villasmiseria as they are known here – so your bloggers were keen to take a closer look. Ok, it was messy, ramshackle and a blight on the view from the cruise ships but far from the “roads running in shit” we were told about by the man who worked at our hostel.
In fact even without town planners and officialdom the township seemed to work. Families were establishing new homes with power cables strung across trees and newish cars parked up on the dusty paths.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Tierra del Fuego became a magnet for those fleeing war, hunger, discrimination or simply wanting to improve the standing of their families. Nothing’s new.
One migrant to Ushuaia was Don Jose Solomon from Tripoli in Lebanon (yes, Lebanon) who in 1906 established the Ramos General Store which quickly became “a shelter for the needy, the newcomers to the port, the gold-seekers and the travellers following their dreams”.
The building is still here today, sandwiched between concrete facades facing a petrol station and the port. It’s now a restaurant serving popular dishes and great puddings, whilst maintaining the decor of 1906 around the walls. Still a cool place for travellers.
Surrounding Ushuaia’s Islas Malvinas monument is a display of large black and white photographs from the 1982 war. In one (shown above) an Argentinian conscript turns to the camera with bewilderment and fear in his young eyes.
It’s profoundly sad to remember such loss of life whatever the causes and whatever the justifications, especially such a recent war in a city that was so affected; the doomed ARAGeneral Belgrano sailed from here.
Signs throughout Argentina reinforce the country’s continued belief in the justification of their sovereignty case, but it’s good to read of the more positive diplomatic relations between the new Argentinian and British governments and certainly we have not experienced anything but a warm welcome here.
A ten minute taxi ride from Ushuaia took us east along the Beagle Channel to an old lighthouse from where a path continued into the woods.
It was Sunday afternoon and a popular walk for the locals carrying their mate (tea) flasks for picnics with a view. We came across the evocative Estancia Tunel – a 19th Century homestead built by pioneers and sheep ranchers. The rusty remains of the barrel factory and sawmill were very early European footprints on this inspiring landscape.
Imagine being an indigenous Indian looking on from the woods.