I think I decided to hike the Torres del Paine in the Chilean part of Patagonia days before I did that. It was the right season; I happened to be in the area and everyone who’s done it raved about the brilliant scenery. Google tells me that it’s a must-do – a constant best hikes in the world contender and high up on a lot of people’s bucket lists.
All the cool kids do it, the internet told me.
Look at the picture above! (*Pic from internet, if it isn’t obvious)
I didn’t have the right clothes for it but it’s ok, there’re lots of second-hand shops in Puerto Natales, a tiny town that exists only to serve hikers. In fact, this was supposed to be my last stop before heading into Argentina. I didn’t have enough Chilean pesos on me either but that’s ok too because all the nice cabins have been fully-booked way in advance and I’ll save so much money by renting camping equipment in town. Also, I could do the most popular (read: shortest) 100km W-trek in 4 days instead of 5 so that I can actually have money to get out of town.
There was a plan!
In Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is about as basic as it gets. Around town, very fit-looking people hustle around the camping shops and minimarts with enthusiastic ‘frutas y frutos secos’ (fruit and nuts) signs. In my hostel, lean machines were baking trays of granola while discussing which motivational chocolate they should bring along for that end of day reward.
Me? I brought bags of dehydrated potatoes, milk, almonds and fruit and a quintessential bottle of vodka to ward off the cold and misery.
On touching down after a bus ride, a missed ferry connection (because it was too crowded) and then the proper ferry ride, I think I started regretting not bringing along a camera. Or a spare charger for my phone.
This was day one and I remember setting up tent and then pretty much running the ~20km route so I can make it back before sundown.
No sweat. Ha. Great weather too!
I had enough energy to make me some of that delish baby food with choking hazard almonds.
Are We There Yet?
The next day started to look a bit crazier. Because I wanted to finish the route a day ahead, this was the longest day for me with a backpack. Over rocks and climbs. There was this whole route with nothing much to see and if there was any good time to reflect on your regrets; of choices made days earlier, this was it.
I’ve always read blogs and travel pieces that are inevitably by chirpy authors proclaiming their love for the great outdoors and how ecstatic/enthusiastic/at peace they are to be doing whatever it is they do. On this particular rainy day, I guess all of these people must be busting at the seams to contain their excited selves because they sure were not outwardly displaying their proper emotions.
Snarkiness aside, the surroundings really were beautiful. It was in all honesty a great hiking location because you didn’t even have to bring water along. I traveled with a mug and drank from streams I’d pass (which is quite often, thank you global warming).
Whether the Weather
On the third day, oh how it rained.
It had rained lightly the night before – enough to get your tent wet enough to be tedious to store but not enough to wake up wondering if you pissed yourself. In the morning, the rain kept at its measured, unrushed pace, reminding you of where you could have been instead of where you were. Nature’s way of saying ‘I told you so’.
I spent a portion of the day walking with a father and son duo (the son’s around my age) who explained that they’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I mused aloud that I hope I still have knees at that age.
Later that day I’d chat with 2 guys who buddied up at their lodging after bonding over their large appetites. They were struggling up some of the paths and really slowing down from exhaustion. At a lunch stop, they revealed that they’ve been lugging a 20kg backpack. Each. Filled with bags of pasta and snacks and food. They had nutella!
On my last day, the rain had eased up slightly so I made the trek to the towers, the star of the journey. It’s best to visit near sunrise or sunset.
I wasn’t the earliest awake and took a bit of time with the packing because everything was wet and muddy and it’s hard to squelch around in wet shoes in zero degrees Celsius.
Still, the journey was nearly over. There’s generally a bit of a festive mood around the campsites and people were much livelier than the day before when it was all thunderstorms and hale.
The last miles were not as tough as the previous tens of them. 4 days were actually enough for me to feel physically stronger and more muscular. Partly also because my backpack was mostly freed from the load of food, I actually felt good enough to run with it. Who would have thought that potatoes, milk and nuts were actually great substitutes for whey protein?
The route took you through a climb and the towers were supposed to be ahead, bathed in majestic sunlight.
I turned the corner.
It was jaw-dropping alright.