Patagonia – greedy tourist operators but sublime natural beauty
I finally made it down to the southern end of the Americas. You could feel the distance away from large Cities here. It isn’t that far from Antarctica after all. The base for preparing and recovering for the hike was Puerto Natales. I arrived not really knowing much at all about Patagonia, only that it was a ‘must see’ destination. So here are some basics for the uninitiated:
– Patagonia is a region, covering both Argentina and Chile. Apparently Argentina is more popular for easier to get to but more impressive glacier viewings. Whereas Chile is more popular for the challenging multi-day hikes, and viewing the Torres Del Paine, as well as some glaciers.
– In Chile, you have a few common basic options for the hiking (all around the Torres Del Paine rock formation), each option is named based on the shape of the trail. You have the ‘U’, the ‘W’, the ‘O’, and the ‘Q’ (taking approx 4, 8, 10 and 11 days respectively).
– There is a greedy, self interested monopolistic tourist industry here. In some instances it was daylight robbery but you had no option but to cough up. Be warned it is much more expensive than other parts of South America.
So anyway, I attempted the ‘O’, was going good for the first couple of days before rolling my ankle.. twice! The second time I rolled off the path. My basic problem was my ‘Porter’ bag was not at all designed for multiday hiking, I was woeful balance, the shoulder straps dug so sharply I was bleeding on the shoulders after 2 days, and worst of all, I had my day back on my chest – so my core was completely covered front and back. Leading to quickly overheating, and needing more water breaks. Also, I couldn’t see where my feet where landing – leading to the ankle roles.
The other aspect that I learned so much about – was when you have to carry your food for 10 days, you quickly realise what is necessary, and what isn’t! I probably shelved around half of my food in the first half day. The most efficient foods I ended up with were rice, salt, parmesan and some spices. You also have a much deeper appreciation for calorie dense foods like snickers bars! I had a stockpile with me on the trip a gave a few out on the way to some delighted and extremely grateful hikers.
After the second roll of my ankle, a strange infection appeared on my eyelid – not something to play chance with. So I abandoned the ‘Q’ and went back into town for 1 day to see a doctor – and also to pick up a rental backpack and poles! After receiving some reassuring advice and meds from a doc, I was ready to tackle the ‘W’ with a lighter, more appropriate backpack and Oh my god… it was such an entirely different experience. I was so much faster and stronger. Arriving at 6pm, I set out to complete a walk that normally takes a day (the walk from Paine Grande to Refugio Grey). I arrived very late, close to 10:30pm, but enjoyed some empty paths and some simply gorgeous scenery on the way. It really was worth it. However that night I had a pretty extreme hay fever attack, didn’t really get any sleep and must have kept up the whole campground.
I had another 4 days of hiking to bring the total of 8 days on the trail, I found each day I was getting strong and fitter. This is a great way for losing weight! In fact, after recovering the body water weight, I believe I lost around 5 kilos from this episode.
Because the trails are basically linear, you often bump into and walk alongside the same group of people day after day. I made some great friends on the trip, including a French couple, who were carrying 3 full bottles off wine!, and a group of Chileans who I ended up hanging out with for a few days after the hike.
The highlight on this walk is supposed to be getting up close and personal to the Torres Del Paine peaks, however I was pretty underwhelmed when I saw it. For me far more impressive was seeing the huge glacier sliding into Lago Grey – you can see it prominently on Google Maps.
It was sad to leave Patagonia but I felt I accomplished a lot on this trip and it was worth it. I left with, among other things, a desire to do more multi-day hikes in the future.