Torres del Paine and Chilean Patagonia

Tonight we are in a bush camp. We joke that a bush camp is somewhere that there is no place to pitch your tent and no place to go to the bathroom. It may be a joke but quite often it is close to the truth. We have camped in some really lousy spots. My personal worst was early on in the trip when we camped in a dusty dirty gravel pit next to a main road. It was an operating gravel pit so big trucks were driving through camp raising even more dust. There was no where to go relieve yourself without being seen from the highway, the camp, or the workers site in the pit. The dust got into your every pore, all your bags and into your tent itself. It was hot and there was no shade. There have been others that had their own miseries as well. Basically a bush camp is where we stay when there is no place to camp. Tonights camp is a large grassy field just below the road and is quite comfortable but on this treeless plain there is no cover – no bushes, no private place to do your business. We now take it in stride as we have all developed strategies to get around our inconveniences in these remote stark places.

Tomorrow we will enter Chile for the second time on this trip – we are on our way to Torres del Paine Nacional Park. This park consists of numerous glaciers, lakes, mountains, steppes, woodlands, a desert area and of course the famous rock towers, the Torres del Paine. There are also numerous guanacos, fox, condors, rheas and flamingos as well as other types of birds and a few more mammals including cougars. This visit will certainly enliven all of us after the constant daily view of the pampas and steppes we have lived with since leaving the lake district. The only relief from that was our one day stay in El Calafate.

The border crossing went very smoothly with just a couple of small incidences with our lead truck. Our driver Robert spotted a tour bus ahead of the truck on the gravel road with just a few K to the Argentinian side of the border. We need exit stamps and custom clearances from their side before Chile will let us in. Waiting for all the people in the bus to clear immigration and customs would have taken some time so Rob put the pedal down and passed them with just a K or so to go. The bus driver laid into him as he was standing in line, accusing him of speeding and passing too close to the bus. Rob was not near the speed limit on the rough gravel road and also had plenty of room to pass. Then the driver complained to the deaf ears of the Argentinian officials. He was a fiery Latino and not happy. When Rob and crew went through the Chilean side of the border they were asked to open just three bags to look for forbidden fruit and other articles – if those bags were all right then they wouldn’t look at any of the rest. Rob took three that he was sure would be fine including his own. Lo and behold Rob’s own bag had an apple in it that he had forgotten about. Damn! As luck would have it the apple had been there since we were last in Chile and had a Chilean sticker on it. Talk about truly blind luck. They let the truck go on. I saw 5 rheas and a condor on the ride today then two more condors overhead as we were eating dinner in camp. They sure are an impressive bird with huge wingspans soaring overhead. Camp here was in somebody’s backyard in the small town of Cerro Castillo.

We had a spectacular ride into Torres del Paine. The wind remained light all day, we had sunshine all morning, the views were wonderful and the wildlife cooperated as well. Throughout most of our Andes trip we had thought ourselves fortunate to see three or four guanacos – today we saw large herds of them. Right next to us as we cycled along. As many as seven condors were seen at one time, a fox ran by with a fat little hare, a rhea stood within a few yards of JR and posed, and a few gauchos were herding cattle – all with the stunningly beautiful background of the rock towers called las Torres as well as the adjacent snow covered mountains and glossy blue glaciers. It was simply a wonderful day here in Patagonia. Our first 30K were paved and moved along rapidly – then on to the gravel. It was a rough road but our frequent stops for photos seemed to soften the jarring. At 55K we officially entered the park and 8K’s later we were camped in a wooded glade just below the towers and only a half K from the trailhead to the base of the three famous rock edifices.

The trip up to the rock towers was a lot like the trails we are used to running on the hiking trail – up and down with rocky rutty surfaces and scenic vistas. Deb, Brian and I started our trek after breakfast at a hosteria just a couple hundred meters down from our campground. Bike Dreams does not have meals on our rest days. It is a day off for everyone. It was a great rhythm for the three of us as we are so used to running together. This hike put us back into that place and we really enjoyed the 10K hike to the cirque where the three towers sit above a beautiful aqua colored glacial lake and surrounded by white capped mountains. The wind was strong when we approached the area but as we moved down to the lake and sat behind a rock we were protected from both the cold and the strong breeze. The temperature was what our mechanic and buddy Lucho would call “frio.” Of course that means cold. The mist and fog can sit into this area despite the sun warming out area below in the camping area. And that is what happened to us. We sat there at the tarn waiting for the fog to lift for photos of this iconic landscape to no avail. After fifty minutes we started our trip back down the to the trailhead. Of course on our way down we spotted the three towers and wished we were back up but we have had many views on our way in. It was a great hike and a wonderful day.

5 thoughts on “Torres del Paine and Chilean Patagonia

  1. Buck,
    I’ve just read your last 3 posts, being gone for awhile. Can’t imagine biking with panniers in that wind! Have you seen any touring bikers? I have loads of questions of course and will see you when you return. You are all biking strong, seeing lots of interesting things, and experiencing many folds of human nature. The stuff of life!

    1. Hi Jini, we have seen a few touring bikers. If you were not tied to a schedule like we are you would not bike in the winds like we did. I heard that there is real winter already there.

  2. Hey Buck,
    Have filled in on the RH for the last two weeks. Hurry and get home; they are starting to view me as a “regular!!!” Both Helen and I are anxious to have you home but know you will enjoy the last days of your trip. Ride on!!

    1. Hey Bob, Maybe you should be a regular on the Roadhouse! Thanks for being there. I just got into Punta Arenas today. Want to see the replica of the James Cairn from Ernest Shackleton fame and maybe get out to one of the islands to see penguins. We just have one day and back on the bikes but only 4 more rides then I’ll be in Ushuaia! Look forward to seeing you and Helen.

  3. Buck,
    Above freezing today. Looking forward to seeing you next week. I’ve really enjoyed following your trip.

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