Friday, September 28, 2012

Journey to the End of the World- Puerto Natales

Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia feature very different kinds of landscapes, so I braved the 18 hour drive from Ushuaia, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile.  Thankfully it wasn't nearly as eventful as my Peruvian Bus Trip last year.

Leaving Ushuaia, the bus weaved through the mountains, providing gorgeous scenery.  Even the drivers were impressed enough by the sunrise to pull over and let us take pictures.

I heard all kinds of frightening stories crossing the Strait of Magellan.  The weather in the entire region is famous for being unpredictable. One photographer almost got washed off of his boat by an enormous wave. As it turned out, the weather was unbelievably sunny and clear, finally some blue skies!

Torres del Paine 

The first thing that struck me about Chile was that I absolutely could not understand Chilean Spanish.  Communicating was difficult, but somehow I got by.  The biggest attraction in Puerto Natales is Torres del Paine National Park, which is a bit of a drive outside of the city.  My options for experiencing the park were limited because I was visiting for only a couple of days during the low season.  I ended up taking a bus tour that gave a good overview of the park. The timing of the buses meant missing the sunrise, but the cloudy weather created beautiful soft light for photos.  Torres del Paine is notorious for hiding behind clouds, so I was lucky to see them at all!

A fire devastated parts of the park earlier this year, leaving acres of dead trees. 

We stopped at a trail and were given an hour. This part of the park hadn't been burned, so all of the tress were large and covered in soft moss. The trails eventually led the most expansive lake beach I've ever seen.  It reminded me so much of Iceland.  Armed with a dozen layers of clothing, I hiked across the beach.  This view shows only a tiny portion of the beach. 

Hurrying up a rocky trail with no railings on the side of a cliff in zero degree weather and winds gusting to about 40 miles an hour was a struggle, to say the least....

My ears were stinging, my nose was running, my head hurt, my eyes were dry, and my throat was burning.  The beach looked a million miles wide and the wind blew so hard that it was difficult to stay upright, let alone walk straight.  

After what felt like hours, I finally got back to the bus. The clouds opened up just enough to let some sunlight through, wrapping up my day wish insanely gorgeous light. 

The Fjords

I had a delightful time on the boat tour I took in Ushuaia, so I decided to take my chances on a much longer tour of the Channel of Last Hope.  With limited time and options, it seemed like my best bet.  I felt packed like a sardine in the boat, but thankfully the ride became more comfortable as tourists moved outside to the decks and to the little cabin upstairs.  

The tour's route turned out to be almost identical to the boat tour I took in Ushuaia, it was just much longer.  The Ilha dos P├íssaros didn't have nearly as many birds, but the landscape and sunlight made up for it. 

When the boat stopped at a cliff face I had to ninja-kick my way through hoards of tourists crowded at the railings to be able to see the few sea lions tucked away in little caves.  In spite of the fact that tourists were yelling, elbowing, and stepping on me, I was so moved by how tiny and adorable the babies were.  If I could taken one home with me, I would. 

Our next stops were Balmaceda Glacier and Serrano Glacier. It was sad to see how much Balmaceda Glacier has melted, but it was still beautiful. 

Balmaceda Glacier

At Serrano Glacier we were allowed off of the boat to go on a hike. I hiked as fast as physically possible to lose the enormous group of tourists at my heels. I arrived at all of the lookout points before they got crowded, and turned around early enough to leisurely return to the boat alone. I finally had some moments of peace to appreciate the quiet and the colors and textures of the land. I even hopped to the middle of a little river for some nice views of the glacier. 

Serrano Glacier

At the end of the trip we had a beautiful bar-b-q was fresh off the fire and there was salad and soup and wine, glorious. The island was cute, I chased around a couple of sheep before I gave up and spent some time with a sassy Chilean cat. 

Serrano Glacier

Serrano Glacier

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