Patagonia in lovely April

Old May 18th, 2018, 01:35 AM
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Originally Posted by althom1122 View Post
Tried uploading a few photos but am having trouble. May have to wait till later.


Those are fantastic photos. Nice spots!
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Old May 24th, 2018, 02:46 AM
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Enroute to Torres del Paine

Thanks, Norene!

In the morning, we enjoyed another good breakfast at Hostal Kosten Aike before setting off for the long bus ride to Puerto Natales (not Punta Arenas as I indicated in my itinerary - need to fix that) where we had a rental car reserved for Torres del Paine.
the morning, we enjoyed another good breakfast at Hostal Kosten Aike before setting off for the long bus ride to Puerto Natales (not Punta Arenas as I indicated in my itinerary - need to fix that) where we had a rental car reserved for Torres del Paine.

A short taxi ride to the by-now-familiar El Calafate bus station and we were soon on our way. When we first arrived about 30 minutes early for our bus, about a half dozen dogs were sleeping in various spots throughout the station - under benches or even in the middle of the floor. We settled on a bench as few people were around yet, and a few minutes later a uniformed man, a policeman or security guard entered the building. As soon as they saw him, the dogs one by one got to their feet and left the station, without him saying a word. It was as if they knew the drill: we can sleep here at night but when the man in the uniform shows up, we need to skedaddle. What a hoot.

For this segment of the journey, we’d booked in advance via internet with Cootras, the only bus company we could find that did the trip to Chile on the days we needed. Some of the other companies quit daily service at the end of March.

Unlike the bus we’d taken to El Chalten, this was not a double decker, but it was a full-size, long-haul bus. We were seated in the front, just behind the driver, which turned out not to be a good location because a curtain behind the driver blocked our view out the front window. Oh well.

The drive was fairly long, made longer by the fact that we had to take a detour because of a road closure due to construction - and made worse by the fact that the toilet was unusable. About 2-3 hours into the ride, people started going back to use it, but each one came out immediately without using it. Turned out, it was almost completely overflowing with nasty stuff and was sloshing around as the bus moved. Totally disgusting. Someone asked the bus driver if we were stopping at some point for a bathroom break and he said no!

Finally a woman explained the situation to him and he nodded. We were totally in the middle of nowhere. We hadn’t passed a town or anything in miles and miles. At one point he stopped the bus and got out himself but closed the door and wouldn’t let anyone else off.

About the time I thought there’d be an uprising, a small gas station appeared and he pulled over. Whew! Everyone waited in line for one of the two restrooms. It took awhile, but what a relief.

In another hour or so we arrived at the border. And two and a half hours after that, we were finally in Chile. At the Argentine border, we all got out of the bus, lined up single file and waited for passport inspection. With just two windows, the process took nearly an hour and a half. We then got back on the bus, drove about 2 or 3 miles, and arrived at the Chilean border. (What country are you in between borders? What if a baby is born there? What nationality is she? we wondered.) We all trooped out of the bus a second time, only here we had to get our luggage for inspection to enter Chile. Again, this took place in a small building with limited modern infrastructure. After they checked our passports, we put the bags on a counter for inspection, but there was no X-ray machine. Instead, a man donned rubber gloves and ran his hands through the bags one by one, searching primarily for fresh fruit. Avocados, apples, bananas, and even tomatoes appeared from some of the bags - despite the card we’d all filled out in advance clearly warning about the requirement to declare any produce. They immigration officer asked one man why he checked no, he didn’t have any fruit when in fact he had 3 or 4 tomatoes, a couple of avocados, and a banana. The man just shrugged. I was surprised he got off without a fine. Finally, we were finished and traveled the last 40 minutes or so to Puerto Natales without incident.

From the bus station, which Is a bit out of town, we took a taxi to Europcar and were soon underway. We’d reserved a mid-size SUV, similar to a Subaru Forrester, which worked out great. Because of the road construction on the main route between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine, we had to make a major detour. It was odd - the road was completely closed during a significant part of each day. But Europcar gave us alternate directions, and it worked out fine. The drive was mostly on a one-lane road and much of it was unpaved. Traffic was sparse, however, so we made reasonable time.

As we approached the park and got our first look at the mountains, we were both relieved (to finally be there) and excited to see them!

We splurged and stayed at Rio Serrano just outside the park border. The location was fantastic - all of the rooms are on the mountain side of the building- so all have mountain views. The rooms were a little tired given the price - the mattresses could stand to be replaced - but everything was clean and otherwise comfortable and the breakfast was decent. But it was all about the view and the large windows that framed it. That alone made it worthwhile as far as we were concerned. The fact that we could stay right at the park entrance for three nights without having to drive all the way back to Puerto Natales every day was icing on the cake.

After checking in and unpacking, we went downstairs for a stroll around the lovely grounds. There was a large grassy area just outside with a river and the craggy mountains off in the distance. The air was clear and much of the sky was blue, although cloud formations turning lovely shades of orange hung above the mountains. We walked along the gravel road (with the absolute worst potholes we encountered the whole trip) and stopped to pet the horses. Afterwards we went inside to have dinner at the bar, which was cheaper than the buffet in the dining room and served mainly soup, salads, and sandwiches/burgers. It suited us just fine.

Settling into bed with that amazing picture window right next us, we fell asleep gazing at the darkening sky and eagerly anticipated the next day.



A short taxi ride to the by-now-familiar El Calafate bus station and we were soon on our way. When we first arrived about 30 minutes early for our bus, about a half dozen dogs were sleeping in various spots throughout the station - under benches or even in the middle of the floor. We settled on a bench as few people were around yet, and a few minutes later a uniformed man, a policeman or security guard entered the building. As soon as they saw him, the dogs one by one got to their feet and left the station, without him saying a word. It was as if they knew the drill: we can sleep here at night but when the man in the uniform shows up, we need to skedaddle. What a hoot.

For this segment of the journey, we’d booked in advance via internet with Cootras, the only bus company we could find that did the trip to Chile on the days we needed. Some of the other companies quit daily service at the end of March.

Unlike the bus we’d taken to El Chalten, this was not a double decker, but it was a full-size, long-haul bus. We were seated in the front, just behind the driver, which turned out not to be a good location because a curtain behind the driver blocked our view out the front window. Oh well.

The drive was fairly long, made longer by the fact that we had to take a detour because of a road closure due to construction - and made worse by the fact that the toilet was unusable. About 2-3 hours into the ride, people started going back to use it, but each one came out immediately without using it. Turned out, it was almost completely overflowing with nasty stuff and was sloshing around as the bus moved. Totally disgusting. Someone asked the bus driver if we were stopping at some point for a bathroom break and he said no!

Finally a woman explained the situation to him and he nodded. We were totally in the middle of nowhere. We hadn’t passed a town or anything in miles and miles. At one point he stopped the bus and got out himself but closed the door and wouldn’t let anyone else off.

About the time I thought there’d be an uprising, a small gas station appeared and he pulled over. Whew! Everyone waited in line for one of the two restrooms. It took awhile, but what a relief.

In another hour or so we arrived at the border. And two and a half hours after that, we were finally in Chile. At the Argentine border, we all got out of the bus, lined up single file and waited for passport inspection. With just two windows, the process took nearly an hour and a half. We then got back on the bus, drove about 2 or 3 miles, and arrived at the Chilean border. (What country are you in between borders? What if a baby is born there? What nationality is she? we wondered.)

We all trooped out of the bus a second time, only here we had to get our luggage for inspection to enter Chile. Again, this took place in a small building with limited modern infrastructure. After they checked our passports, we put the bags on a counter for inspection, but there was no X-ray machine. Instead, a man donned rubber gloves and ran his hands through the bags one by one, searching primarily for fresh fruit. Avocados, apples, bananas, and even tomatoes appeared from some of the bags - despite the card we’d all filled out in advance clearly warning about the requirement to declare any produce. They immigration officer asked one man why he checked no, he didn’t have any fruit when in fact he had 3 or 4 tomatoes, a couple of avocados, and a banana. The man just shrugged. I was surprised he got off without a fine. Finally, we were finished and traveled the last 40 minutes or so to Puerto Natales without incident.

From the bus station, which Is a bit out of town, we took a taxi to Europcar and were soon underway. We’d reserved a mid-size SUV, similar to a Subaru Forrester, which worked out great. Because of the road construction on the main route between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine, we had to make a major detour. It was odd - the road was completely closed during a significant part of each day. But Europcar gave us alternate directions, and it worked out fine. The drive was mostly on a one-lane road and much of it was unpaved. Traffic was sparse, however, so we made reasonable time.

As we approached the park and got our first look at the mountains, we were both relieved (to finally be there) and excited to see them!

We splurged and stayed at Rio Serrano just outside the park border. The location was fantastic - all of the rooms are on the mountain side of the building- so all have mountain views. The rooms were a little tired given the price - the mattresses could stand to be replaced - but everything was clean and otherwise comfortable and the breakfast was decent. But it was all about the view and the large windows that framed it. That alone made it worthwhile as far as we were concerned. The fact that we could stay right at the park entrance for three nights without having to drive all the way back to Puerto Natales every day was icing on the cake.

After checking in and unpacking, we went downstairs for a stroll around the lovely grounds. There was a large grassy area just outside with a river and the craggy mountains off in the distance. The air was clear and much of the sky was blue, although cloud formations turning lovely shades of orange hung above the mountains. We walked along the gravel road (with the absolute worst potholes we encountered the whole trip) and stopped to pet the horses. Afterwards we went inside to have dinner at the bar, which was cheaper than the buffet in the dining room and served mainly soup, salads, and sandwiches/burgers. It suited us just fine.

Settling into bed with that amazing picture window right next us, we fell asleep gazing at the darkening sky and eagerly anticipated the next day.
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Old May 24th, 2018, 02:51 AM
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Photos enroute




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Old May 24th, 2018, 01:44 PM
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These pictures are amazing. Just one more of the people rushing off the bus to get to the restrooms would have been ideal.
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Old May 25th, 2018, 09:05 AM
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My apologies for the messed up post. I posted from my phone and I don't know how it has sections in there twice. I thought there was a way to edit a post, but I can't seem to find it. (Not used to the updated board.)
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Old May 25th, 2018, 11:51 AM
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Torres del Paine - first full day

Thanks, xcountry!

We were awake before the sun came up. From our picture window we could see the sky just beginning to lighten over the mountains. Breakfast was served buffet-style in the dining room, and the selection was good. I think the huge windows looking out at the spectacular view must have made everything taste better!

Our goal for today was the Mirador Cuernos day hike, about 2 hours round trip and mostly easy. I’d worried about road conditions and also about getting lost (I worry a lot!), but driving turned out to be quite simple, and we were really glad we had the car. It gave us total freedom, and for the most part, the roads were good - unpaved, but packed hard. Some areas had quite a few potholes (especially the road to Lago Grey), but we could usually travel 30 to 40 mph.

From Rio Serrano we set off for the park entrance, where we paid the 21000 Chilean peso entry fee per person (about $34), good for three days. We got a free park map and were quickly on our way. Although I’d bought a detailed map in advance, the park freebie turned out to be perfectly adequate. Roads were well-marked - and there are only a few roads anyway, so it’s easy to find your way around. Traffic was light, perhaps because it was shoulder season, and with numerous pull-outs and parking lots in the more popular areas, parking was easy.

Our first view of Lake Pehoe was awe-inspiring. Despite the clouds over the mountains, the scene of the white-capped, turquoise lake, the footbridge out to the small island and Hosteria Pehoe, and the craggy, black-tipped Cuernos (or Horns) as a backdrop was spectacular. We parked and crossed the footbridge (that had a sign warning maximum of 4 persons) to check out the hotel/hostel. Although we didn’t see the rooms, the setting is spectacular. From there we headed to the parking lot for the Mirador Cuernos/Salto Grande hike, but we were disappointed to discover that the trail was blocked off because of high winds.

Plan B. We drove a few more miles and saw more and more guanacos. At one point, we stopped and strolled out a path toward a large herd. We came to a sign warning of pumas in the area, with directions for what to do if you encounter one (basically, maintain eye contact, don’t run, pick up a small child, and back slowly away). Tom had hoped to spot one - although the warning sign gave me pause - but we never did. We decided to turn around and go back to Lago Grey.

The clouds over the mountains had thickened, such that by the time we arrived at Lago Grey, we couldn’t see much in the background. Nonetheless, we took the short hike to beach, crossing another footbridge (this one with a sign saying maximum of 6 persons!), and making our way through a lovely little forest decked out mostly in yellow and down to the wide open sandy beach. We couldn’t see the glacier from there, although we did spot a few small icebergs in the lake. We had a late lunch at the cafeteria in the visitor center before heading back to the hotel to relax a little while before dinner. We ate at the hotel bar again that evening and then hit the hay.
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Old May 25th, 2018, 12:35 PM
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Photos

A few favorites from this day.


From the hotel - the sun just hitting the mountains.



This sign was as close as we got to a puma sighting.




It was super windy today.



Lago Grey in the background.


The footbridge to Pehoe Hosteria



The six-person bridge at Lago Grey
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Old May 25th, 2018, 12:37 PM
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Haha - yes, a picture of the people running to the bathrooms would have been great.
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Old May 25th, 2018, 01:35 PM
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Don't want to "Frigger" a puma attack!
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Old May 25th, 2018, 01:36 PM
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Wow! Fantastic photos and great report. Makes me want to return to see what we didn't see. I always regret skipping El Chalten. Patagonia is one of my favorite places on earth.
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Old May 25th, 2018, 05:00 PM
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mlgb - HAHA - we laughed at that, too.

Last edited by althom1122; May 25th, 2018 at 05:20 PM. Reason: typo
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Old May 25th, 2018, 05:07 PM
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yestravel - thanks. And YES I know what you mean. Patagonia has become one of our favorite places, too. We definitely want to go back. El Chalten is definitely worth seeing, especially if you're a hiker.
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Old May 25th, 2018, 09:25 PM
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Patagonia too has a special place in me. Would love to go back to do some hiking in the bits we missed. I must say, judging from your photos, foliage season is the time to go.
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Old May 26th, 2018, 03:18 AM
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Congratulations!

Terrific report and unbelievable pictures!
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Old May 27th, 2018, 09:43 AM
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Torres - second full day

The next morning we decided to check out Laguna Azul on the far side of the park. Since we weren’t able to hike to the Torres, we thought this would be the next best thing. If we were lucky, the skies would clear enough to give us a good view, albeit from a distance. We set off after another good breakfast at the hotel, and although there were some clouds over the mountains, the weather looked promising. As we drove, we made several stops for photos - hiking up the hillside at a Lake Pehoe pull-out for a spectacular view with the sun hitting the Cuernos, then a climb later down the road on the other side.

At one point we came to a steamroller that was busy repairing the road. They dump long sections of dirt and then roll it down with a large steamroller to get the hard-packed effect that minimizes potholes and washboard ruts. A car in front of us was stopped just before the construction zone with a flat tire. They had trouble changing it because it was a rental car and the wrench provided by the company didn’t fit the nuts on the wheel. Tom checked ours and it didn’t work either. Fortunately, the construction guys were able to come up with a wrench that worked and we were soon on our way.

By this time there was a backup of about eight cars. As we drove uphill through thick, soft dirt that hadn’t been fully steam-rolled, the guy with the newly changed tire started having difficulty - weaving and spinning. We went around him, as did the other cars. We could see behind us that he’d gotten completely stuck. We dared not stop for fear that we too would be stuck, and we hoped the construction crew would help him out.

When we came to the turn-off for Las Torres hotel, we decided to take a look. Along the way were beautiful views of the Towers - almost fully visible. At one point, I stopped in the road to step outside for a picture. We’d seen no cars at all since turning off the main road, but as luck would have it, as soon as I walked around to the other side of the car for the picture (I was driving), two cars came along and had to go out around me.

Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me at the time, I had stopped right next to large and somewhat deep puddle. As they went around and through the puddle, they gave us what Tom refers to as “the stink eye," and I can’t blame them. If I’d tried, I couldn’t have found a worse place to stop. I was just so excited at the beauty of the scene, that I couldn’t wait any longer to get outside and take a photo!

We drove on to EcoCamp Patagonia and enjoyed seeing the domed tent-like structures up on the hillside. We skipped Las Torres and pressed on for Laguna Azul, stopping at the waterfall Cascada del Rio Paine, with views of the Torres behind it. We couldn’t believe our luck with the weather. Although it was still somewhat windy, it was nothing like the day before, and the mountains were gorgeous - with blue sky in the photos. The waterfall is definitely worth a stop, although the road down to the parking lot was a bit rough.

Before long, we arrived at our destination, and as we’d hoped, dozens of guanacos were grazing in front of the deep blue Lake Azul, The wind was strong, creating white-caps on the lake, but the blue sky and red foliage made for a picture-perfect scene. We wandered around the lake shore and took numerous pictures before heading back. We decided to stop at the Mirador Cuernos trail, which fortunately was open today, but since it was getting late in the afternoon, we only went as far as the Salto Grande waterfall - about 10 minutes or so from the parking lot.

We wanted to do the Cuernos hike in the morning, but we were starting to worry we might not have enough gas to get back to Puerto Natales. We’d heard that some of the hotels will sell you gas, so when we got back to Rio Serrano, we asked at the front desk and were told that the small hostel across the road might have some. We went over and managed to understand that if we came back in an hour, he might have some. When we pulled the car over an hour later, two women had arrived just in front of us and got the last of the gas. The guy told us to come back in two hours and he’d have more. We thought this was really odd, but sure enough when we returned, he came out with a 5-liter clear plastic bottle and a spout that he used to pour the gas into our car. We ended up getting two 5-liter bottles just to be on the safe side. It was really expensive - more than $20 US dollars, but hey, better that than run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. We only hoped it was really gasoline!

After our final Torres del Paine dinner at the hotel bar, we strolled around the grounds of the hotel and went to bed - hoping to do the Mirador Cuernos hike in the morning, now that we had plenty of gas, before leaving for Puerto Natales.
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Old May 27th, 2018, 10:16 AM
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Pics

Here are some pictures from this day.

The sun hitting the peaks was stunning this morning.




Spotted this guanaco silhouetted against the sky.


We could see most of the Torres from the Cascada del Paine waterfall, although there were still a few clouds.


Later the clouds parted enough that we were treated to a full view!


We saw a few condors during the drive today. I was super lucky to get this shot.


At Lake Azul, we had a nearly unobstructed view of the Torres. And look at the foliage!



The sun created a lovely little rainbow over Salto Grande.

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Old May 27th, 2018, 10:20 AM
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A favorite

I nearly forgot to post this one!
I loved the way this one posed for me.
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Old May 27th, 2018, 10:25 AM
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Your pictures are fabulous!
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Old May 27th, 2018, 03:47 PM
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Karen, I just stumbled across your wonderful report and photos. I'm very much enjoying it. Patagonia is on my list.
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Old May 27th, 2018, 04:02 PM
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Thanks, yestravel!

And hi, Kathie! Great to hear from you. I remember so well the help you gave me on my first trip to Asia with my daughter three. Hope you’re doing well.
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