Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ushuaia to Torres del Paine

Having hitched out of Ushuaia with sublime ease (a first car pulled over) we reached Rio Grande in a pleasant company of an aged couple. They dropped us off on the other side of town.There we had to shiver in the cold wind for a few hours before a few short rides to the border. There was zero traffic at the border. Thankfully, the complex was equipped with a heated ¨waiting room¨. There were two french girls waiting for a ride there already, so we joined their company. We boiled tea and chatted with them for a bit, enjoying the warmth of the shelter. When a truck would pull up to be inspected by the customs officer, one of the girls would go out and talk to the trucker. After a few trucks, they got a ride, and we, following their example, got a ride with the very next one. Our driver Cristian was a classical Argentinian trucker. He had bouncy curly hair and a wide smile. He owned his own truck (a rare thing here) and was in love with his machine. The ride was long and the scenery beautiful.¨Watch out now,¨ said Cristian, ¨there is a big pot hole somewhere soon on the road¨. Having said that, he got absorbed by our conversation when, all of a sudden, he gripped the wheel tightly and said:
¨Get ready here it comes!¨
We hit the pot-hole dead-on, full speed. Things leaped at us from the dash board: papers, toothbrush, mate cup, everything. There was a big storage space above that also emptied out: wires, radio, a cell phone, a heavy log book... ¨I told you there was a pot-hole here somewhere...¨ said Cristian, laughing. The floor of the cabin got covered with the mess. Having fished out his cell phone, Cristian said: ¨don´t worry picking things up, I was gonna clean the rig tomorrow anyway.¨ The whole incident gave us about an hour and a half of laughter and chuckling after, the truck-drivers never shunning from discussing anything in depth, for as many times as they find it entertaining. ¨That was a good one, Cristian!¨ we would say for the tenth time and the cab would fill with laughter, rolling through the rain in the night pampa.
Cristian dropped us off at the crossroads in the middle of the pampa, already on the mainland, in the middle of the night, strong cold wind hawling. We had nothing else to do but to set up camp as soon as possible and sleep tightly until the next day.
In the morning the rides came fast and easy and we rode into Puerto Natales in the afternoon. We had CS connection there, and that is where we headed. Familia Seguel Albornos received us with open arms. They have embraced the project of CouchSurfing and are hosting about 15 people DAILY. We rapidly integrated into the big and ever changing family and rested for a few days before heading to the park.
The Park.
National Park Torres del Paineis located about 150 north of Puerto Natales and there is no better way of reaching it than by – you guessed it – hitch-hiking. We hitched out of town in the morning and arrived to the entry gate with a truck loaded with firewood. The entrance fee is an astounding 15 000 pesos ($30), which we had no desire to pay. So we climbed the near-by hill and observed the surroundings of the ticket booth. The most likely way around it seemed to be across the river, only we did not know how deep it was. The water was very blue and it could easily have been over our heads. We were devising a strategy of circumnavigating the building when a guanaco appeared on the rock.It stopped and looked at us. Then it gracefully trod down the slope and headed for the river. It paused a bit at the water´s edge and forded the river. The water was shallow, only reaching up to its knees. That was a sign!!! Guanaco showed us the way! We had no doubt now about what we should do: we shall ford the river just like the guanaco, and walk to the bridge under the cover of the low bushes.
We went down to the river, rolled up our pants and crossed at almost the same place as our animal guide. We were careful to stay in the cover of the vegetation not to be noticed from the guardhouse. Having crossed the river, we decided not to advance any more that day, so we made camp on the little island, enjoyed the view of the towers and went to sleep early.We woke up precicely with the sunrise (5:19 am) next morning, packed up quick and proceeded with our ¨infiltration¨. We had to scramble on all fours at one point – the bushes were that low, but we made it with no problem to the bridge, and once we were on the other side, we were in the park. High five!
We hiked 50 kms of trail in the next two days – something we are not particulary fond of at this point of our trip – walking with backpacks on a trail just does not seem that appealing to us as it used to. The trail was very busy – tourists from all over the world, clad in the latest fashionable gear trod up and down. When we greeted them, many did not even acknowledge our presence. Oh well.
There were a lot of red berries growing alongside the trail – the delicious heathberry was beginning to ripe.Anastasia saw a description of it in a book earlier. We did the one hour test (a hand-full of berries in the mouth and then wait for an hour if a stomach ache appears) and found the berries edible. The good thing for us was that the throngs of tourists did not know what the berry was – the bushes were full of it. They were taking pictures of it! Ha-ha! We filled our mouths by a handfull under concerned glances from passing trekkers.
We camped for two nights in the park. We did the most straightforward route possible, connecting with the road in only two days. As we walked onto the road, we stopped to check our map to determine which way we should hitch to get back to Natales. As we were examining the map, a rental car pulled over.
¨Are you guys heading to Puerto Natales?¨ Asked a white-haired driver in pure English.
¨Yes we are!¨
¨Would you like a ride?¨
¨We would like a ride very much, thank you for asking!¨
¨Get in, then!¨
Jeff, the driver, was from Calgary, a geologist specializing in petroleum. His friend Farook was also from Calgary, a medical practicioner. We had a very pleasant chat with them, enjoying speaking English for the first time in a while. We stopped for scenic photos a couple of times on the way and they dropped us off in the front of the supermarket in town. We got some groceries and headed to the familia, admiring how effortlessly we arrived into town. This, in our understanding, was a perfect ride: We were only thinking about it, and it was all it took to materialise it. No waiting, no thumbing, none of that. Moreover, the conversation was good and everybody felt good after we parted. Per-fect!


  1. loved loved loved the story with the river crossing - beautiful.
    and the views, too :)

  2. So BeAuTiFul! In which entrance did you arrive? (it looks like there is 2). Big kiss & Happy Xmas. xxx. Cloé

  3. We arrived at the main entrance, it is called Guarderia Laguna Amarga. Hugs for you two, too!

  4. Update: If you go before 7 am, according to The Modern Nomad, you will not even have to ford the river - there will be nobody at the post!

  5. Thank you so much guys. Wishing you the best and happiness in the new year!