Greetings from Puerto Natales, Chile! This small town located 250 kilometers from Punta Arenas is located on a fjord of the Pacifc Ocean. It reminds me a lot of Seaside, Oregon or really any of the towns I've been to in the Pacific Northwest coast. Even down to the earthquake and tsunami warning signs. I guess we could call it the Pacific Southwest?
It's been an amazing couple of days traveling across Chilean Patagonia. I've seen penguins and penguins, glaciers, mountains that scrape the sky and are covered in snow, and a whole bunch of other amazing sights too difficult to explain with words. I've also learned that outside of eating, visiting Chile for fun means you're charged for hotels, etc. tax free and in good old U.S. Dollars. Freedom isn't free, but I enjoy using my $1.25 to pay for it in this country. I also experienced a nine hour delay getting from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas thanks to engine problems on the plane. They did however compensate me for my time, and I was actually able to sleep in the airport, so the next day in Punta Arenas wasn't a total loss.
While I'll focus on penguins in Punta Arenas in a separate post, in this post I wanted to talk about what I did today, a whirlwind ten-hour tour of the Torres de Paines National Park. We covered a lot of ground in that time, but the trip was amazing. There's been several times in my life I've thought to myself I'm visiting something special, something unique and singular. This was one of those days.
We began the day with a whole lot of geology and visited Milodon Cave. This cave, known primarily for the location of the discovery of a prehistoric giant bear like sloth, named the milodon, was formed through the erosion of a mountain by a prehistoric lake. The lake eroded the "soft" rock between two hard rock parts, forming a wide yet somewhat shallow cave. As an aside, the fossils found in the cave however have made their way to two museums I've been, however, the Royal Natural History museum in London and my all time favorite museum — the greatest museum in the world, home of the Big Blue Whale in the Hall of Oceans, and the best dinosaur fossils ever— the American Natural History Museum in New York.
After our visit, we headed northwest, hugging the Argentine border on Route 9, known as the Road at the End of the World, passing through the arid, flat, and empty plains that make up the interior of Patagonia
When we arrived, we were immediately greated with a beautiful view of the Torres de Paine. These three jagged rock formations soar into the sky from nearly sea level alongside snowcovered mountains to form the park's iconic image in front of a blue-green lake. The weather behaved well today, as if it had been a bit cloudier our view of them would have been obstructed. Although in Patagonia, wait five minutes and the season changes.
We then ventured further into the park, driving on unpaved and narrow roads, all the while surrounded by amazing landscapes. After a short while, we came to a stop on the road. Our guide pointed out a flock of condors sitting on a easily reachable hill only a few hundred yards away. We all got out of the van, cameras in hand, and walked up to the top of a hill to view the condors up close. What I witnessed was truly magical. Seven or eight condors first resting, then soaring above, below (down in the valley on the other side of the hill) and around us! They were so close I snapped some amazing photos of them using my "real" camera. I'll post these when I return home.
We also had close up encounters with several guanaco, an animal that looks sort of like a cross between a camel and a llama, and ostriches.
After going further along the park we stopped at the Salto Grande waterfall. This waterfall, formed as the glaciers receded, links two lakes in the park at different elevations, and has the characteristic wintergreen color caused by sediment from glaciers. It was pretty amazing and provided many opportunities for photos as well as a gorgeous foreground for more photos of the landscape.
After a stop for lunch (a grilled steak meal was included in this tour's cost) we headed for the Grey Lake and the Grey Glacier. This glacier, which was unfortunately 17 kilometers away from us at the other end of this massive glacial lake, yields amazing ice flows and icebergs that when viewed appear to be blue in color. Additionally to reach the lake required a hike through the forest and over a fast moving river bring glacial melt through the park and eventually out into the Pacific Ocean. I wish we could have spent more time here and take the boat ride to the glacier itself, but that will come on Saturday, in Argentina, when I visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. Gelogically, they are part of the same formation.
Overall this tour was excellent and provided me with amazing photo opportunities and viewing of amazing landscapes and wildlife. I think that if I were to come to the park again (and I would love to do so one day) I might make it my primary destination and do much more hiking and maybe even stay overnight at one of the lodges located there. Maybe in 9 years...I feel like that could be a good future I don't want to think about that birthday trip.