The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rapa Nui Blog, Part 3: Patagonia—Torres del Paine

Yes!! I am here!! And the excitement is mutual!!

Patagonia is the southernmost region of South America, about equally divided between Chile and Argentina. It extends down to Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn, and then becomes the launching pad for Antarctica (of which Chile claims a decent chunk). Patagonia conjures images of wild landscapes and harsh climates—not to mention winter coats. And it delivers. I have to say that, while mainland Chile was essentially an afterthought to my visiting Easter Island, this place has been one of the most amazing I’ve ever been to. In fact, I saw so many amazing things that I need to do two entries!

I flew into Punta Arenas, which is on the Strait of Magellan (everyone remember your geography classes?). Patagonia is infamous for its winds, and landing was a little scary. I immediately picked up my rental car, which was a Mitsubishi Galant Super Saloon:

“Saloon” seems like an odd—and possibly even inappropriate—model name for a car. I can’t help but think they meant “Slalom”, but who am I to say. I immediately headed north across the Patagonian steppe, where Chile is flat and hauntingly barren (as always, you can click on any picture to enlarge…and I recommend you do so with some of these, because the sights were unbelievable!):

My destination was Torres del Paine (PIE-nee) National Park. This is centered on the magnificent Torres (towers) and Cuernos (horns), sheer and highly glaciated mountains that seem to rise from out of nowhere. They are surrounded by impossibly blue lakes, forbidding glaciers, and weather that changes on a whim—from sun to rain to snow, all in a matter of minutes. These are the Cuernos…notice the sudden changes in the color of the rock:

The Cuernos are on the right, and the mountains on the left are the Torres Grande. The little building on the left is my hotel!:

It’s called the Hosteria Pehoe (technically pronounced puh-HO-eh, but I prefer PEE-ho), and it was an interesting place. It is on an island and can only be reached by a rickety, Not-Minnesota-Department-of-Highways-Approved footbridge:

The setting is magnificent and the location ideal, but the lodge itself leaves a few things to be desired—especially for the price. $200 a night for a rat hole of a room and then they nickel-and-dime you on everything else, like the dinner (which features a salad bar where every salad appeared to be prepared from a base of canned corn). But the staff was nice and they do try, although they make some odd choices (they don’t have washcloths but they do have a shoe-shine mitt that’s even personalized with the hotel logo…who the hell is shining shoes here?!).

But every day I would walk outside and see the Cuernos, and every day they looked different (when you could see them at all…clouds often cover them):

I took a boat trip out on Lago Grey for a close-up look of Glacier Grey. It’s even possible to hike on the glacier, but you can only do that as a day trip in the summer (it’s Spring here now). Even a close encounter, however, was not disappointing. The boat takes you on a 3-hour tour (uh-oh…) that also offers terrific views of the Torres, which here half-enveloped in clouds. When you get to the glacier, they serve pisco (whisky) to warm you up!

Walking along the shore of Lago Grey, you see some icebergs that have broken loose from the glacier:

Here we are on the boat, headed toward the glacier. The “island” that you can see dividing the glacier in the middle only recently appeared as the glacier recedes due to global warming (unless you’re with the Bush Administration, in which case the glacier has receded due to a magical, mysterious force...):

Getting closer:

Not much more to say, except enjoy the views:

As I mentioned, the tour also offered amazing views of the Torres. No wonder ancients always thought that gods lived atop of mountains—I never did see the actual tops of them:

Also, by the time we got back, we had our clearest view yet of the ever-changing Cuernos (an note the icebergs in front of them!)

There’s plenty of wildlife in the park. Most common are the guanacos, which are some kind of llama—I must have seen a million of them:

Here’s a whole herd:
Costello: Herd of what?
Abbott: Herd of guanacos.
Costello: Sure I heard of guanacos!
Abbott: No, no, I mean a guanaco herd.
Costello: What do I care if a guanaco heard? I ain’t said nothing to be ashamed of!

(Sorry…I’ve been wanting to get that out of my system for days!)

This fox was stalking small birds—and thankfully didn’t seem to care too much about me:

At night there were countless giant rabbits crossing the roads, one time even a giant herd of them (who knew rabbits traveled in a herd?! Herd of what? Oh, never mind...). I never saw so many rabbits. There are also a lot of birds. I never saw any flamingoes (which are native here) but I did see a few Andean Condors, huge birds that soar on the winds (look closely—he’s swooping down in the middle of the photo):

And here are some other pretty birds, though I don’t know what any o them are called:

Being springtime, beautiful wildflowers brought a splash of color, including the Chilean firebush:

Here are a few other random scenes:

Note the waves on that last shot: this is in a small lake my friends—the waves are completely a result of the powerful winds! Winds in excess of 100 mph are not uncommon. In the town of Punta Arenas, they sometimes set up ropes on the sidewalks to help the citizens keep their balance! There were times that I was almost knocked over, or nearly had the door torn off my car when I opened it. Here’s a short video of some guanacos and my pants flapping in the breeze (click on the triangle in the lower left-hand corner to play):



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