We found Larry and Marylyn tucked into a gorgeous camp spot, right on the Lago Pehoe. Our view of the Torres del Paine and the iridescent green lake were amazing. Cindy settled right in with Case de Poppet.
Our first day, we spent taking a brisk walk around Lago Pehoe and just taking in our surroundings. Fortunately, the rain of the night before had ceased and we were able to make our trekking plans in the warmth of the sunshine.
While Gerson and I were wandering along the lake, a young cat decided to join us in our walk. With our thinking that the cat would cease and desist once we passed the and of the camping area, we trotted at a goodly pace. We had thought the cat to have turned and gone back when to our surprise, the cat raced on ahead and looked back as if saying "What is keeping you two?" Gerson was not too happy with the prospect of being responsible for the cat; however, I was a tad curious to see what this adorable animal was about.
Gerson walked on ahead and me and "Mr. Thomas" walked about 4 km before stopping at a rock outcropping along the lake. Mr. Thomas easily leapt onto my lap and curled up until I was ready to walk back. As we walked back, he flushed out several birds and would look at me as if to say "Look what I did!" Needless to say, I had a rather amusing and quite entertaining walk back to camp. Mr. Thomas was rewarded with a can of tuna and he and his then rounded belly nestled onto one of our chairs for a long cat nap.
The next day we headed for Lago Gray and its glacier. We walked along the shore of the windswept lake and discovered several ice monoliths making their final debuts in the shallow waters. So far we have boated within the icebergs, ate an iceberg, drank and iceberg and now I have the distinction of standing on an iceberg. Ok, so it was not a very big iceberg, but it was an iceberg, nonetheless.
After our iceberg encounter, we crossed over to the other side of the parque where we had hoped to find a recommended camp near a scenic day hike trailhead. With all our hopes, we started across a rather precarious bridge only to have to stop, back up and measure the width. Seeing as Cindy is not the most slender of California girls (no comments about her owner), she was a few inches too wide for the bridge. As a result, we had to watch Larry and Marilyn creep over the horrendously built bridge and we were to make camp in a bus park area.
Unfortunately, a combination of Gerson being tired and a little peeved at me, he hastily went to move Cindy into her overnight position and found a wonderful cushy spot of river sand/rock and dug Cindy in up to her haunches. Yes, I could have said many a comment (alright, I was a b**** and said a few, hey, I was peeved at Gerson as well), but we both buried our anger and turned to digging Cindy out. Two attempts to get her free were to no avail and we just continued digging.
Fortunately, a combination of our digging and a very helpful truck driver, we enlisted the assistance of a larger, very strong vehicle: a huge bus! With a little careful maneuvering and all our fingers crossed, the bus lifted Cindy out of her predicament and onto solid ground. Again, the two large tow hooks we had installed saved our behinds once again. A couple of blows with a sledgehammer and the hooks will straighten out just fine.
We spent a rather blustery night alongside of the buses and headed for Puerto Natales as soon as we straightened out the hooks. We drove out of the park and sadly passed a large area of where a substantial fire recently took its toll. Unfortunately, a careless backpacker "overturned his cooking stove" and was not prepared to douse the fire. As a result, the fire literally wiped clean over 30,000 acres of pristine land and left a horrible scar on the landscape. Well, Torres del Paine did not have much in scenery to compare with truly great National Parks; however, the fire damage devastated the land to a state of absolute bleakness.
Also, while on our way to the next city, we passed a curious area where many red signs were posted. Ignoring them at first, finally as we slowed down for a sharp curve, one caught my eye. These very conspicuous red signs stated, "Campo Minado Peligro Minefield Mine Camp". Ok, so we passed on the idea to free camp anywhere close to that area! Apparently, Chile takes its border conflict with Argentina a little too seriously and planted mines in this valley.
We made it into Puerto Natales where we planned on restocking our wares and enjoying civilization once again. Not too long after we arrived, when Larry and Marilyn popped their heads around the corner of the camp. Are they following us, or what? Not missing an opportunity to spend some time with this exceptional people, we went out for a wonderful "parilla" dinner of lamb and steak.
(Another side note, we contacted several other tire stores with no luck. Because of our failure to find the necessary tires, we accepted the fact that we would have to pay the exorbitant amount that was offered by the Goodyear distributor in Argentina. We called our contact and Gerson confirmed the specifications and availability of the tires and lo and behold, the distributor had the wrong size tire and of course, located the wrong tires. After returning the call to the contact person, it was confirmed that our size tires (in the strength we need) do not exist in South America.)
Soon after we settled into our camp, we were inundated by a large group of young people that had just completed their "final exam" for the National Outdoor Leadership School, based in the United States. These 20 something, 20 somethings, reunited at our camp after 12 days of being dropped in the wilderness of Torres del Paine and having to make their way to Puerto Natales at that prescribed day. The final test came after six months of kayaking through the Magallanes Strait and having to survive in the wilds (having food drops every so often). There is much more to describe their incredible participation in this college-credited course so if you want to know more for yourself or for your kids (I think it is definitely worth looking into), you can go to www.nols.edu.
We were also very fortunate to cross paths with a very busy friend of ours, Bill Penhollow, whom we met at the Hostal Aleman in Farrallones, Chile. If you wander back through our pages to South America Diary page 20 you will meet Bill as we did. Bill works the winter in Farrallones and the summer in Puerto Natales. He and his partner, Rustin, recently bought the hostal in Puerto Natales and it has already become a resounding success. In a country where the service level never matches up with the price charged, these two Ex-Pats know how to give customers more than they expected. If you are planning on traveling anywhere near Patagonia and especially, to or around Puerto Natales-Torres del Paine, contact Bill for pertinent information and guidance. He and Rustin are a plethora of information and great tips. You can find Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org or their website at: www.erraticrock.com.
We had an all-too-short dinner with Bill and left early the next morning to make a four-hour, extremely windy run down to Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas is a duty-free port and we were in high hopes that we could find tires that fit Cindy's feet. Of course, as it was preordained, we had yet another blow-out on the highway (and it was very well paved!). So, installing our already damaged spare, we literally limped into Punta Arenas and went directly to the duty-free district.
Fortunately, we had already called several distributors of tires and found a possibility with a company called San Jorge. We took the time to check Bridgestone/Firestone, Michelin, Hankook and Pirelli and found nothing. A quick ride up the street and San Jorge shone like a bright light after a long drive in a dark tunnel. Yes! They had our size tires and with a "D" rating (8 ply) which was just a little less than what we really wanted, but hey, when you are starving, you eat what is available. We replaced all four tires and kept three of the salvageable tires as spares. Cindy has quite a shoe collection going. So, our tire saga is over, for now...
Gerson and I are going to write a chapter in the travel books on how to survive in Punta Arenas on $1000 a day, seeing as that was what we gave to the community for the new tires for Cindy and a new digital camera for me. We were unable to find anyone even willing to look at my Minolta digital camera and the secondary camera's photos were noticeably inferior. We found a good price on a nice Kodak digital that actually uses the same memory card as the Minolta. Whew, we are over a couple of bumps in the road and looking forward to our ferry ride across the Estrecho de Magallanes (Strait of Magellan for you gringos).
We crossed back into Argentina with no problem and we were soon on a desolate road veering around the Strait of Magellan and over to the Atlantic Coast. This landmass is actually an island referred to as "Tierra del Fuego". The name comes from the Spaniards when they saw the indigenous Indians burning many fires over this rather flat land.
We pulled into Rio Grande for the night and found a very accommodating Volunteer Fire Department that let us stay in their parking lot. A good night's sleep and we will be off to the end of the world.