As the blog address suggested, this was the ultimate goal of the trip - Patagonia. The very south of Chile and Argentina, where the winter is just ending now.
As I mentioned in the last post, from Sunday evening we were doing the Cusco - Arequipa - Tacna - Arica round, and there sat on the plane to Santiago de Chile.
First funny thing that happened at the airport there is that the elder man standing in the queue right in front of us understood that we were talking Croatian and introduced himself to us. His name was Tonci, barba Tonci (you guys home know what that means :)), and he came to Chile from Brac, Croatia some 40 years ago!
We said our goodbyes at the Santiago airport and proceeded to wait for our next flight to Punto Arenas which was going next morning.
Oh yes, and the steward on this flight was also interested in Croatia as he was of Croatian origin!
In Punto Arenas - another surprise.
The taxi driver says that 14% of town's population is of Croatian origin! Finally a place where we could have more luck with a "Do you speak Croatian?" than with a "Do you speak English?" LOL!
We saw a few street and store names hinting of this, and in the end the driver has shown us where the "Croacia" street is:
Now I know where we could move if we wanted to live in Patagonia! :P
We had only a few hours in Punto Arenas before catching the bus to Puerto Natales, the smaller fishing town which server as a starting point of sorts for the "Torres del Paine" national park expeditions.
We found a hostel here and took some time to prepare for what was supposed to be a 4-day stay within the park (it is a huge area btw. and even a week would not be enough to explore it in the most basic form)
Puerto Natales - same story again. Shops hinting of Croatian surnames, we enter them and meet more Croatians who moved here a long time ago (e.g. "Casa Pivcevic" whose owner moved here more than 60 years ago!)
On the bus to Torres del Paine, the driver doesn't speak English (of course), but a girl is on the bus who has Croatian grandparents and has lived in Croatia for a year to learn the language - thus, this is the first time here that I can talk in Croatian and someone translates it into Spanish. Most interesting, being that this is the furthest place from home we've ever been to :)
But anyway, I promised some photos last time so enough writing - it's time to show you a glimpse of Patagonia!
Our first photo day in Puerto Natales:
On the following day we finally go to Torres del Paine, and to the first of the three open "refugios" (shelters where you can stay overnight and get some food). No surprise, the owner is also from Croatia!
The refugios here - considering what they offer - are quite expensive. To stay in and just get a no-sheets bed in a no-lock dorm in which you'll have to sleep in your own sleeping bag, you'll have to cash out 45 US$.
All the food is about twice the price of that in Puerto Natales.
There is also a hotel in the park, but a night there goes for some 250 US$!
First day we arrived quite late in the park, because the supposed 2-hour ride turned into a 4-hour one. Apparently someone told our driver that he should never cross that 2000 rpm mark :P (and it was not a diesel).
After this 4-hour slugrace, we finally arrived at the park and walked to the aforementioned refugio.
The weather on the first day was not really the best (cloudy), so there were no nice photo-opportunities, but the second day made up for that.
The second day started with a great dawn promising a nice day:
Here I have to mention that we were preparing to stay in the park for 4 days. This meant we had around 20 kilos each in our backbacks (food, water, clothes, photo gear). Since there are three open refugios in the park, the original plan was to start every day by dragging the full backpacks to the next refugio (a few hours walk), and then go for explorations and photo shoots until the dark, returning to the refugio for the night.
So, on this second day, we pick our stuff (around 18 kgs by now, as some food and water is gone ;)) and head out for the second refugio. According to the maps and stories, this is supposed to be a 4-hr hike.
We set off quite slowly taking photos while the light is still good, and then - in lack of a marked path matching the one on the map - head towards a nearby lagoon at whose shore the next refugio is supposed to be:
Now things are starting to take a different turn. Many of them, in fact.
It is impossible to walk by the lagoon, so we have to go up. And back down. And back up. And so on and on :)
This now turns into a hike starting with grassy hills, and moving on through rocks, canyons, thorny bushes, impassable forrests, streams, swamps, and ultimately knee-deep snow. All with around 18-kilos on our backs and always up or downhill.
Seeing that after 6 hours we were about halfway between the refugios, and that the terrain was getting worse and worse, and that there was no "well-marked path" in sight (more like no path at all), and that if things continued the same way it was likely that we'd get caught by dark before ever reaching the second refugio, and that it was semi-starting to rain - the decision was to head back to the starting refugio and find alternative transport to the other side of the park.
Some 3 hours later, we returned more-or-less the way we came, but through another deeper swamp, so by now Marko's shoes were soaking with water.
Talk about extreme trekking...
A view back down before I finally packed the camera as it was not possible to walk with it in hand anymore:
After return, we sort of agreed about a transport tomorrow, and had a good nights sleep.
On the third day, we joined a group coming in from Puerto Natales that was in for a day-tour. The weather was nice most of the day, and being with a transport allowed us to see more in a shorter time. Luckily, this driver and the group was more photo-oriented, and didn't mind stopping for good photos:
(you can see the three peaks of Torres del Paine in the background)
A bit later we ran across a fleet of condors (again a shot with Torres in the background):
and a couple of foxes, one of which actually tried to enter our van :)
After that, we arrive at the Glacier Grey:
The Glacier Grey shore:
...and it's time to slowly get back home...
Today we just chill and rest, wash clothes and pack, back in Puerto Natales.
Tomorrow morning we go to El Calafate (back in Argentina), where we will spend two days walking on and boat-riding between the glaciers, and after that it's time to return home (Calafate - Buenos Aires (2 airports) - Madrid - London (2 airports) - Zagreb... all in all around 48 hours)
But I hope to write more from El Calafate yet before returning home...