|Lenticular clouds above Torres del Paine National Park|
...........from South American National Parks, quoted by Sara Wheeler in "Travels in a Thin Country", a great insight into Chile. They are not wrong!
|The park is home to thousands of Guanacos|
|Andean Condor, biggest bird in the Americas...rarely seen on the ground.|
So, if you ignore the 35-mile bumpy drive to the international airport at Mount Pleasant, and the long, dull wait before the flight, it is quite a convenient way to start explorations of South America.
|Similar in size to the English Lake District....|
|Unusually calm lake.|
|Los Cuernos - The Horns|
|Grey granite, below. Brown sandstone above.|
|Salta Grande (people at lip of Falls). A waterfall between two lakes.|
|The Horns, from the south. Grey granite, brown sandstone.|
|Bring your own seat, for one of the best views on Earth.|
It's like a gigantic Pavlova with a chocolate topping!
|"Beef or Chicken?" Chilean style|
After lunch, we explored more of the park by bus. The gravel roads were twisty, narrow and undulating, but much of the park has no roads and hiking and horses are the main modes of transport.
|Lunch with a view|
Coming around one bend, our guide suddenly asked the driver to pull over and let us get out to take photos. We couldn't understand why she was so excited, taking photos of the mountains herself. Surely she had seen this view hundreds of times? "Oh yes", she agreed, "but never reflected in that lake. It's always so windy! Today is special!".
deliberately left blank!
Another famous lake, Lago Grey, has a glacier at one end, and the wind has blown icebergs from it, 15 miles to the other end of the lake! The place is notorious for the strong winds.......
Eventually, we had driven about 40 miles from north to south within the Park, and were dropped off at our hotel near the southern entrance, whilst the bus returned to Puerto Natales. Prior to travelling, I had checked the map and had concerns that our hotel was too far away from the mountains to get good views. I needn't have worried!!
The next day we took a zodiac trip down the Serrano river. Although not really "white-water rafting", we had to get inside a wet suit and wear life jackets, in case we fell out the boat.
The river skirts the edge of the Southern Patagonian Icecap - the biggest in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica - and we could see numerous glaciers flowing down valleys to calve into the river.
Without the boat, access would have been difficult and time-consuming. There are no roads. This area was one of the most remote in South America, and one of the last places where Europeans migrants encountered indigenous people. Sadly, about 100 years ago, most of these people succumbed to the usual cocktail of introduced diseases like smallpox. So the area remained a wilderness, until tourism began about 20 years ago.
Now, the region is mostly National Park. The Torres del Paine park abuts the vast Bernardo O'Higgins National Park (13,000 sq. miles, compared to 927 sq. mls for Torres). By the way, in my old stomping ground of Richmond upon Thames, London, there is a statue of Bernardo O'Higgins, a former resident who went on to liberate Chile from the Spanish!
The closeup views of the glaciers tumbling down the mountains allowed us to see how much they had retreated in recent years. Spectacular...... but better was to come!
On subsequent days, we tried to do less-sedentary activities, and the main one in the park is hiking. The paths are well-signposted, with time and distances to the next viewpoint or camp-site clearly marked.
However, apart from occasional bridges and rustic hotels, the park is very unspoilt and the landscape is undiminished by the growing number of visitors.
We were to see several birds and plants which we were familiar with from the Falklands. Most had different names, but it is clear some have migrated across the ocean from Patagonia at some point in the past.
One aspect of the wildlife we noticed that was similar to that of the Falklands', was that it was not frightened of people, and didn't run or fly away until we got very close.
Quite the opposite. One evening, we watched two Patagonian foxes run around chasing hares for about 20 minutes, sometimes walking between groups of people and coming within touching distance of us.
On one walk, there was a little mouse in our path which didn't seem the slightest bit bothered by our presence.
The Caranchos are scavengers and quite common on the Falkland Islands, away from settlements, but these were spotted very close to our hotel, so were obviously adapted to live off our scraps.
Horses were used for getting about, and tourists could learn to be gauchos for the day, or even head up into the hills for a camping expedition. I usually sneeze when near horses, so declined the offer of a day in the saddle.
Near our hotel was a large hostel and camp-site, with a shop and restaurant. There was also one of those world maps, where you can post up where you come from, although there seemed to be some dispute on whether the Falklands were part of Argentina or not.
Peter the Penguin, posting from Antarctica, and someone from the
Islas Malvinas, Argentina, oops, The Falkland Islands.... You just can't get away from politics!
|Reflections from our trip....|
|Lago Grey. The rickety pier for the Glacier boat trips.|
|Horses are popular form of transport.|
|Sunset, moon and lenticular clouds.|
|Dawn on the Horns.|
|Ready for anything|
|Glacial ice blocking the outflow of the lake.|
|The end of the glacier|
|Rickety bridge and person with vertigo.....|
|Spanish - English directions|
|Black-faced Ibis. Familiar to Stanley residents...|
|Patagonian Fox hunting hares at night.|
|Patagonian Fox walking past us in the dark...|
|Don't stand on the wildlife...|
|"O, wee, cowerin', timorous beastie!" Rabbie Burns.|
|Southern crested Caracara. (Carancho)|
|Ready for the gauchos|
|The trainee gauchos head off for the day....|
|The political debate even reaches a hostel in the park.....|
|A board in the hostel, showing where everyone comes from....|
So, I hope this has whetted your appetite, as the most spectacular part of our trip is yet to come. More soon, domestic chores permitting....