[Reading this on the day published? We're ON A BOAT, destined for South Georgia Island]
Torres del Paine is usually the first place people think of when they hear "Patagonia". Over 100,000 tourists per year flock to the national park, making it a well worn stop on the backpacker trail. The most popular thing to do is the "W" trek, which is approximately 65 kilometers and usually done as a five day, four night trek. The trek features the Grey Glacier, the French Valley, and the three giant blue rock towers that give the park its name. Puerto Natales, a town situated about 2 hours outside the park, is the jumping off point to the area where all the tourists go to prepare for their journey.
After reading that description, it is logical to make the assumption that Daniel and I did a fair bit of trekking... but you would be wrong. When we arrived at Puerto Natales, it was cold, rainy, and windy. Weather in Patagonia is very unpredictable, and can change at a moment's notice. Within a day, we had wind, rain, snow, hail, sun, snow, clouds, sun, rain, more snow, and more rain. We went to the free information and planning session at Erratic Rock Base Camp to plan our hike. After getting all the information about how to do it, where to go, what time the busses are, what to bring, how much it costs, and everything else you could possibly want to know about the trek... we decided that we just weren't feeling it.
Instead, we rented a car with two Dutch girls we met at our hostel and decided to make a road trip out of it. We didn't get to see the typical sights along the "W", but we did cover a fair bit of ground and got to see a lot of the park. We started driving at 7:30am, making our way to the first stop on our self-guided tour: the Milodon caves. The caves themselves were large, but not overly impressive. We did an hour or so hiking between the two caves, then hopped back in the car and continued on our journey
I won't bore you with all the details and stops along the way. We "saw" some lakes, a glacier, and some pretty landscapes. Why the quotation fingers, you ask? Well, we didn't really see much of anything. It was so foggy, cloudy, and misty outside that you couldn't see more than a few meters in front of yourself. We still had a good time though, chatting and laughing with our new friends. We debunked a few American stereotypes, they taught us some things about Holland, and we hung out like people who have been friends for years.
At one point, we were walking to a lookout point and saw a sign "Caution: Strong Winds." As we walked forward, the wind was blowing harder than I had ever felt before. We were all laughing as the wind was nearly knocking us over, blowing so hard that we could barely hear each other talk. All of a sudden, though, it stopped being funny and started getting scary. The wind picked up speed and blew so hard, that we could no longer move forward and had to turn around. As soon as we turned around, it was impossible to stop yourself from being propelled forward and the only solution was to sit down and duck your head until it passed. Bits of gravel and sand were hitting us so hard that it hurt, even through our layers of clothes. We scrambled quickly back to the car, glad that we weren't too far away. We later found out that the winds were in excess of 130 kilometers per hour!
We saw a lot of the devastation that was caused last year when an Israeli tourist started a fire, burning over 40,000 acres in the park. He was burning toilet paper, and the combination of strong winds and dry conditions made the fire take off. It was really sad to see the damage to the area... there were hundreds of trees burned to the ground for as far as we could see. We all got a little quiet as we looked out at the area that used to be covered in lush green forest, now literally burned to the ground. It was quite sad, and it will be many years before anything will grow back.
Our final stop in the park was Laguna Amarga, where you can see the Torres behind the lake. Let me correct myself... our final stop SHOULD have been the laguna, but we somehow drove right past it without seeing it. It was so foggy that we wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway, so we didn't bother turning around. I was disappointed that we weren't able to see the park in the traditional sense, but we made the most of it. I am happy with our decision to skip the trek, as the weather was horrible the whole time (outside of about three minutes at 11:00, which I somehow miraculously predicted would happen earlier that morning). Unlike trekking in Chalten, Torres del Paine is EXPENSIVE! When we added up the cost, it would have been CLP 213,000 ($442 USD) per PERSON! This is not for a guided tour... just for the two of us to get to the park, trek, sleep, and eat. We have done enough outstanding free and cheap hiking to feel like this really wasn't necessary, especially given the poor conditions.
The rental car ended up costing around $80, which we split with the girls we travelled with. To be honest, the reason we had so much fun was because we were road tripping with friends, not necessarily because we were in Torres del Paine. When we got back at the end of the night, Daniel and I made one of our favorite meals from home to share with them: taco in a bag. It is an adaptation from an old Rosecrans high school favorite, and was absolutely delicious. They supplied the ice cream and drinks, we had some great conversation, then we went our separate ways. When we became friends on facebook, we all started laughing hysterically... they are friends with the couple we shared our jungle tour in Bolivia with! The world IS small, afterall.
For those who are interested in our not-so-healthy dinner masterpiece... I give you: TACO IN A BAG! Make it for dinner tonight, thank me tomorrow.
- 1 pound ground meat (we use lean turkey, beef is fine too)
- Shredded lettuce (as much as you like)
- 1 packet low sodium taco seasoning
- Taco sauce (optional)
- 1 large bag (or a few individual bags) of cheese flavored Doritos
- 1 jar of salsa
- Shredded cheddar cheese (as much as you like)
- **any other toppings that you like on tacos can be used in addition to these**
- Cook the ground meat until brown on the stove, drain any excess fat
- Add the taco seasoning packed and about 1/3 cup of water
- Stir and simmer until the water evaporates
- (Optional) Add in some taco sauce to taste, and stir
- If using a large bag of Doritos, cut the bag in half down the middle. DO NOT OPEN THE BAG FIRST! This will give you two bags to put your "taco" in. If using personal size bags, just open them.
- Keep as many doritos in the bag as you want, and remove the extras for snacking later. Crunch up the doritos that are in your bag into small pieces
- Scoop some taco meat into your bag
- Add cheese, lettuce, salsa, and any other toppings you like
- Roll the top of the bag closed and shake it well! Make sure to get some of the dorito bits to the top, because they like to hang out in the bottom. Use a spoon to mix it if you need to
- Eat with a big spoon, and enjoy!
This is not my usual healthy fare, but we have it about once a month at home and it is one of our favorite unhealthy meals. The girls from Holland were very skeptical as we described it to them, but by the end of their meal they were planning out how they could serve this out of a food truck at festivals at home. It is just that good! If you try it, let us know how you like it.