Patagonia Dreamin’ -=Chile 2016=- pt. 1: Torres del Paine

<— back to last part: Antarctic Peninsula

—> continue to next part: Santiago & Valparaiso

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what is to come in this journal: lots of awesome sceneries

Prologue: In Ushuaia

We were still in shock about how much the world had changed after being in Antarctica for 20 days. It was the craziest time of my life: US had a crazy election, the world had fallen into chaos, and most importantly, I was still single.

The two days at the port city of Ushuaia were sad yet exhilarating.  Watching friends that I made depart slowly was rather depressing, knowing that for some of them, I would never see again; getting the chance to eat on solid ground with the pals still remaining, though, was the good part of back in civilization, barring the wifi and soft beds.

Three days after our landfall, Luke and I boarded the bus for our next destination. Strangely, we ended up thinking about the same thing after everything was over: we wanted to see the real Patagonia, Torres del Paine. That meant a bus ride to the other side of the border, and then another bus ride to catch even more bus rides, and that was exactly what we did.

Hello Chile!

First it was 3 hours to the border. Tierra del Fuego, the island we were on, was carved up by Chile and Argentina, but the only ferry from the island to the South American mainland was in Chile, so you would have to get through Chile even if you are just getting from the island to Argentina mainland.

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cutting through Patagonian pastureland

The border crossing was just a station with places to exit Argentina, and the other side for entry into Chile. There was no fanfare, no complications, or anything else, not even a shop or a rest stop. There was a humble hostel in the midst of nowhere right next to it, though. Another 2 hours brought us face to face with the legendary Straight of Magellan, at the port of Porvenir.

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facing the famous Straight of Magellan

We waited 30 minutes for the ferry to stabilize due to the extreme winds howling in the area. It was Patagonia after all! The pale blue water was blown vehemently towards east, creating swells so big that nothing could safely dock by the side.

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crossing a straight narrower than a river

We eventually were able to successfully cross the notorious passage, and the tiny cabin on board actually featured a cute hot dog stand. The wind kept blowing sideways, rocking the ship gently, forcing it to squeak loudly. Surprisingly, everyone got off on the other side safely, and the ship did not disintegrate.

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pilot ship for larger ships crossing the channel

3 more hours of quiet hours took Luke and I into the city of Punta Arenas, the southernmost in Chile. The tiny city featured clean boulevards, as well as windswept parks devoid of any life form. The bus companies all stop at different places, forcing the group traveling to Puerta Natales to scurry away towards the bus station of the other company.

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Punta Arenas streets

3 hours of bus ride later, we were brought into the town of Puerta Natales, the final frontier of those who wanted to conquer the heart of Patagonia: Torres del Paine. For two days, we prepared at the numerous places in this unbelievably flat place full of backpackers and adventurers, and decided that Luke and I would go separate ways, since he had much more time than I did. I would do the classic W trek, except I would do it in 3 days instead of normal people’s 5, and he would do the full loop, taking 8 days. He needed more time to prepare, so I would depart first, but I would catch up to him somewhere in the middle.

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map of W route, Luke decided to do the arc through the back side as well

A bus ride took me straight to the gate, where tourists pay their entry fees and sign waivers. Then another bus continued to bring me to the catamaran, where a rainstorm brought severe delays into my ride, but that is Patagonia for ya.

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approaching the most majestic place of it all

Torres del Paine

The beautiful national park’s iconic mountains were all shrouded by clouds, unfortunately, because Patagonia is notorious for its hostile weather. I finally took the catamaran to Paine Grande camp, and headed east.

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catamaran docked at Paine Grande

The weather had become slightly less shitty, and even under that kind of circumstance, the place already looked gorgeous. The water never faded to any shade of grey, even during the rain. I first encountered a fox, who greeted me and followed me for a little while. This place had already got so cool.

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fox

Weather here changed so quickly, on the subsequent 3 hours towards my camp, weather changed more times than the number of girls who had talked to me. For 10 minutes, the wind was calm; the birds were chirping; and I was humming songs while frolicking down the path. Then suddenly, a huge gust would bring rain, and sometimes even snow from the peaks, all the way down onto my face, and the miserable me would be crying while begging for the mercy of god to not let me die a virgin. Within 5 minutes, everything would be fine again, except my heart had always been traumatized by crippling loneliness, so I guess everything except that was fine.

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a beautiful day, isn’t…. why is it snowing!?

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wind blew the trees all the way to deformity

The landscapes were beautiful in a strange way. On one hand it was tortured constantly by wind and snow constantly being dumped on by the inclement weather, but on the other hand life still managed to slip through the cracks and burgeoning like a headstrong child.

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a river filled with life

Crossing the lands at Torres del Paine was an ode to mother Earth. The bridges, the tiny paths, the bushes with berries, the wildflowers, the turquoise water, all were in their absolute purest forms. It was no doubt the best hike in my life, despite I was carrying over 25kg of water, food, fuel, tent, sleeping bag and pad mattress.

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climbing up to Camp Britanico

I dropped everything once I arrived at Campo Italiano in the center of the “W” after 3 hours of hiking. Then, another 2 hours brought me to the beautiful glacial view up higher. The climb was steep, but it was no challenge for a seasoned hiker like me.

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looking back down, now in the realm of white

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I give all my love to nature

Eventually I settled down for my first night at Los Correos camp, trying my best to make a good home for my first night in my fantasy land Patagonia. Wind was howling, stroking the canopy above me with rhythmic undulations, forcing the retained water to fall from the leaves.

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on the way to Los Correos

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my tent

After my tent was set up, it was dinner time. A tiny stove, a few rocks to build a wall, and a tiny pot was all I needed. As an Asian, I had to eat the only thing that could bring a smile to my cold body: instant noodles.

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dinner

A night was spent in solitude. Reading books under a headlight in the middle of the forest, listening to the fierce wind howling through the valley, was a real experience. I woke up early, and decided to go back up the center leg again, because the weather yesterday was not as favorable as I thought. Big mistake, that made my day into over 12 hours of nonstop walking.

back up the river

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hello from the bridge~!

The second day had a much less snowy morning, so the view was absolutely spectacular. It was likely one of the most beautiful valleys out there, and to be honest, there couldn’t be rock towers more majestic than these. Protruding high into the ceiling of the sky, these formations seemed so jagged and steep that I believed nobody would be able to scale.

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rock towers at the end of the valley

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Torres del Paine truly have some serious rock towers

Back to my camp, I was already extremely exhausted from waking up early and walking an additional unplanned 5 hours, but I had to run, or I would not be able to make it to my destination on time. Hiking at night here was prohibited, as nobody knew when a panther could pounce on a hiker in the dark.

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lunch spot

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mountain view

Long, long legs of flat terrain did not require too much of resting, so I hiked 4 hours nonstop. The beautiful lake was on my right, while the mighty paramount rock towers were on my left. The only thing missing was a companion, then I would never ever want to leave.

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snowy mountain, and some beautiful water to reflect it

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a tiny stream~!

Hiking in Patagonia is more than a trek; it is a pilgrimage. The life instilled upon one traversing the purest of the purest places on Earth can simply make a man feel like a boy again. The sheer scale and beauty a place could hold must put thousands upon thousands in awe. Sometimes I want to go back, just to sit on top of a rock, look down the snowy valley, reaching all the way down to the bluest lake ever, along with my soul.

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there is no better place to be, if you want to reach Mother Nature

Then another 2 hours passed, and finally I reached the outskirts of Los Torres camp. It was a combination of a luxury hotel for rich folks and a campsite for poor fucks like me. A lot of horses were kept at the premise, since a lot of the richer folks do not want to do the legworks themselves.

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sunset, and I was still on the road

I met up with Luke, where we exchanged our exciting adventures of the past few days. It was peculiar, to feel that I was still meeting people that I got the honor to befriend over a month ago on a tiny ship in Antarctica. I passed out before we could discuss further. Luke would have to begin a long leg across the back side of the mountains, and this would be our farewell. I gave him almost all the food I had left, so that he could continue with better provisions, and I could advance in the last day, tomorrow, without much useless items.

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horsing around in the morning

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rainbow

Wind howled like a lone wolf at the night, and a thunderstorm skimmed us through in the morning. By the time I woke up, a giant rainbow was hanging on top of the mountain like an arch to heavens. The last day was also the toughest for me, because the bus leaving for the outside world departs at 1pm, and I had a flight to catch. After dropping everything but the necessary energy bars, I started running uphills along the last valley, as if I was running to my imaginary girlfriend.

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up up the valley we go!

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a nature’s messanger

In an hour, I got to the famous Chileno camp, where only rich folks could get their full board accommodation and breakfast. Passing the camp was a dense woodland route along the rushing river, where I could start seeing the postcard-cover eastern rock towers that gave this national park its name.

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along the river

Another 2 hours brought me to the final camp before the rock towers, Camp Torres. Most of the people camp here for the last night, and then do the climb early to see the sunrise. However, it was completely booked out for the rest of eternity when I got there, so I had to resort to the barbarian method: run up and down in 5 hours, bypassing this camp.

After the long trek up the valley, I was already exhausted, but the toughest part was yet to come. The last hour up the towers was notoriously steep, as one had to scramble around the rocks in order to scale the tower bases. It took me slightly shorter than others, because I was an amazing person with nobody to slow me down mwahahaha!

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up top

The view was absolutely fantastic. Though a tad bit cloudy, the towers were as towering as they looked like in the postcards. Three majestic spikes pierced through the sky, penetrating even the thickest of the thickest clouds, leaving a giant gaping hole up above. The tiny lake in front of it only made it even more dramatic, what a miraculous creation!

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admiring the unbelievable sight

The Way Back

After that, I had to run all the way back down to catch the bus. I barely made it to the camp alive, and it was already 12:55. I frantically dismantled my tent and everything inside, and got onto the bus just in time to pass out. Woken up by the conductor only after everyone had got off at the park gate, I eventually arrived at Puerta Natales in time. After meeting a great Swiss girl named Aylin, who was also travelling around the world, I decided to eventually rest, and actually stop killing myself with intense itineraries.

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sharing local food with local people, that is what a traveler should do

Epilogue

The last day, I took a bus to Punta Arenas and caught a taxi to the airport. The flight to the capital, Santiago, was nice and smooth, so I had a fantastic ride. All in all, my 5 days in Patagonia was likely lifechanging in many ways that I had not realized yet. I found myself truly eager to go back, and nothing could actually distract me from thinking about it. I wanted to sit down on a big rock underneath the towers, and watch the sunrise on top of the world… Boy oh boy do I miss this enigmatic place!

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the road is the home

I landed in Santiago airport just past nightfall, and I realized this would be the last leg of my journeys in the voyage south. 2 months had almost come to an end, and nothing could change the fact that time was the most ruthless killer of them all. I wanted to make the last few days count. I will.

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my tiny house by the river

continue to Santiago & Valparaiso —>

<— back to Antarctic peninsula

 

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