To ‘Ultima Esperanza’

After a 30 hour boat trip, with some whales in the channels and too few food in the cafeteria for 80 persons, we arrive in Punta Arenas. A thriving city near the Strait of Magellan. From here we have left the Isles at World’s end – Tierra del Fuego, Isla Navarino, Isla Hornos and numerous other ones.
For us the Punta is just a transport hub to the nearby Puerto Natales, from where we plan a trip in the immense famous ‘Parque Nacional de Torres del Paine’, where nearly 155000 tourists yearly pay tribute to the ‘Paine Towers’. A rock formation famous for it’s changing colours at sunrise.

Puerto Natales is situated in a province called ‘Ultima Esperanza’… That name origins come from the days of old, when Tierra del Fuego was still ‘Terra Incognita’ and only the bravest sailors reached the Street of Magellan. This channel is long used as a second passage to the Indies, before the Dutch sailed around Cabo de Hornos and opened a third path that way. Windswept, cold and wet make this part of the world harsh to live and survive…
Nowadays the hub is swarmed with people, preparing a trip to the Torres. The public buses drive on and of at the new bus terminal, just outside town. Directly upon arrival we order the next day bus and head to our hostel. We pass along the supermarket to buy our dinner and all the food for the 4 day hike into the Parque Nacional.

The bus trip into the Parque Nacional lasts for hours… At the first stop we buy our entrance tickets and then we still have two more stops. At every location the bus waits at least for half an hour up to an hour, so it is already past noon when we finally arrive at our starting point.
Along the way some herds of guanacos were grazing, lama-like animals. The first of these common grazers.
We start walking through a pampa-like landscape for a couple of hours to the Paine Grande camping area… After the quiet rest during our last hikes, we arrive here in a real anthill.

Next morning we leave our luggage in the lodge and walk to the viewing point for the Grey Glacier. The weather is open, so we have a broad view over the mass of ice. After that we walk to our next overloaded campsite, campemento Italiano, we put out our tent and head directly into the Valle Frances, to visit some hanging glaciers. The views in the valley are stunning, the climb quite steep at moments and we can’t reach the end, since a couple of guardaparques block our way. The trail end is closed, since it is too late. Luckily we just arrived at a good viewing point for the amphitheatre. So I get the right impression…

The next day is a long one… A 26 km hike to our next campsite near the Torres. All day we go on with all our luggage, till we arrive at the refugio one hour and a half before our camping spot. There a couple of signs warn us: the next camping is closed, problems with the sanitary unit.
Que pena! So we don’t have much choice and have to stay here… An uninviting spot, overcrowded and with far too much insufficient sanitary systems for the trail of people visiting the park. We do our best to avoid the ticket salesman, since we won’t pay for a site like this. He’s really hard to avoid, since he’s buggering everyone with his camping fees… Finally we slide noiselessly in our tent and were able to avoid the payment. Mission accomplished.

The next day we wake up at 3:30, to make a 3 hour climb to catch a glimpse of the sunrise at the Torres. The weather is all open, so the viewing is perfect.
That morning we observe the towers changing from grey into red, orange, yellow before they become again grey in broad daylight. The last hike is only downhill to the bus station, where we catch easily a bus back to Puerto Navarino. After the Valdevieso circuit in Ushuaia, this one was extremely easy! No option to loose your way. It was sometimes pure fun to observe the backpacks here. People stow all their toilet gear, lamps, half of their households uphill… Many of them arrive broken at the campsites, heavily overloaded with unnecessities!
After four days hiking we indulge ourselves with a good steak.
Next morning our bus takes us to El Calafate, back in Argentina…