Tuesday, 17 February 2015

0209 Las Torres back to Puerto Natales

17th Feb 2015

Woke up to find that today was a good day to be leaving Nacional Parque Torres del Paine. It was very overcast, low cloud, was raining a little, and it was cold.  Looking up at the little bit of the mountains that were visible, there was a good dusting of fresh snow quite low down.  I have seen what I needed to see, walked more than I thought I could, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.  Even the winds, although very annoying, are just part and parcel of the Pategonian experience.  And I have left enough undone that should I ever have the luck to be able to visit here again, I ould not have to do the same things again.  So a quick pack up and breakfast, (no bananas for breakfast today – Supplies are running low after 6 days !) and I headed out of the park – I WILL be glad to see the back of these very corrugated dirt roads !!

Just at the park boundary I took a side turning to Cascada Rio Paine for one last experience, and as I turned up the road I saw movement in the bushes ahead, so I slowed down.  It was a big eagle – With a catch !!

The photos aren’t too good, but you can clearly see his catch, which he actually pulled out from under a bush as I approached, and dragged it into a bit of open space. It looked a bit like a Gato Negro to me (see end of this entry to understand this comment !), and it was so big that he could hardly fly with it.  He dragged it a little, and then suddenly took off, but only made it about 50 yards before he had to land again.  Great way to start ones last day in the park.

After that it was along the road for another 5 kms to the waterfalls, and they are quite spectacular – The way the rock has eroded in layers makes for an almost step like waterfall, before the river flowing down from Las Torres and other glaciers makes its way on down the valley.  I really enjoy the power of big waterfalls – Gazing at them is almost mesmerizing.  So many forces of nature at work. There were some great waterfalls we saw in Alaska, and I am looking forward to Iguazu.

Where I joined back up to the main road was an old Estancia that had become a restaurant, but now looked a bit abandoned – Typical kind of Patagonian country scene though.  Shortly after that I came round the corner and there were a bunch of guanaco necking again, and mucking about – Must be that time of year !  10 minutes later and I found my first rhea for a while – There are supposed to be quite a lot in the park but these were the first I have seen – Ran away as soon as they saw me though.  I do find it interesting that other cars in front of me or coming towards drive past the animals beside the road and they don’t move, but when I come along they all run !   It might be that I am right hand drive which they are not used to, but I think it is more likely that my little $9 Roo Shoos are doing their job and alerting the animals of my approach !   Food for thought on this much disparaged item !

Then it was lots more guanaco – This time with a few cute little babies with them.  Then FINALLY, just 500 metres before I got out onto the black top road (at last), I got my CONDORS !!   We have been waiting to see these for so long – months -  and today there were up to ten of them at one point.  There was a strong wind blowing over a saddle  between some hills, and they were just playing in the wind drafts as it rushed through the gap.  I sat there for at least half an hour, and in that time I did not see a single condor flap a single wing.  They just soar in the wind constantly.  I, like the other people who were also stopped, were totally mesmerized (twice in one day ?!), just watching them do their thing. It is a bit like watching dolphins play under the bow of a boat – You just can’t tear your eyes away in case you miss something special, and you just KNOW those birds have a great big smile on their beaks and are having FUN up there !  Just doing it because they can. 

Very very special, and I had to reluctantly tear myself away. Photos are a waste of time – But I leave mine in there to remind me of just how special it was.

It was then on towards Puerto Natales, and then I came through that enormous (?) town with a horse statue in the middle (and little else except an incredibly strong wind) – Cerro Castillo.   As it was now just past 11 am, and I hadn’t spent any money for a week, I decided to splash out and have a coffee and try their empanadas for elevenses.  I parked right outside the door of the café, but the wind was so strong it took me about 2 minutes to get to the front door – And then there are double doors like an airlock in a submarine and you have to close one door before you can open the other, so everyone inside doesn’t get blown out again.   And inside is like a whole new world !  Two big roaring pot belly stoves make it warm and cosy, sheepskins on every chair, and enough tourist knick knacks to keep even the hardiest browser happy for a while.   My empanada was good – The coffee, as is often the case in Chile and Argentina, was disgusting.  You just have to drink maté  here because south of the Peruvian border they just don’t seem to “get” coffee. But it was an enjoyable half hour to be off the road and in a nice environment.

I left an Aussie sticker on the window in thanks, and then headed off down the road again, and before long was coming back into the little (ex) fishing town of Puerto Natales.  I passed a ferry tied up at a dock, and then saw something I had been reading about yesterday.  Over the past couple of years before I started this trip, I was collecting travel info and articles about particularly Patagonia and Torres del Paine out of newspapers and magazines as I came across them.  Amongst those had been several articles about hotels in and around Torres del Paine NP, and one of them had been about the “futuristic Remota Hotel in the outskirts of Puerto Natales”, about which it said “all comforts needed for a sojourn at the end of the earth”.  When I drove through PN last week I saw the building and thought it was (not very nice) apartments in a weird place outside what is a really small town.  Having read the article again last night, when I saw it again as I drove into town, I realised it was this place. Make your own mind up from the photos of the outside (I am sure it is very nice inside), but I am still of the opinion that from the outside it looks like apartments at best, or a correctional centre at worst – And what is it doing 5 minutes outside a remote little town ?  It needs to be somewhere in town, or else RIGHT outside town, with a special view or something. Very odd – Especially all the air vents shaped like umbrella handles – Due to the high winds, I guess !!  Hmmmm.

I then came on round the coast, past what I presume are Patagonian swans (pure white with a black neck), and some ducks, all fighting to keep head on into the wind so they didn’t get blown off course !  I know I go on about the wind, but it really is amazing – Nothing like high wind in Aus or UK or USA – This is just incessant and very strong winds blowing off the mountains, all the time, day after day. A day without it is the exception.  In fact I now kind of appreciate it because it is unique to this part of the world, and it has also given me just an inkling of what Scott and his party, and other Antarctic explorers were talking about and putting up with when they wrote about these non-stop gale force winds that just blow for days down there and make normal activities almost impossible.  It is only by experiencing it that you can really comprehend just a tiny bit of what it must be like when the temps are down at 40 below, and this wind blows.  Today it was 5 or 10 degs above, and it was cold in the wind !!

Since it was only lunch time, I spent some time driving all over town, down around the old port area etc.  Some interesting buildings and sculptures along the front (now THERE would have been a better place to build a boutique hotel !), and a number of old fishing boats rotting on wharves, although a number were still bobbing around at anchor, obviously still well in use.  There
are a couple of gorgeous sculptures down on the water front, obviously portraying the strength of the wind, and show two figures, one male and one female,  swinging from poles as if blown by the incessant wind – And with the back drop of the mountains I thought they were brilliant. 

Let me mention the wines here for a moment, and my earlier comment about the Gato Negro and the eagle.  We have been drinking primarily two red wines down here – Gato (negro) – Black cat, or Casillero del Diablo  - The Devil’s Locker, or maybe Cellar ?  Anyway, driven primarily by price, but unwilling to forgo a good wine at whatever price, I enjoy them, and they seem to be the Chilean wines of choice around here amongst travellers I have met. Then I got an email from Thailand yesterday – It seems that my good friends the Skidmores et al are sitting in Koh Samui right now – Drinking Gato Negro !!! Small world. 

And in the shop today I even saw Gato Negro Cab Sav in Chateau Cardboard (another good Australian invention !) – 1550 pesos for the litre, which is about $2.50 US.  I paid US$3.00 for a 1.5 litre bottle today.

Lastly on the wine, they produce a Carmenere here for which I am told that vines were apparently brought over from Europe many years ago, and now Europe no longer grows it (Don’t ask me why).  To my untrained palette, this wine is somewhere between a Cab Sav and a Merlot, and I find it eminently drinkable !! Viva el Carmenere.

Once checked in back in my little campsite, I set off to get laundry done, and was promised it at 7 pm. While getting the laundry to the lady, I needed to also add my trousers I was wearing, so, after checking that no one was coming down the street, I whipped of my trousers (Sitting in the driver’s seat) and prepared to put another clean pair on – Just as a family came round the corner.  And I could tell right away that they were the kind of people who would come over and look at the car and want to talk !  Sure enough, over they come, while I hastily try to drape my clean trousers over me so it looks like I was wearing them – Don’t need to be had up for I.E. here in Chile !!  And they are chatting through the window, asking me all sorts of questions in Spanish (they were Argentinian !), and I was fervently hoping they wouldn’t ask me if they could have a photo taken with me beside the car, like many do !! Fortunately they didn’t, and they eventually took off down the road, and I was able to finish getting dressed and get all my clothes in to the laundry !   But moments like these – Well, you have to laugh, don’t you ? !!

Then it was stock up with veggies etc at the market, and found a great little “upmarket” type of supermarket that had lots of things the normal ones don’t have, like decent cereals, and smaller packets of sugar and things like that – Over here so much is jumbo sized in the markets, even 50 kilo sacks of flour and sugar etc, which aren’t ideal for me !!  Once restocked, I spent the remainder of the afternoon / evening doing bits and pieces, chatting to two new neighbours from Holland in a rental camper for a 6 week holiday, and then a Spanish couple, Ramon and Sylvia, in their own 100 series Landcruiser also with German Tom’s body work additions, which they shipped over from Europe and are heading north.

Then it started to rain – So it was a good time to retreat to our little homes and go to bed !!

Pics here :-  https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0209TorresDelPaineBackToPuertoNatales?authkey=Gv1sRgCPy66fWMosC1VA#

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