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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Refugio Paine Grande Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, Monday, 07 March 2005 5:50am

Hmm. I'm at Paine Grande, but there's no sign of Jenny and Don.

The ranger's 4:00 estimate for the arrival of the boat didn't take into account the loop at the end of the trip. If I'd noticed that they were launching the zodiac (to pick up people at Refugio Lago Grey), I could have asked them to put me ashore, but then I would have missed the best part of the trip.

The glacier was amazing. I thought the blue in photographs of glaciers was a trick. A device to show that there was something there, rather than just polar bear-in-blizzard whiteness. It's no trick. The sun cooperated magnificently to shine that strange blue light through the ice while we were near the glacier. Predictiably, I took way too many pictures. I've now filled the first of my 1GB cards (of 4GB total that I have with me).

The sun cooperating was a theme of the day. It was overcast and intermittently raining when we left Puerto Natales at 7:30 (well... actually, we left the hostel I was staying at at 7:30. We then proceeded to spend the next hour driving around the neighborhood, picking people up at other hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and the like. If everyone had converged at a central location instead, we would have saved a lot of time and nobody would have had to walk more than a couple blocks). It was drizzling when we stopped at a chintzy store (I bought a Torres del Paine baseball hat, since my raincoat doesn't keep water off of my face).

But we were in a patch of sun when the boat circled an iceberg at the near end of Lago Grey. The ice had calved off of the glacier 10years ago, and was still much larger than the boat, even just above the water line.

And it was overcast while we were motoring across the lake, but the sun broke through as we got close to the glacier.

After the glacier loop and the obligatory margarita with glacier ice, I was finally dropped of at Refugio Lago Grey. It was 5:30. As I left on the hike to Refugio Paine Grande, one of the campground staff warned me that it was three hours away, and then wished me good luck when I said I knew.

Despite that ominous start, the hike turned out to be less of a problem than I anticipated. It was a great day for a hike. Brisk, so I didn't overheat, but never so cold that I felt compelled to add layers.

The first hour or so was a pretty serious climb, but after that it levelled off and then started a gradual downhill slope. It rained intermittently, and there were some windy spots, but it never really stormed.

I can see why this is a world-renowned place to hike. Practically every turn had a postcard-worthy vista, and the trails were good hiking.

Still, it was pretty tiring after 3.5hrs with a 35lb pack (I left the books and electrical adapters in Puerto Natales, but picked up some food and water). I got to Paine Grande just as dark was falling and only 5min before the Refugio stopped serving dinner.

The refugio is pretty, but not terribly functional yet. The hot water is unpredictable, so I avoided taking a shower. They have a telephone and an internet connection (16-32kbps!), but apparently the satellite transceiver is down right now. They told me to try again in the morning. The main eating area has high ceilings and big windows, which makes it rather drafty, so everyone seems to stay in the common area near the rooms. Unfortunately, that means that it's pretty loud until late in the evening, so hikers hoping to make an early start might be frustrated.

They were helpful when I told them I was trying to find Jenny and Don. They showed me the registration book for campers and took a note from me with their names, in case they show up. I hope they just came to the same conclusion I did, and decided to punt this stop in order to get to the airport rendezvous on time. I'm going to hike out the short(ish) way tomorrow and spend the night in Puerto Natales again.

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