Today we transferred to our next area of adventure, the Torres de Paine region, several hundred kilometres south of El Calafate by road. We used the public transfer bus, an efficient service in comfortable coaches and with seat allocations. First we drove east again, along the south side of Lago Argentino, then south across the barren steppe of central Patagonia, land of isolated flocks of sheep, llama and rhea, an ostrich like bird. Condors were regularly sighted once again. Finally, turning west to the Chilean border, we were able to see the mighty mass of the Torres del Paine, a discrete range of mountains rising to over 3000m, some entirely covered in brilliant white snow whilst the famous granite towers of Paine stood naked in the bright sunlight.
Another incredible day for weather, not a cloud in the sky, and with no wind. This is very unusual for Patagonia, where it is said that you can experience four seasons in a minute, let alone a day!
The landscape became a little more undulating as we passed through Rio Turbio, a large soft coal mining area and the first settlement we had seen for over three hours. Then into Chile again, passing through the Dorotea border, the usual situation where one official is left to process a bus full of passengers and the rest sit around doing nothing.
We were quickly into Puerto Natales, situated on the coast, albeit some way away from the Pacific through a series of complex navigations. A late lunch was enjoyed here, ceviche of salmon (raw fish marinated in lemon, yum) and some fresh squid.
Then, on a smaller private bus, we drove the last hour or so northwards, admiring views of the Parc Nationale Bernardo O’Higgins and its peaks covered in brilliant white snow. The vegetation here is quite different to the Argentinean side. Not fully in a rain shadow, this is a transitional zone and can get up to 400mm of rain a year, and is usually cloudy and blasted by high winds. Not today. The sun beamed down on us, and we passed though estancias with dairy and beef cattle, through evergreen beech woods and the road sides were adorned with masses of white daisies and stands of lupin. Quite beautiful.
Further north, we passed Lago Porteño, its azure blue contrasting with Cerro Tenerife opposite. And then, the splendour of the huge Lago del Toro, distant views to the Glaciar Grey and the looming massif of the Torres del Paine. Torres means ‘towers’, and the eastern peaks are huge granite monoliths. It is thought that ‘Paine’ is a reference to ‘blue’, presumably the colour of the glacier fed lakes in this region.
It is rare indeed to see the whole massif so clearly, a real privilege. Our driver said that this was only the second day this season when they had all been so clearly visible.
Our last viewpoint overlooked our lodges for the night, the confluence of the rio Grey and the mighty Rio Serrano, and the glaciated peak of Cerro Balmaceda opposite the Torres del Paine massif. A splendid spot, our lodging for the night in Hotel Cabañas Paine, a few kilometres outside the national park boundary.
A good buffet followed by a modest sunset on the tops of the Torres del Paine. Should sleep well tonight!
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