Nov 06 Sunday – Travel: Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine

Alli’s journal:

Kyu’s ponderings:

This was a very loooong day for me. The flight was 4:30 am out of Santiago so I heft hotel (city express) via shuttle at 2 am for the airport. Got to airport in 10 mins. Started boarding at 3:50am. It was a full fight and I was very glad I got window seat. Left Santiago at 4:30am and arrived at puq at 7:37am.

Instead of meeting Tetsu and Alli at the airport, I ended up taking uber to hostel and met with tet and alli. Tetsu used Waze, which led us to bus station which wasn’t correct. Given we were rushing to catch 10am bus, we ubered to bus sur. Alas, 10am bus was full and the next one wasn’t until afternoon, which was way too late for us to catch catamaran. So we walked over to fernandez bus terminal. At first, we thought the place was close without checking inside, being a total stupid tourists. Then we saw ppl coming out of the building. So we went in and was having trouble communicating with ticket booth lady. Fortunately 3 girls who were in line ahead of us helped with translation. But the next ride out was at 1pm, which was again too late for catamaran at pudeto.

We exited the bus terminal and asked a random taxi driver who parked right in front whether we could get a ride to pudeto and he declined saying it’s too far and they normally stay within Punta Arenas. We decided to roll the dice with Uber even though it was not cheap. And Carlos, the uber driver arrived with his great wall sedan. Fare was around $207. It was his first time to torres del paine. Was a 5 hour ride with a couple of gas stops. Carols was awesome keeping his cool when we unexpectedly rode into bumpy unpaved roads and he also made several stops for us to take photos. Stopped at the park entrance per Carlos’s inquiry and found out the rangers are on strike. Dropped of at Pudeto around 3:30pm and Carlos picked up a wine bottle as a gift for us from his wine bucket in his trunk.

Catamaran was not running when we arrived. While hanging out waiting for the catamaran, met a mom and a daughter and shared a bench and chatted for a while. Cafeteria eventually opened up so we could come inside for some warmth. Had coffee. Offered wine to others. Got on the catamaran at 6pm and there were two more guys on. Rich from Boston and Sam from Minnesota. One of the most amazing boat ride in my life. That 30 min ride to Paine grande in a glacier lake was just remarkable.

Checked in to paine grande. Shared room with 3 ppl from poland. Had dinner with calafate beer. Main for the dinner was some sort of beef. I can say it was the worst beef ever. Thick and dry. Should’ve had chicken instead
Took shower and went out for smoke and another beer. Chatted with Rich and Sam for a bit watching sunset.
Went to sleep at 10:30am and passed out after 2 mins.

Woke up around midnight from falling off bunker bed. Stayed up for half an hour massaging the pain spots. Was thinking how lucky i was with not breaking any bones from the fall. especially neckwent back to sleep and passed out.

Tetsu’s jibber jabber:

Having stayed two nights in Punta Arenas, first night in an airbnb, and second night at Hostal Labarca, Alli and I woke and had breakfast at the hostel, and as Kyu’s flight landed early in the morning, he Uber’d over to meet us, giving us time to enjoy the included breakfast from the hostel.

After a short break, we packed up and headed to the bus station to catch a bus from Punta Arenas to Pudeto, where we needed to catch the catamaran.

First, we went to the wrong one, then uber’d to Bus Sur station.

But we immediately discovered an error. Many of the blogs we read said it was a simple matter to buy a bus ticket at the bus station. But the bus we needed to take was full, so we walked to the other bus station in Punta Arenas, Francesco, which seemed closed. 

We were just trying to figure out what to do next when we noticed people walking in and realized it was actually open. We were having trouble talking to the ticketing person and 3 random backpacking ladies who could speak Spanish helped with communication. We would meet them again later, which was a crazy coincidence. Basically next bus available was at 1pm, which was way too late to catch the 6pm catamaran at Pudeto.

This left us with no other option except to taxi or Uber. As luck would have it, there was a cab out front, so we tried to get a ride, but he refused to travel the 5 hours to Torres del Paine.

But, luckily, Uber had already proven a great way to get rides in Punta Arenas, so we gave it a go, and got a driver fairly quickly who was willing to drive the 200+ miles to Pudeto.  All told, the ride cost $207 (+ a $140 tip as the drive was extremely accommodating),

Our driver was Carlos, a smoker who didn’t mind those of us who smoked to partake as we had a pretty stressful morning.  He drove a car from a Chinese manufacturer, Great Wall, a company I’d never heard of.

Carlos was extremely kind and patient with us. Making numerous stops to let us take photos, taking a back way to Pudeto that ran through dirt and gravel roads that couldn’t have been good for his car, made a couple of pit stops, and waited while we talked to the park rangers who we learned were on strike.

Here’s a photo of some of the park rangers on strike. They’re paid very little per month, not enough to live off of. Many work additional jobs to make ends meet. And yet they care about visitors to the park. A rough situation all around. The strike also turned out to be a bit of an obstacle for us later on during the trip. But apparently, as we were leaving the park at the tail end of the trip, the strike ended.

Having passed the “West Gate”, we continued on through several more miles of gravel roads as the grandness of Torres del Paine grew increasingly larger.

And finally, around 3pm (with three hours to spare before the final catamaran of the day), we arrived at Pudeto, where it was chilly and windy, but stunningly gorgeous.

Carlos not only hung around for a while to make sure we were all set for the next phase of our travel, but even gave us a sweet digestif wine, similar to a port, we gave an additional tip. 

For the first hour and a half, we were forced to wait outside the one small building on site. We found one corner of the building setup like a patio with some protection from the wind.

There, we met a mother and daughter while waiting for the catamaran. 

We were told there were few people going in so we paid on boarding.

While waiting we chatted with the mother and daughter. Nice folks.  the father and other daughter went into the park and had hiked a fair bit, while the mother and daughter we met did the penguin trip from Punta Arenas.  Apparently, there were only a few penguins out and about, but they still had fun.  The father had apparently said that the three towers hike was a bit rough and not worth attempting as a day trip from Laguna Amarga, the family decided to meet up at the hotel. The poor mother and daughter were at Pudeto waiting for their bus.  

After waiting in the cold for some time, the staff of the building finally decided to let us in out of the cold and wind. We were waiting in old for long time finally let us in to warm up, opening up the cafeteria services for coffee, drinks, and snacks.

Not long after that, the Catamaran arrived and we were able to pay upon boarding. This isn’t always the case, but the catamaran was not that crowded for 6pm trips into the park.

Here’s a shot of us leaving Pudeto, giving a sense of the parking area and small building.

We met Sam and Rich from Boston and somewhere else.  Hard core hikers with an ambitious “W” trek plan

We took so many stunning photos during the boat ride, there’s no way to print them all. But since I’m always a fan of having people in any photo, here’s a silly one and you can see the excitement and anticipation in Kyu’s and Alli’s smiles as we made our approach to the first milestone on our trip, destination: Paine.

And here we are, making our final approach to Refugio Paine Grande, giving a nice expanded view of the entire site.

This closer view as you approach on foot shows not only the main refugio, but also the tent camping area behind for those who chose to skip the available bunk beds.

And finally, here’s a much closer view of the main entrance, and the small picnic table out front.

We checked in, was taken to our room where there were 6 bunks, lots of stairs and maze-like interior, and then went to the cafeteria for dinner.

We met Sam and Rich again and enjoyed some after dinner drinks at the outdoor picnic table while marveling at the incredible view of the mountains.

We also met our bunk-mates, who it turned out were from Poland.  Two guys and a gal.   

It was a long day, but there was something special about finally making it to the starting point for what would turn out to be an incredible 8 days and nights to follow.

Patagonia Map Routes W-Trek

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