Ashore in Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine

Here not so much for the beauty of the sculpture, which is a religious figure grasping an indigenous figure, but for the setting along the shores of the fjord.

As we walked up the street into Puerto Natales at about nine in the morning after our extra night on the ferry, I had the odd feeling that we had come ashore in a ghost town. Even the dogs were mostly missing. As we climbed the slope toward our accommodations, we started to wonder – is there something we should know?

What we saw of Puerto Natales as the windy day closed. The ferry stayed further out in the fjord (named Ultima Esperanza, Last Hope by its earliest explorer) until the winds abated, and docked as we slept, so we didn’t get ashore until,early-ish the next morning.

 

Puerto Natales plaza central looking toawrds church and cultural center.
What we saw walking up the hill I didn’t reach into my camera pocket for, tho I should have! Rows of little wooden houses, or tin, picket fences, decorated for Christmas. The town plaza featured wind-proof trash cans, a small locomotive left behind from a defunct meat-packing plant, and incredibly densely branched trees. But there was hardly a soul in sight.

Eventually we reached our hostel, dumped our stuff and went to look for a way to visit Torres del Paine. Ever so slowly the town came to life, and revealed itself to be a pleasant enough gridded pueblo of small houses, pensiones and hostels, plus some larger hotels, and an interesting cemetery. There were a surprising number of outdoor outfitters and camping suppliers. Even the locals wore North Face and Marmot, while I was wishing for the same!

Turns out there was little need to be a morning person. With the December solstice bringing nearly 18 hours of daylight, people were sleeping in. Lots of stuff was just getting started in the slanting light of 9 pm and the supermarket didn’t close until 11.

18th and 19th century settlers found the grasslands of southern Chile and Argentina well-suited for raising sheep and did so on vast estancias, exporting the wool. As technological advances permitted, meat was also exported. At Puerto Natales, there had been a slaughterhouse and meat-packing facilities but that declined after World War II. Part of the plant has now been incorporated into a classy-looking hotel, a bit out of town – maybe next time?

Nowadays Natales is mainly the terminus to the ferry and the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park. That’s pronounces Pi-nay, an indigenous word for, I think, blue. It’s got a glacier, blue- and green- colored lakes, silty melt rivers, a famous massif, climbing and hiking trails that can occupy visitors for a day, or a fortnight.

Torres del Paine was in the travel plans of just about everyone on the Navimag ferry, and of course we wanted to go too.  Could we rent a car to go look around? Nope, all booked. Could we rent camping gear and do one of the multi-day treks thru the park’s spectacular scenery? We vetoed that idea ourselves as we became aware of just how many other people there were competing for limited space, and just how variable the ‘summer’ weather could be. And, how complicated and expensive it would be to outfit ourselves from scratch for a week of camping.

So we settled for a mini-bus tour, which ended up being a maxi-bus tour, shuffling off and on at each of the miradors, except the one at the waterfall which was deemed too windy to be safe.

Village, flatlands rising to mountains, horse statue.
Cerro Castillo seems to be the only settlement on the two-hour ride between Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine National Park.

The park is a two-hour drive away from Pto Natales through miles of estancia country, huge pieces of flat scrub? grass? land  rising gradually into much taller peaks. Surely TdP is the largest money-earner of all the Chilean national parks, since to drive through on our bus cost US$30 admission each, not including the bus. Foreigners  pay a premium and they are 60% of the 150,000 annual visitors (Wikipedia).

But, our destination having been named by National Geographic in the top five of the most beautiful places in the world, we couldn’t complain. And we’re not. Especially since, at the end of the day we came across some folks, Australians we had met aboard the ferry. They did get a car, and we got to ride back to TdP again with them the next day at a much more leisurely pace. Plus, we got to travel with them for another couple weeks. It was grand; so much easier to share the planning and expenses, especially with compatible seasoned travellers!

Here are a few shots from Torres del Paine.

I like this in particilar because of the lake and island and that’s a hostel on the island although we didn’t get to check it out. Colors as the camera and I saw them. What a place to wake up!
Flowers and snow together. i like the idea.
We were lucky, I gather, to have had such fine weather this day, but many folks just took pictures of themselves. What is with this selfie business anyhow?
My first glacier, zoomed.
Maybe not large enough to be icebergs, but nice and blue.
Guanaco are doing well in the national park where they don’t have to compete with sheep and cattle for food.

Something still not right with the Gallery, so I’ll just leave it small.

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