Exploring Patagonia: Chile and Argentina

13 – 22 January 2017
travellingross rating: 7/10
Wow they speak fast Spanish in Chile! I cannot even pick up the occasional word to follow the sentence.  When I booked a connecting flight to Puerto Montt via my already booked flight to Santiago, I had not realised that because Montt is not an international airport, I would need to clear immigration and customs in Santiago, bag drop, then clear security as a domestic passenger. Which all up takes 2 hours and resulted in missing my connecting flight. So, I got to know the Santiago airport for 6 hours. Arriving in Montt near midnight, sped to the hotel by what I think was an unregistered taxi, then straight to bed. However, I was able to sleep in since check-in for my ferry to Puerto Natales was not until 12:30pm and I could then be free of my bags for 5 hours until we departed on a shuttle bus to the ferry terminal. Very very conveniently, check-in was at the Holiday Inn which is attached to an unexpectedly enormous mall. Walking to the mall, I was struck by how this simple small town is far more scenic than Mendoza. My free time enabled me to buy some hiking boots, weather proof pants, get my Big Mac fix and continue the seemingly endless travel planning.
The cargo ship masquerading as a passenger ferry was everything I expected and served the purpose I was searching for. 3 nights of no internet, no alcohol, no pressure to go tour. Just sleep 12 hours a day, listen to audio books, sort photographs on my laptop and of course look at the fjord scenery that you can only witness on these waters.
Torres del Paine is not that remarkable to me. Sorry, don’t hate me all you Patagonia lovers. I have seen more profound and jaw dropping landscapes. I think instead the attraction is the isolation. But now it’s become such a tourist hot spot that there are people everywhere. The glaciers however are inspirational. Grey glacier in particular is a 3 hour boat trip, which sounds ridiculous, but the scenery and view points are out of this world. The mountains and fjords are otherwise nothing I haven’t seen in other parts of the world and in my opinion not worth the hassle to come all this way unless you are coming to camp and hike the W or O trails. Which 80% of the people no doubt come for that. It’s just the crazy ones like me who come to see the views, tick the Patagonia box and sip a beer while literally looking down on the camp sites from my stupidly expensive with terrible WiFi, but comfortable, hotel.
Departing Torres was a mission made complicated by my plan to cross into Argentina and go straight to my next sight seeing destination. After researching many options (including the very handy website www.bussur.com and my friend Madison), I concluded that taking a risk of getting a shuttle to the national park entrance and attempting to hop on an unbooked bus to El Calafate was worth it. Cause I really didn’t want to spend another night in Natales having already been forced to spend 1 there when the ferry arrived 8 hours late. Through a bit of haggling, begging, and money, the driver let me on the bus! And helped me print my Argentine reciprocal fee receipt at the Chilean border. We swapped buses 3 times, and finally I was dropped off at a hotel that lucky for me had vacancies, an open restaurant at 10pm and a big fat scotch whiskey. Couldn’t wipe the smile from my face – I did it!!
El Calafate is a nice large tourist town. The Argentines do tourism better than the Chileans and the infrastructure is a higher standard. The main reason people, including me, come to this particular town is to see the Perito Moreno glacier. I had a full day trekking tour of this monster booked for 22 January and was the motivation for coming down to this part of the world. Now, this is jaw dropping and well worth the effort. Makes me want to go to Antarctica!
Torres hotel was booked directly at their website http://www.lastorres.com and was $368 USD a night! Getting there was a challenge and I ended up getting a lift with a man I met on the ferry. At the time I thought he was being generous, but when he dropped me at the hotel asked for $60….hmmmm. I guess I failed my first hitch-hiking experience.
Perito Moreno glacier Big Ice trek booked through http://www.hieloyaventura.com for $4000 Argentine Pesos ($260 USD). Take food, good shoes and a back pack to carry your crampons. There are lots of papers to fill and they don’t accept e-signature.