Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Torres Del Paine - rambling at length

After 11 months of travel, it is time I wrote a blog entry. I seem to have been busy with stuff like accommodation & spending. But also I can be a bit idle! This is about trekking in Torres del Paine in Chile, a massive national park, in 26-29 January. This was my first trekking over a several day period, and included some great scenery, so it was certainly something new for me.

Day 1 got off to a bad start - a pretty wet morning, and I forgot my waterproof trousers. The scenery also wasn't that dramatic, including lots of damage from the recent sad fire, but we saw lots of guanacos (llama cousins). By then I'd not eaten any, or else I might have been a bit more eager for lunch. Interesting fact: rheas (ostrich cousins) lay a few eggs, cover them and then lay more eggs on top. This gives better drainage, and the bottom eggs are a first meal for their siblings from the top eggs. That's nature for you.

The afternoon was better, with just me, Margaret (retired, from Edinburgh) & Fernanda our guide trekking for 3 hours on some 'Patagonian Flat', i.e., not at all flat, but rather a bit up and down. The weather & scenery were better, often next to a river and trees as far as I could see. Then we walked to and along the beach at Lago Grey, via a very shaky (fun) footbridge. Very dramatic, mountains one way and the Grey Glacier at the end of the lake, with strong and cold winds making the waves crash in hard on the beach. Also, the 3 of us had a good chat along the way. A good trekking intro day.

Day 2 was my hardest day, about 18k to the base of the Torres del Paine. The Torres are, well, big pointy stone towers. The 5 of us split into 2 groups, me being with Joan, a friendly American from Alberquerque. We chatted for most of the way up - which was fun and deflected the effort - until it got to the steepest and last part, when speaking was definitely best avoided! We even got the offer of a place to stay in Alberquerque if we are in the neighbourhood, which was very nice.

The guide walked ahead and set the pace, which on the way up was good and steady, taking a bit over 4 hours. The weather was very decent, neither hot or rainy, so I thought it wasn't as hard as I feared it could be. Much of the way up gave a clear view from a good height, and there was some variety as part was in woodland and part on paths on the side of the mountain. Of course, this being South America, there were never any fences or ropes next to these paths!
The best part was turning the corner at the top to find ourselves next to a small lake staring up to the top of the towers. Partly it was about the satisfaction of getting there (although it's not exactly Everest) and partly it was just a great view. Also we were lucky that there weren't masses of people around. It was also a great place to stop and have lunch.

Just after lunch and the obligatory photos, the drizzle started and the Torres started to cloud over a lot more, so we were lucky to get there before that. Despite a bit more rain on the way down, having made it to the top and the view there, the effort of the way back seemed worth it by then. We saw a lot of people walking up in the afternoon, including many with big rucksacks - definitely not the way to enjoy it!

Given that I'd not done any real exercise for ages, I was pretty satisfied with how I did. But sadly my feet and legs were not used to so much walking, and about half way back the first of the blisters on both heels had burst. I had to push myself to the end and walk carefully and deliberately. The end took a long time to arrive, and was not helped by finishing the last bit without the guide, not being totally sure of the path, and then on finding it discovering that it was a short but steep path up to the camp.

Immediately I downed a Coke and a beer, then had one of the best showers ever. Then I spent much of the evening hobbling. I didn't really expect to be walking like that for at least another 30 years. I definitely advise doing some short treks to build up to anything as long or challenging as this. Obvious when you think about it, but I hadn't. The few shorter treks we'd done earlier in January were not much preparation.

Day 3 was supposed to be a very scenic trek. My body - knees, balls of feet, and blisters on heels - would however not allow me to go. Sometimes you just have to obey the body. This was one of those times. Gradually through the day I hobbled less. Good to have a day of rest from all this leisure.

Day 4 was an 8 hour, 19 km trek to Los Cuernos (The Horns) & back. They are more pointy mountains, which are very scenic as they are black at the top and a rocky grey colour at the bottom. This walk involved more Patagonian Flat, thankfully only gentle exercise. My blisters were covered up well, so didn't bother me much. But this was a day of impressive and varied scenery, with many lakes and mountains, a few rivers and some different vegetation to normal.

Stopping for lunch at the base of Los Cuernos was one of the best lunch stops I could remember for a while, with a great view up to the mountains in front and a big lake behind, and my legs needed a break by then! I had also made myself 2 particularly tasty and well-seasoned rolls for lunch. I like to think that the view was more inspiring than the rolls, but as I experienced both together I'm not sure. Anyhow, I didn't speak much at lunch, preferring to take in the views.

As with the previous trek there was a small group, 7 of us & 2 guides, which made for good conversation before lunch. On the way back I was instead often by myself, partly so my legs could go at the pace needed to not seize up! Not sure that I had any great revelations, but it felt good to just take in the scenery at times without focusing on anyone else around. My legs were aching from half way back, but in terms of the balance of effort and scenery this was actually a better walk than the one to the base of the Torres.

Overall my trekking experience was painful but rewarding, for the scenery, the sense of achievement and the relaxed chatting along the way. I wasn't really properly prepared, but that didn't stop me seeing plenty. It is a very scenic park, and certainly worth visiting, but it is harder work relative to the views you get than El Chalten in Argentina.

I am also a bit of a fair weather trekker. I will go out if it's wet, as long as I have all the gear, but I'm not going to enjoy it so much in the rain. Or in the bright sun. This was a good enough experience to persuade me to do more trekking, and it certainly helped with my fitness, but I will pick my moments. Especially as the bar, meal and bed waiting for me after the treks will not usually be as good as at Eco-camp!

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