Sunday, February 19, 2006

Puerto Natales to Rio Gallegos, via Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

10:00 p.m.

I'm camped along the highway about 25 miles north of Rio Gallegos. It's not quite like camping along Ruta 40; this is the main north-south artery for Argentina. But I’ll put in some ear plugs and it should be fine. I’m just behind an embankment, out of the direct view of traffic. It's cold and windy, though not too bad. Hope I can sleep!


After some breakfast, I had a 9:00 a.m. start for Torres del Paine (accompanied by lots of tour buses and passenger vans.) Not much wind this morning, but it was chilly. And my right knee was very weak and in a bit of pain (from that twist on Ruta 40), more bothersome than usual.

From Puerto Natales, it's about a 90-mile drive up to Torres, and all gravel once you pass the airport, much of it a construction zone. (It should be paved before long, which is just fine with me.)

At the National Park, there's a 10,000 Peso ($20) entry fee. I was given a map, and the young lady drew an "x" at two places on one of the roads. "This is where you get the best view of the Torres," she said.

In my experience, the fox is an extraordinarily elusive creature, but in Torres del Paine National Park, they have become accustomed to hand-outs from tourists

I followed the gravel road in towards what I figured was the center of the park, the park administration building. The roads are well-traveled, mostly with small and large tour buses, many labeled "adventure touring", or some variation on the theme.

Torres del Paine. It's not as remote as I once imagined.

So what do you do here? I stopped to take photos of the glacier-carved and polished granite peaks, visited the saltos, impressive falls, found the "x"s and took some more photos.

Chris and Amber! I found a great little river for you to kayak in Torres del Paine!

The only problem is this little falls downstream...

Torres del Paine is a remarkably compact cluster of mountains, somewhat reminiscent of Wyoming's Grand Tetons

The Torres

Torres del Paine is unquestionably beautiful, but I think I’m suffering from AMSS (Awesome Mountain Saturation Syndrome). Is it worth the drive out here? I think I would choose another place, rather than invest the energy to come here. This has been "hyped" and marketed far too much. (Of course, I never left the road and ventured into the back country, so this might be akin to judging Yosemite National Park based upon a visit to Camp Curry.)

The reality of Patagonia is so different from my imaginary picture (formed from hearing the stories of winemaker Tony Coltrin’s and others’ who traveled this land.) I never envisioned such a prevalence of tour buses and outfitting shops.

I did enjoy wandering amidst the hearty vegetation and Bonsai-like cypress and pines, and watching the herds of Guanacos, hundreds of them migrating in a column through the park.


Running at full speed, with a bite to the rear leg, this guy chases an intruder away

My path took me out of the park along a different route. I made a wrong turn and ended up at Cerro Guido, rather than the Cerro Castillo I wanted. A policeman straightened me out. (And believe me, I need a lot of straightening!) It was a mere 15-mile "side trip". In Cerro Castillo, I looked for a gas station. The police said it's small but there is one. So small, I guess, that I couldn't find it.

Then I was told there's gas across the border in Argentina (and it's much cheaper there), so I spent all my remaining Pesos on junk food at a small trading post, departing Chile with 50 centavos. An easy border crossing: I was the only person! (However, two bicyclists beat me to the Argentinean port of entry, so I had to wait five minutes!)

A (really!) final farewell to Chile. Again, it was rather emotional, considering all I've experienced in this incredible country.

After about six miles, the dirt road I was riding connected with Ruta 40. It's paved down here! Things were looking up, and I felt like singing again. Sit back, relax and roll on the throttle!

Reaching the town of 28 de Noviembre, I refueled and asked the attendant which of the two eastbound roads do I take for Rio Gallegos. He pointed west.

"No, I just came from that direction."

He pointed west again.

"That's Chile. You don't go to Chile to reach Rio Gallegos. I just came from Chile."

He nodded, then had to take care of other customers.

Left in confusion, a gentleman came over and, in an English accent asked if I drove from S.F.

"Yes. I'm confused."

"Where do you want to go?"

"Rio Gallegos. But that fellow said I have to go west to get to Rio Gallegos."

"It depends on the kind of road you want to drive..."

He then explained that if I want to ride tarmac, I need to go back to where I originally came out on Ruta 40. Had I turned left there, instead of right, that would have put me on the northern route to Rio Gallegos, via Esperanza.

"It's 99% paved. If you continue east from here, it's all ripio (gravel). Unfortunately, those maps don't tell you which is the better road."

Well, my preference was clear, but I hated the idea of back-tracking 23 miles.

Of course, these guys were right. Following their instructions, I was on road that permitted me to cruise at 85 to 90 mph all the way to Rio Gallegos.

Reached that city at 7:30, and drove directly to the "Hotel Alfonso", but was disappointed to learn it was full. The same with three others. Never an "I'm sorry", or "can I make a suggestion?" It's as if they're making up for all the time they probably have to beg for customers.

"I’ll just go eat." (I had been looking forward to dining at "RoCo" once again. However the restaurant was closed today. "Damn!" I was mad at the world. "I’m getting the hell out of here!" Just to put something in my stomach, I bought a hot dog at the "YPF" gas station. The sun was setting as I rolled north out of Rio Gallegos. "Here we go again!"


At gas stations here, the attendants almost always ask if you have change. They don't seem to have coins (but can find them if they need to.) And they carry the "till" in their pocket! Each walks around with a big wad of bills. It all seems very loose. (Different than Chile!)


The bike is only starting in neutral now. A new development. Something to do with an electronic sensor, no doubt.


Patagonia has been a land of illness for me. My Guatemalan host, David Kuhn, also reported he became terribly ill as soon as he reached the southern climes during his vacation cruise.


rhiann carnated said...

beautiful pics! I'm the manager of a travel agency specializing in trips to Latin America so I recognize a lot of the places you posted about (I've only been to Ecuador and the Galapagos but I book this stuff everyday so it's familiar) South America is so beautiful.

timtraveler said...


Just let me know if there are any places you need checked out. My costs are reasonable.

And thanks for the comment!