What a couple weeks it has been, folks. Let me just lead with that.
A LOT has changed since March 3rd, the day we set out for Torres del Paine National Park. David and I have had some of our highest highs, alongside the world and the human race having some of the lowest lows. I can’t recall a time in my life where those two were so back-to-back chronologically…usually it’s more spaced out, probably for the betterment of individual mental state, balance, and coping ability, you name it. But life is never what we expect it to be. There are powers in place that we have no control over and it is better if we can focus on what we are able to control in these tiny blips of time we call our human lives. This was one of my reoccurring thoughts while gazing out at vast, sight-encompassing glaciers that began forming 20,000 years ago…now only remnants of the original Southern Ice Field of Patagonia, but striking, enchanting, and humbling to a human nonetheless. You leave their presence with a greater need to make your own years count.
On that note, back to the present moment. Bittersweetly, we speak to you today from back in the US, specifically southern Illinois. Sweet because we made it home safely while many are stranded in foreign countries around the world, bitter because of the very serious and real reasons we had to come home. The spread of COVID-19 throughout all the inhabited regions of the world has put a halt to everyone’s plans and expectations for 2020 (remember around the New Year when we were all calling 2020 the year of “perfect vision?”…there’s a sad, ironic joke in there somewhere). Not 2 days after our return to Puerto Natales post-trek, we received messages from the US Embassy in Chile urging us to get flights back to the US while “commercial flights were still available.” So here we are.
Having to go through 2 major airports on the way home in Santiago, Chile and Atlanta, Georgia, David and I are aware that we were at a higher risk of exposure and are currently self-quarantining for the next few weeks in Alton, IL. We are blessed to have loving and gracious family members here who reached out and offered a home that is currently uninhabited for the next several months. (THANK YOU, AUNT ROSEMARY! We are sending you all our love and gratitude and will take good care of your beautiful home <3)
It’s funny…with all the craziness of coming back to civilization from the Chilean wilderness, getting hit with 12 days worth of news ALL AT ONCE on March 15th (from which I literally got nauseous after reading), and having to book passage and jump on a plane lickety-split and find a place to live and self-quarantine for weeks… we haven’t had any chance to reflect or process our 12-day trek. Let alone look at practically any of the pictures. Until now.
There’s a parallelism here that could mean nothing, but I’m gonna go ahead and choose for it to mean something. About two weeks in the mountains of Chile without any wifi, cell service, or any type of connection to news or civilization….and now two weeks in quarantine. Huh. It’s almost as though this experience was given to us so that we may share this raw, wild joy we found with the world…in a time when this world seems turbulent and joy more scarce. So for each day of quarantine, we will share the story of a day from our 80 mile trek along the complete O circuit of Torres del Paine. If it transports even a single one of you reading this to a better place mentally or inspires some kind of small joy, well, then that’s enough.
Arriving to Torres Central: March 3rd, 2020
We spent the first few days of March prepping in a town known as the “gateway to Torres del Paine” – Puerto Natales. I liked that it wasn’t too built up, still had the small-town feel of a lot of the towns in Patagonia, but with the occasional big outdoor recreation/camp store and fair amount of tour companies. Oh, and a TON of hostels, we saw at least 30. Puerto Natales gets a large amount of tourists from every corner of the world. As we were going the most economic route for food and packing in every meal we ate, David and I had fun collecting dehydrated foods, trail snacks, and lightweight foods that will last. Some of it we knew from having camped in Colorado, or from packing lunches in our ski coat pockets on ski days so we didn’t have to pay Vail Resorts prices! Ha. Wish we had a picture of ALL the food…everything deboxed, debagged, and rolled up in ziplocs.
Dinner foods (all dry): Lentils, garbanzo beans, rice, assortment of pastas, mashed potato flakes, instant polenta, quinoa, and a whole little pouch of various dehydrated flavor cubes
Lunch foods: 8 cans of tuna, separated in half, with one half plain and one half with cut up pickles and pickle juice added, dry sausages/salamis of various flavors, dried apricots, dried and slightly sweetened green bell peppers (LOVED these! have never seen them in the US), tons of mixed nuts, honey roasted peanuts, a jar of peanut butter, sunflower seeds, a Toblerone, pack of oreos, and a huge bag of fun size snickers bars FTW
Breakfast: Oatmeal, honey, marmalade in a pouch, power seed mix w/ chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds, some oatmeal crackers, jasmine tea and instant coffee
Dude…believe me when I tell you those backpacks were HEAVY. Heaviest they’ve been to-date. Luckily, we left a large shopping bag of stuff we didn’t need on the hike with our airbnb host, who kindly offered to hold onto it in her home, but still…first time taking on 12 days worth of meals. We didn’t know what we’d gotten ourselves into.
Last point of contact with the world right here….
Then, ONWARD! An hour and change bus ride to the entrance. You stop at the park entrance at Laguna Amarga to sign in, and then have to take a shuttle to Las Torres campsite and refugio, a base camp area which everyone just calls Torres Central. The sense of anticipation just ramps right up as the mountains of the Paine massif and Torres get larger and larger on approach! We were lucky in that we arrived on a clear sky day and could see the granite spires from afar.
The campsite was a 5 minute walk from the refugio and bus station. In the park, trekkers have designated areas that you are required to stay at overnight – it is strictly enforced. If you try to camp outside the campsites, you will be fined and kicked out. They don’t mess around, as this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of intrinsic and endemic beauty and value, and basic leave-no-trace ecological conservation guidelines are posted throughout the trail. Most of the campsites are owned and operated by 2 private companies: Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur. We had to book our campsites for the specific day we were going to be staying at them about 6-8 months in advance. It requires some KA-razy advance planning and knowledge of your logistics, weather for that time of year, and travelling plans to be able to do this. Luckily, one of us is a master of detail orientation…mwahaha.
The most expensive option is to stay at the refugio (basically a hostel with bunk beds) and have all your meals prepared for you by the refugio staff. These folks only have to carry their clothes, lunches, and essentials while hiking. The middle price option is to rent a tent that the refugio sets up for you and you just leave it in the morning. The cheapest is carrying your own tent, setting it up every night, cooking your own food you brought over the stove you brought and then breaking down the tent every morning and carrying it with you to the next campsite. Yup.
We cooked some garbanzo beans and pasta with rehydrated cream sauce, a “treat” on the night before our first hike. A couple shots of the Torres Central campsite and Mount Almirante Nieto peeking out at us behind the hill.
The O trek actually takes us East, in the opposite direction of Almirante Nieto, so we wouldn’t be seeing it again until day 7 or 8.
It was interesting walking around Torres Central and seeing all the “ominous” signs of hard trail ahead on other hikers – band aids on ankles, limping people with sore muscles, wrapped ankles and knees, faces flushed and exhausted. One guy was even laid out facedown and shirtless moaning while a gal gave him a back massage. Hell or high water….dawn, here we come.