Monday, March 19, 2012

Torres Del Paine National Park

Located about 110 kms (70 miles) north of Puerto Natales is Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine (pie-nay) which is without doubt, one of the most spectacular parks in the country. A national park since 1959 it was first called Parque Nacional Lago Grey and in 1970 the name was changed to Torres Del Paine. It was established a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978. As a world biosphere reserve, it has a huge variety of plant and animal species which, with its incredibly beautiful setting has made it an almost unequalled destination for hikers, backpackers and nature lovers. Snow-capped mountain peaks, cascading rivers, waterfalls, glaciers and lakes give it an elite place in the world of national parks. The parks name is derived from the Spanish word “torres” meaning towers and an indigenous word “paine” meaning blue so although often translated in English to Towers of Pain, it’s true translation is Towers of the Blue. Leaving Puerto Natales the paved road quickly gives way to the now familiar gravel trails which seem to make up many of the roadways in Patagonia. The trail winds through the Patagonian steppe and mountain passes before descending to the foot of the Andes and the first views of the cuernos (horns) del paine formed predominately from granite and whose origin dates back millions of years. These three peaks named the North, Principal and East horns, along with the “torres”, also three peaks known as the South, Central and North towers are some of the main attractions within the park. It is a beautiful sunny day, windy with some clouds and the cuernos are magnificent against the blue sky with Lago Del Toro in front. There are several entrances to the park and our plan is to enter via the southern one and make our way north through the park to Cerro Castillo and the Argentine border. Our destination in the park for the first night was Lago Grey (Grey Lake). There, there is a hotel and we can park in the parking lot according to the park administration. The hotel is about 10 kilometer inside the park and we can see the lake with Grey glacier in the distance. After giving a Winston a walk down one of the trails leading to the lake, we go to check out the hotel. Within the park our goal with Winston is to try to keep him as contained as possible, giving him walks on some of the more quiet trails and being extremely conscientious about picking up after him so as to reduce his carbon footprint as much as possible. The Hotel Lago Grey is a beautiful 5 star hotel and whoever coined the phrase “location, location, location” was right on the ball. There is a wall of windows looking out over the lake toward the glacier. As we settle in comfortable chairs in front of one of the windows and order a beer for Tom and wine for myself, we are confronted with a view that is absolutely spectacular. Front and center, close to the edge of the lake is a huge iceberg in such intense shades of blue ranging from turquoise to periwinkle. It looks as though it could have been towed there and dyed that color just to enthrall the guests but it is natural and we can see other icebergs, some just as large and several smaller in the same colors. There are plenty of American guests staying here and we chat with a lady from Texas travelling with her daughter Emily Ann and two of her friends and also with a group who are travelling as part of an adventure trek with a tour from REI – the national store which sells outdoor gear and equipment. When they find out we are not staying at the hotel but rather in our motorhome in the parking lot and we relate our story, they are amazed. We decide to eat dinner in the restaurant which does not open until 8. That is fine by us. Our bartender Philippe pours me another glass of wine and we sit contentedly gazing out through the windows at the snow capped Andes, Grey Lake with the glacier in the distance and that magnificent iceberg. With the sun setting, it is magical.

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