11.20.2012 - 11.20.2012 61 °F
After a late breakfast, we drive back to Torres del Paine one last time so we can explore a section of park that we haven't made it to yet. Once again, the weather is beautiful—sunny with just a slight wind, but nothing like the wind we experienced a few days ago. I am amazed by the beautiful weather we have had during our time in Patagonia, considering how everything I read about visiting this region cautioned travelers to expect every season in one day.
Especially in the park, weather can switch from foggy to rainy to snowy to sunny, all within a day. For many other unfortunate travelers, they may spend an entire week at the park and have rain the entire time. Oftentimes visitors may never see the towers or the “cuernos” through the clouds. The German couple we met at Easter Island had spent a few days at Torres del Paine had hiked in torrential rain and fog the entire time. They said that it was still great, even though they couldn't see any of the mountains. To me, I can't imagine coming all the way to the park and not being able to see the beautiful, dramatic peaks. It would really be a tragedy.
We wind through the park for about an hour and a half on rough gravel roads that continue to become more bumpy the farther into the park we go. Finally, after driving 60 miles, we arrive at the end of the road on the far west side of the park, in the park's glacier region. We put on hats and multiple layers and head out on a relatively short walk out to a rock beach on Lago Grey, where we see enormous bright blue icebergs near the shore. These icebergs have split off from the famous Glacier Grey at the north end of the lake, which is visible from the beach.
The icebergs have smooth caves and crevices, sculpted by the touch of waves over an unfathomable number of years. We walk along the water's edge and hear the tinkling of small ice chunks bumping into one another along the shoreline, like ice cubes in a glass of scotch. Larger ice chunks float just out of reach, so we pull them in closer with sticks and hold them with our bare hands, the ice perfectly clear and clean. We give them a little taste before floating them back out into the water.
On Lago Grey, the wind sweeps across the glacial ice and hits the visitors on the beach with such force that we lean into the wind just to keep our balance. It is not quite as forceful as the wind we felt at Salto Grande, but it is close. We follow a rough cliff trail along the edge of the lake to the end of a high, narrow plateau that juts into the lake like a tongue. There are blue icebergs on both sides of us, groaning and creaking as pieces of the ice occasionally splash into the water. The glacier is far in the distance, but we are too far away to see the enormous blue wall of ice. From here it just looks like a distant shore covered with snow.
Back at our car we have a hikers' lunch of beef jerky, dried fruit and Clif Bars before driving back through the park. We keep a sharp eye out for the flamingos that we saw on our first day, wanting to take a few pictures, but we aren't able to find them today. We do see some condors and a trio of young guanacos playing together—nipping at each others' necks and legs, jumping on one another, even knocking each other down a few times.
On the road outside Cerro Guido, we look back at Torres del Paine and see, as we've seen almost every day we've been here, a cluster of clouds stuck directly over the park. It's an interesting phenomenon how weather hovers over the park—which I'm assuming accounts for all the rain and volatile weather on the days unlike today—while the surrounding steppe is sunny and warm. Torres del Paine truly does have its own weather, and luckily it decided to take it easy on us.
We go to dinner at about 6:30 and make small talk with a couple from Switzerland while sipping our drinks. Our meal consists of ceviche in a marinade of lemon juice, peppers and onions; salad and rolls; spinach soup; and beef filet with quinoa and vegetables (for me) and a white fish with potatoes au gratin (for Matt). Outside, the cold, rainy weather has blown in from the mountains and spits sleet onto the windows. We are warm and cozy at our table by the window, satisfied not only with the delicious food but also with the amount of sightseeing we were able to do during our beautiful weather.
Back in our room, we settle down in front of our fire and reflect on what an adventure our Patagonian experience has been. Tomorrow we will leave Cerro Guido and make the long drive back to Punta Arenas. We have come to feel very much at home here on the estancia. The delicious gourmet dinners at the restaurant, the view of Torres del Paine and the surrounding plains, the warmth of the fire as we fall asleep—all are things that I will miss dearly.
The world is simple here. It is the gaucho on his horse, riding across the grassy hills. It is the crackling of electric blue icebergs in Lago Grey. It is the wind and the dust and the unique weather patterns that dominate this region. There is no cell phone service, no Facebook, no Twitter, no polluted haze, no business suits, no traffic jams. Quiet, rustic Patagonia has helped to realign our view of the world and the things that matter.