29.12.2011 - 31.12.2011 18 °C
This morning we set off from Punta Arenas on our way to Puerto Natales which is the gate way to the Torres del Paine National Park. About an hour out of Punta Arenas we stopped off for our final penguin fix at the Seno Otway Penguin Colony. This is a colony of about 3000 breeding pairs of Magallenic penguins. Firstly Shane said “not another bloody penguin” but it was a really interesting colony right on the beach, it was lovely watching them frolic in the ocean and see them waddling single file through the grassland. There were not many chicks showing their heads I suspect that they were underground due to the winds. Shane got some great video footage.
Then we headed off on a long drive to Puerto Natales where we had lunch and then spent some time shopping for the camping in the National Park. $600 later we had 3 full trolleys full of yummies, including stocking up on alcohol for New Year’s Eve.
Torres del Paine National Park is about 120 km from Puerto Natales. It was nearly all dirt road so took a couple of hours to get there. Along the way we could see lots of smoke as we had heard that there was a bushfire. Upon arrival at the main gate to the national park we were advised that the camping area that we were heading for had been closed as there was too much smoke around.
Due to the smoke we didn’t even get to see the magnificent towers as we arrived. This is what we missed out on.
There was a camp area just outside the park so we headed for that area as by now it was around 7pm. We were hoping to hear more in the morning. So we set up our tents and opened some alcohol while we were waiting for a late dinner. Around 11pm were advised that we needed to pack up and head back to Puerto Natales as the fire had jumped the lake. It was a disappointing blow as this is some of the best hiking and scenery in the world that you could do. As we left in the dark the fire was an amazing and shocking sight. You could see the fire in the distance and heading our way due to the windy conditions.
We arrived back in Puerto Natales around 1am and Claudio our trekking guide managed to locate a hotel for us to stay in. Thank goodness for the Hostal Milodon. We had a good night’s sleep.
This morning we had a sleep in due to the late arrival. We awoke not knowing what was ahead of us. As we could no longer spend 3 days in Torres del Paine our itinerary would need to be changed. What made this even more difficult was the fact that New Year’s Eve is tomorrow night and all accommodation is booked. We were keen to find out about the fire and established that Chilean officials closed the Torres del Paine national park and thousands of hectares of forest and grasslands in Patagonia had been destroyed. More than two hundred government and military personnel from Chile and neighboring Argentina, four planes and a helicopter have been deployed to bring the blaze under control .The fire has consumed an estimated 14,000 acres and winds of 90 kilometres an hour forecast for today would fan the flames.
By 11am our beloved tour guide Diane had rearranged things for the next few days. We have already learned to expect the unexpected here in South America so we have learned to just go with the flow. I guess we were also expecting at least one evacuation this trip as we had 2 last time with the landslides and volcano in Ecuador. There is no way that we intend to miss this part of the world so we will come back and hike Torres del Paine next year when we return to go back to Antarctica.
So for today the plans are to start using up all of the food that we bought for the camping. To fill in some time we visited the Milodon Cave not far out of Puerto Natales. In this cave they found bones of an extinct giant sloth called a Milodon.
We had a picnic lunch at the caves.
For the evening we had a BBQ. We hired the Puerto Natales Rodeo Club and commenced to create our own feast from all of the camping food. So while the women prepared the food the men sat around drinking beer and vino. (Sound familiar). So we prepared some popcorn and salsa to snack on. For dinner we made a green salad, corn on the cob, garlic bread, jacket potatoes and cooked some steak. We sat around for the evening chatting.
We had a long day out on a boat today. We did a trip along the Senoret Canal to the Ultima Esperanza Fjord and continued our journey up the fjord. Along the way we saw some estancias, a cormorant colony, a sea lion colony and lots of condors.
We made our way to the supposedly majestic Monte Balmaceda, I say supposedly as it was covered in cloud and mist. Leading off its eastern slopes was a big glacier.
From there we sailed on to Puerto Toro where we disembarked and walked to the base of the Serrano Glacier. It was quite spectacular and was making a lot of creaking noises.
Both of these glaciers are in the Bernardo O'Higgins National Park.
We then headed back along the fjord to an estancia to have a traditional lunch. By traditional I mean meat of course. All cooked to perfection and bought out on warmers piled high on our tables. Vegetarians would not survive here. After lunch we had a walk around the estancia (in the rain) and boarded the boat to head back to Puerto Natales.
Once back in town we stopped at the edge of the fjord to look at the black necked swans.
Shane fancied the ducks bums and could not resist taking a photo.
Once back at the hotel we prepared for tonight, being New Year’s Eve. We had dinner at the hotel cooking up yet more of our left overs and prepared nibbles to keep us going until midnight. It ended up being one of the best New Year’s Eve for a long time. The owners and friends of the hotel joined us to welcome in the new year and had us up dancing and laughing all night.