10 October 2008 – day 8 – Friday

Today is the day I've been waiting so long for; the day we visit Torres del Paine park in Patagonia.

Torres del Paine is pronounced something like “Tor Res Dell Pie Knee” and it means Towers of Blue, not Towers of Pain like someone once told me. It's named because of the towering rock formations that stand like some ancient skyscrapers.

There isn't really much to tell about this day. We ate breakfast, got on the bus and drove through the countryside to the national park. It was mostly photo taking, and boy did we take a lot of them. We took a combined seven hundred and eleven photos. That's just today. Still, I didn't come anywhere near filling my 4GB flash card, and neither did Kathy.

On the way, we stopped several times to get out and stretch our legs and take more photos. At one point, we saw a dead cow

and there were two birds of prey waiting to feast. One of them was a condor.

Later, we stopped at a narrow passage that was supposedly the only road between Argentina and Chile in Patagonia. In the war, this became a critical position, and thus, it was turned into a mine field. So we got off the bus and took photos of the mine field. I haven't seen a mine field since we were in Israel. It was spooky.

Before we entered the national park, we stopped at a small crossroads where there were two small tourist shops. I searched desperately for a T-shirt that had embroidery, but didn't find one I liked. All I wanted was a simple shirt that said “Torres del Paine” and maybe the outline of the mountains, but no. One of the shops carried a collared shirt that was similar, but they wanted something like forty dollars for it. Needless to say, I walked away with nothing.

As we neared the park, we started to see wildlife. At first we saw birds.

Surprisingly, we saw a small group of pink flamingos drinking by a small pond.

Then we saw some kind of eagle.

We even saw a real Chilean cowboy—a huaso—herding his sheep.

Wild Guanacos, the little Llama-like animals, grazed in the fields.

We made several stops whenever there was a new “discovery” and Julio entertained us with legends from the indigenous people, regarding the creation of the world and the various plants

and animals. He seemed to have a legend for all occasions.

We stopped by a wonderful waterfall near the mountains and ate a boxed lunch. It was more food than we needed and I enjoyed it. Kathy didn't care much, plus she has been sick, so she didn't eat much.

Our guides, Julio and Nelson, both warned us about the unpredictable weather. It often gets very cold and the wind normally blows excessively, often reaching forty miles per hour. They warned us to dress warmly and be prepared for anything. One week ago, they said, the same tour group had bad weather. It was so cloudy the travelers couldn't see the mountains that were standing in front of them. At one point, it snowed so hard, it was a complete white-out. So we put on our heavy hiking boots. We donned sweaters, and our Columbia jackets. We packed rain gear, winter hats, thick gloves and our Frogg Togg rain suits. We're from Minnesota! We were ready for the coldest, most brutal weather Patagonia could throw at us.

So we all got off the bus, ready for our two-hour trek through the Patagonian wilderness. Of course, the weather was perfect. It was about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. There were lots of clouds, but no wind. At times the sun peaked out and warmed us up. We immediately stripped off a layer. At first, I tied my coat around my waist, but I was still too hot. I took the coat off and shoved it into the backpack. Then I rolled up the sleeves of my sweater and walked with bare arms.

We took a two-hour walk into the park where we saw a beautiful lake surrounded by the mountains. Visibility was perfect; we had the whole park displayed in front of our eyes in all its splendor. Sometimes, the lake was still and reflected the mountains perfectly like a mirror. It was beautiful.

Was it more beautiful than Machu Picchu? Well, it's a tough call. It's an entirely different kind of beauty. In a way it's like comparing apples and oranges. Which is better? It's a matter of taste. The beauty of Machu Picchu was just the lush, green, jungle-like vista like a theater of beauty. The beauty of Torres del Paine is in its rugged desert-like atmosphere with stark, picturesque mountains, almost as if Michelangelo had painted the lakes and mountains on the canvas before your eyes.

And so we took photos. We stopped every ten minutes it seemed, and took photos for another ten. It was a splendor spread out before us. I'm sure the photos will never do it justice.

There was a lot to see. In addition to the mountains, lakes and valleys, we saw wildlife. There were condors and those alpaca-like animals roaming the park. There were tiny flowers in bloom everywhere.

At one point, our heavy tour bus crossed a rickety old wooden bridge across the very fast river below. It looked like a bunch of planks of wood nailed down to a few other planks of wood, and it was so narrow I wondered if our bus would even fit on it. I was pleasantly surprised when we made it across safely.

Tonight we are staying at a top-notch hotel called Hotel Rio Serrano, which is named after the river it is build on.

The hotel is just outside the park and the view from our room is outstanding. After we checked in, Kathy and I spent some time walking down to the river and taking photos of the river, craggy trees and of course, the surrounding mountains.

Tomorrow we're going back into the park to see more.

I guess I'll leave it at that for tonight.