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Friday 21st May - Torres del Paine National Park
By Claire
Sunday, 23rd May 2004 20:56

We had to get up early this morning and it was freezing even with the gas fire on all night long. A minibus picked us up from the hostel and we drove out of town, to a giant plastic statue of a sloth in a cave. Crazy! No-one sees the giant plastic sloth in a cave twice in one year! We had a better day for it yesterday, it was too dark and foggy this morning for the nice views. We trundled round, trying to stay warm and then piled back in the bus. There were nine of us in all, so we weren't too squished. The driver took us down little muddy roads in the dark for an hour or so and then we entered the national park. Unfortunately, it was still too foggy to see beyond the edged of the road, but every now and then a herd of guanacos, a type of wild llama, would cross the road so we could stop and take pictures. The guanaco has possibly the worst life I could imagine: the females are pregnant for 11 months of the year, then they have a baby and wait two weeks until getting pregnant again. And they do that for thirty years!

The road through the park was really just a wide dirt track, a bit bumpy but well-kept. Every now and then it would widen, and these would be the best places to take pictures of the spectacular scenery. The driver resorted to showing us photos on a large map of the park. 'We're here,' he said, pointing into the grey.'It should look like this.' We drove for another couple of hours and then the cloud lifted for just enough time to see the famous Torres del Paine mountains, huge granite towers that dominated the skyline. Then the fog came back.

We wandered out of the bus for a while, having been told that beyond the clouds was a waterfall, and sure enough, once we were close enough, there it was. Massive, but not in height, just the volume of milky-green water and the speed with which it poured over the rocks. I really wanted to paddle because the water looked so nice, but it proably wouldn't have been a good idea. After stopping at a picturesque lake for a bit of lunch, we went back to the bus and drove some more. Whenever the cloud was high enough for a view the driver would stop and let us out to take photos. The park was absolutely gorgeous, the autumn trees displaying more colours than I could have imagined, and possibly some that I'd never seen before. Where the fog was really thick the trees were grey and white ice-sculptures.

Even in the bus it was so cold that the condensation on the windows froze, but by mid-afternoon the sun was really making an effort to be kind to us, and when we got to the Grey Lake, which has a large glacier on it, it was bright and almost warm. We had a couple of hours to walk around. The site was surreal, an enourmous expanse of grey gravel like a huge beach and then the lake, nestling in the mountains, with lumps of blue and white icebergs floating in it. I am sure that the icebergs smelled of cucumber sandwiches, proper English summer ones: thinly sliced cucumber (with the skin on) on thin white bread, butter, just a hint of salt, cut into little triangles, but Mikey said that they didn't. We didn't ask anyone else, so the matter remains unresolved. The cloud in the distance cleared and we could see the Grey Glacier in all its blue glory. There was a vantage point on a small hill, so we climbed and took photos and I had a little paddle, because it was the law.

I went for a quick paddle in the iceberg lake because it looked inviting.

My feet were so warm and toasty for the rest of the day after that, but the pebble beach was a bit painful.

Neither my constant shouts of 'Iceberg! Dead ahead!' nor Mikey's 'Herd of llamas? Course I've heard of llamas' got in the least bit wearing by the end of the day.

The sun began to set, so we spent the four-hour drive back trying to sleep or stay warm. Before we went skiing about three years ago, Gav gave us some little hand-warmer pouches that you shake to warm and that stay hot for up to eight hours. We tried one and it worked really well, so we had hot hands and cosy feet and a lovely cloudy sunset to keep us occupied on the way back. We were back in Puerto Natales by 7, we stopped for something to eat in a cafe, checked our email and went back to a lovely warm room (we'd left the heating on all day) to sleep.

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