Before the sky had even begun to change colors, Barbara and I found ourselves scurrying up the trail. With just a small load of water , snacks, and extra clothes in my bag, we followed the beginning of the trail by headlamp. As we climbed up the Valle Frances (French Valley), the stunning mountains ang glaciers above us began to emerge through the trees. The sky was the darkest blue you have ever seen, with bright stars flickering in the distance past the dark outline of massive peaks. Getting up this early meant we had the whole valley to ourselves.
The excitement for the big finale in Patagonia was building exponentially everyday. There is no doubt about that! So who better to share our excitement with than a fellow traveller? Cue Maya Groos!
That´s right folks! Yet again, the world amazed us by shrinking just a little more. A good family friend of mine, Maya, is currently spending a semester abroad studing in Santiago, Chile. On our last night before leaving for the bottom of the Earth (also known as the bottom of Chile) we met up with Maya for a scrumptious dinner. Not only was it possibly one of the best meals we had on this entire trip, we had someone to interpret the menu for us! Who knew that ordering at a restaurant could be so simple?! It is amazing what really knowing a language can do! (Good thing too since we would have been more than a little surprised when just a steak and nothing else arrived on the plate.)
We had the best time catching up with Maya and hearing about her travels thus far. She had already been done to Patagonia a few weeks back and had lots of good stories to swap. It is always great to share stories with other people who are travelling and experiencing the same culture as you. So many similar experiences (such as the unexpectedly bland Chilean food…weird) and so many completely different ones as well. Travel is never boring, that much is for sure! After hugging goodbye, I could not stop repeating time and again what a cool experience she was having really living abroad as a part of a family. Absolutely incredible!!
Morning came and we went. To Punta Arenas that is. Originally, our flight was routed all the way to Puerto Natales which is ultimately where we needed to get to in order to get to Patagonia. However, we decided to get off in Punta Arenas to see the Straight of Magellan for ourselves. Who knows if we will ever be this far south on the globe ever again? (We certainly hope and plan to be, but who ever really knows?) Plus, Ron had done some reading up on the Punta Arenas Naval Museum and apparently there was a big exhibit on the Shackelton Expedition which sounded pretty cool to us. (For those of you who are not familiar with the Shackelton Expedition, basically an explorer named Shackelton got a crew together to sail down to Antartica and got stranded there. They were there for two years before Shackelton and a few of the crew took a life boat and sailed to get help, eventually resulting in their rescue. The truly amazing part of the story is that not one crew member died!) When we got to the Naval Museum, we realized that “big exhibit” really meant one shabby poster board. Can´t win them all though, right?
Although the Naval Museum was a bust more or less, I think it was still worth the stop in Punta Arenas if just for bit of time we were able to spend at the Straight of Magellan. To picture where we were on a map was just nuts! We were so close to Antartica! That thought alone is just wild! To commemorate this one in a lifetime experience, Ron even took off his shoes and braved the freezing water to stick his toes in! I got really crazy and stuck my finger tips in…brrrr!!!! We are not exactly sure which ocean this body of water is a part of, but if it happens to be part of the Artic Ocean, then we have been in all four! Pretty cool!
From there it was a short, three hour jaunt by bus to Puerto Natales and we were really at the gateway to Patagonia! (Funny how your perspective changes on a trip like this and a three hours bus ride seems silly short!) Puerto Natales is a sleepy, little port town in every sense of the phrase. With only one day until we were leaving for Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia itself, we had quite a bit to accomplish during our time in Puerto Natales. First stop was a local gear shop that puts on a daily informational talk about the treks in the park. We figured it wouldn´t be a bad idea to learn a bit about what we were signing up for now that we were here. After the talk and a few other random errands we found ourselves at the grocery store. It is a really strange experience trying to buy food for a backpacking trip in a different country where pretty much everything you normally buy for the trail is no where to be found. Hmmmm….after an excessively long grocery shopping experience we walked out feeling confident that we were all set. (Never in my life have I purchased almost two pounds of salami at one time…and I hope I never have to do it again.)
Now all that was left was packing. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! Naturally, as has been the overall trend on this entire trip, we put off packing until the last possible moment. But, like every other time, at some point we have to cave and just get it over with. Unfortunately, that point was not until late, late at night with an incredibly early bus the next morning. Alas, I suppose that if packing and purchasing two pounds of salami are our biggest problems for the time being we are doing alright. Life is good!
Full Photo Gallery:
Our entry to Chile started off with a bang- at the Cuzco airport, I hear our names called over the intercom, along with a few more lines of Spanish that I couldnt quite keep up with. The gate attendant handed me 2 new boarding passes, and Barbara and I found ourselves upgraded to first class. Woohooo! Nearly 50,000 miles of flying in 7 months, and we finally got to sit in the front of the bus. Nice big seats for the ride between Cuzco and Lima.