Chile is an incredibly long country, measuring 4,270 km. This means that it doesn’t conform to typical expectations of a tropical Latin American experience. It has so many different climates, from the desert in the north, the Melbourne-like seasons of metropolitan Santiago, to the freezing natural wonders of Patagonia.
Our destination was the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, which is considered to be the best national park in South America. My best friend Jess is here visiting me in Chile at the moment, so we decided to make our way down.
However, it is currently temporada baja – the low season, because it’s winter and no one actually goes hiking in the complete south of the world in the middle of winter. This means that while most things are closed, excursions aren’t running, and it’s absolutely freezing, at least it’s all a little cheaper.
We woke up for our flight at 5.30am, which was actually earlier than we had gone to sleep the previous night. I was sleep deprived and stressed about organising everything and the Uber driver was talking to me in rapid Spanish and confusing me. This trip has been a nightmare to organise and I was just so stressed that it was all going to go wrong.
I’m three weeks into classes now and I have assessments coming up, so I planned to study on the plane. However I was so tired that I knew that wasn’t going to happen. There was a free seat next to me so I lay down to rest my head, and then Jess let me put my legs on her because she is a very good friend and I managed to catch up on sleep.
We flew into Punta Arenas, which is not the main base for the national park nor a particularly bustling city. However, it is a very cute town and I like being able to see more of Chile. It is basically at the end of the world, so our time there helped to adjust us to the cold as well as giving us time to chill out.
We had lunch at a random pub, and a surprisingly luxurious cappuccino at a cute cafe, and went for a wander around the town. The main square looked like a storybook, with the frozen trees and gazebos and clear blue sky. There was a little winter market where I picked up hat to keep me warm in the snow, and a really cool compass in the ground that indicated the direction and distance to major world cities.
We walked down to the beach, which was even colder with the icy wind. I liked the novelty of the snow on the sand, and there was a frozen over fountain where families were growing ice onto the water to watch it shatter.
Still feeling sleep deprived, we spent the rest of the day resting and studying. We found an Italian restaurant for dinner and got an early night.
The next day we caught the 10am bus to Puerto Natales. Snapchat was doing a “Mountain Adventures” story that came with filters that said “Into the Wild” and “Wanderlust or Bust”, as though it knew our adventure was about to begin.
It was a three hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, and the road we took was called Ruta del Fin del Mundo (The Route of the End of the World). At this point it’s worth pointing out that the region we were in is recognised as Magallenes and the Chilean Antarctica – that’s how far south we were.
Puerto Natales wasn’t nearly as picturesque as Punta Arenas, but a two minute walk from our accommodation took us to the harbour with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains. We strolled around the beach for a while before Jess spotted flamingoes in the water, hanging out in the freezing cold.
We spent the afternoon trying to organise our excursions, which was incredibly stressful. We had no idea what was available during the low season or what we even wanted to do, and all communication had to happen in Spanish (with me translating back and forth for Jess and the various people). Both the stress and the constant translating left me exhausted, but we booked a trip for each day we were there. Each trip was a crazy adventure of its own, so there will be more blog posts to follow.
This entire Patagonia trip is a very unknown adventure. I was so stressed the morning we left, and I was stressed again booking it all. For me, iconic trips feel like they need to be done perfectly. Patagonia is such a once in a lifetime experience that I don’t want to mess it up. But they don’t need to be perfect. Regardless of what we do or what mistakes we make, it is still an incredible experience.
Besides, any mistakes or bad judgement calls we make will be good advice for everyone else who will be going later in their exchange trip.
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