For many reasons I have been delayed in telling you more about our adventures down south, but finally I have got a moment to write about day 3 in Torres…
We woke up definitely feeling the effects of two days of hiking. I don´t think there was a muscle in my body that did not ache. We were also rather tired, despite having gone to sleep really early by normal Chilean standards. During the night there was loads of rain and very strong winds and so I kept waking up every time there was a huge gust against the tent. But at least being in the middle of the forest we were a little less exposed to the elements.
After a gourmet breakfast of coffee and cereal bars, we packed up our soggy tent and were on our way back down to Lago Pehoe. Thankfully before long the rain clouds disappeared and we had a lovely day again. Despite the wind, of course…rain or shine, that never seemed to cease!
But before starting our return hike, we made one last trip to see the glacier. The clouds from the night before had lifted somewhat and the view was spectacular.
The rain the night before had left a light layer of powder snow on the peaks above us. Beautiful in the morning light!
The hike was a little more leisurely compared to the day before. One reason was that we knew the route and were prepared for the steep and windy parts. The other reason was that we had arranged to stay in the refugio at Paine Grande that night. We had planned to camp at the refugio, however the camping was closed after the fire destroyed the campsite and the bathrooms. But hey, the idea of a comfy bed and a roof over our heads gave us all just a little bit more energy…
Some parts of the forest had less damage due to the fire…and the burnt parts, you could almost pretend were the brown hues of autumn…
Since the entire days hike was backtracking along the same route we did the day before, there were no new adventures or landscapes to discover. However while ascending the most difficult part of the trail, where you literally had to do a bit of “rock climbing”, I was rather unlucky to have a minute piece of ash (from the forest fire) fly into my eye. Standing on the steep and narrow trail, Rodrigo and Juan Carlos tried to see where it was in my eye, but they couldn´t. All I knew was that every time I tried to blink or open my eye it would sting like crazy. After about 15 minutes of trying everything, we decided to keep moving and I managed to walk with only one eye open. The problem was that it was my left eye and I couldn´t keep that eye closed automatically. So for a few minutes I was walking along with one hand over the sore eye keeping it closed and my baston in the other hand to keep me balanced against the wind. Do you have any idea how disorientating it is to walk with only one eye!!!
Anyway, a few minutes later Juan Carlos had the bright idea to use my bandana/scarf as an eye patch with a tissue helping to keep my eye closed. So I turned into a pirate for the rest of the hike. I have no idea what the rest of the people on the trail must have thought when they passed me.
The Pirate of Patagonia
I kept trying to imagine what the landscape must have been like before the fire…
This may not be the most flattering picture of us, but to me, it is a picture that will always remind me how I was feeling at that moment. Sitting on the side of the trail, totally exposed to the wind and dust, tired, sore and feeling a little battered by Patagonia.
The bright red backpack stuck out against the burnt landscape
After 6 hours of being battered and blown around like a ship on the Southern Ocean, all I wanted to do was get inside to be sheltered from the wind. For the last hour or so, I was so focused on remaining upright against the wind, that I wasn´t even looking at the landscape around me. I was on autopilot!!! But when I reached the refugio, I turned around to see where Rodrigo and Juan Carlos were and I was struck by the most fantastically clear view of the side of Los Cuernos.
Wow!!! Such sights make you forget the extremes
After dumping our bags in our room for the night, I enjoyed what was probably one of the best hot showers of my life, but not before a very well deserved beer to celebrate our day!!!
Cerveza Austral – Chile`s Patagonian Beer, brewed in Punta Arenas.
Having walked through the areas devastated by the fire, for hours on end, I was well aware of the environmental impact of one person`s moment of sheer and utter stupidity. It will take at least 80 years for the forest to recover and even then it will not be the same bosque milenario that it was before. Relaxing back at the refugio, we came face to face with the human side of the story. It was a miracle that this particular refugio was not destroyed. The flames came right up to the front door, but thanks to the arrival of the Argentinean Fire Brigade, the main building was saved.
The bathrooms for the camping area at Refugio Paine Grande – totally destroyed
The remains of the CONAF Guardaparque station at Paine Grande
Our last evening in the park was spent leisurely cooking yet another dinner of pasta and soya, but this time in the camping kitchen of the refugio, which miraculously had survived the fire. Our company for the night was a crazy Belgian lady and a French couple (who were in the middle of cycling from Buenos Aires to Santiago via the Southern Highway (Carretera Austral). Wonderful conversation, good company, in the most amazingly beautiful, yet harsh environment imagineable…what more can one ask for…
P.S. It may seem that I have gone on and on about this fire in my posts, but there is a reason for it. This was not the first fire in Torres…In 2005 a Czech tourist lit his gas stove in an UNAUTHORISED zone and the result was 14000 hectares destroyed. This latest fire was the result of an Israeli tourist burning toilet paper (with winds of over 100km/hr), so that he would not have to carry it with him. The result was 18000 hectares destroyed. Such seemingly small and insignificant actions, lead to HUGE and irreversible impacts on the ecology, nature and people of the area. These tourists return to their home countries, far far away from Torres del Paine, Patagonia and Chile. But the impact of their actions lives on. I think my main point is, that as tourists, we have a huge responsbility in terms of the footprints we leave behind!!!