Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Uncloaked Towers

Most visitors arrive in Puerto Natales on day one and by 7am on day two are on their way to the W trek in the Torres del Paine National Park. Sarah is officially done with trekking. The W trek was off the agenda and he circuit (the 5 day extended version) was never even a topic for discussion. With two weeks to pass before our ferry up to Puerto Montt we decided to do something a little different and after much canvassing around town settled on our trip to Whale Sound and a Land Rover supported trip into the park. The quid pro quo for not trekking was a temporary lifting of the moratorium on bikes.

As with the rest of Patagonia, the weather in TdP National Park is fickle to say the least. Mid-summer snows and gale force winds are a matter of course in this part of the world and many a trekker will complete the five day W trek without seeing the Paine Massif as it is often blanketed in cloud. We must have been making deposits into our Karma bank over the last couple of months as we were blessed with a cloudless view of the entire massif on our second night of the trip.

Everything about our trip was faultless as Pablo and Mariano had organised the ideal itinerary, provided the best equipment, cooked the finest asados and accommodated every variation that we asked for. After three months patiently waiting to get back on a bike I was eager to spend as much time as possible on the bike. After a 30km morning riding on the corrugated surfaces of the road I was so badly bruised and saddle sore that I had to peddle entirely out of the saddle for the 20 km ride in the afternoon. I felt like a kid who had been craving sweets for so long that I had gorged myself and felt so sick that I couldn’t even look at another cola cube. Luckily we had Pablo’s fantastic Land Rover Defender 110 to support us all the way and our planned riding trip turned into more of an off-road driving excursion. With the constant wind dropping off the Southern Patagonian Ice field it was so much nicer to be viewing the mountains from the protection of the vehicle than battling into a biting headwind on the bike.

The much photographed landscape of the TdP massif is captivating and surprisingly compact. Although relatively small in relation to the vast expanse of the Patagonian landscape it is capricious in the way that it changes as you move around from one viewpoint to the next. From one angle all three of the towers are visible but only a kilometre down the road they are hidden but a new vista opens up of the Fortress and the Horn. Even if you stay in one place the mood of the range can change in minutes as venticular clouds emerge and disappear. The changing light highlights different parts of the massif and casts dark shadows into the valleys that are cut into the lower level of sedimentary rock. As we awoke on the third day in our camp on the Southern shore of Lago Pehoe the entire massif was enveloped in cloud. However, after breakfast the mantle of cloud has lifted and only ethereal wisps of cloud remained giving the mountains a more mysterious character.

It would have been remiss to visit Chilean Patagonia without exploring the National Park and the breathtaking spectacle of the massif did not disappoint. As was the case with Tierra del Fuego, I would love to visit the park in winter to see a different aspect of its personality. As we make our way North over the next few days we will be closing a chapter of our travels that I had high hopes for. Every aspect of Patagonia has exceeded those expectations and I am left wanting more. In fact, whilst down here I read a copy of Bruce Chatwin’s biography by Nicholas Shakespere and a quote from it seemed to encapsulate my feelings about Patagonia:

“You have to have some sort of magic circle to which you belong. It’s not necessarily where you were born or where you were brought up. It’s somewhere you identify with, to which you always happen to go back...it’s what Proust calls ‘the soil on which I still may build’”.

No comments: