February 5, 2004

Chile flagFrom Lima we carried on towards Santiago. Both of us slept most of the way, but this year Paul woke up to get the Chilean immigration form. We had breakfast (ham and cheese on croissant, fruit salad, carrot cake, orange juice) at 5 am, which was midnight in Pacific Standard Time. At 6 am we arrived in Santiago, a little early, and proceeded through immigration. It was easier this year, as we knew what to expect.

We claimed our bags and headed upstairs to our next departure lounge, and waited for our flight to Punta Arenas via Puerto Montt. Once we left Santiago we were served yet another breakfast (ham and cheese once again but in sandwich form, fruit salad, crackers). Neither of us was especially hungry at this point. The flight to Puerto Montt went by quite quickly and we had clear skies, so we saw all the volcanoes we had missed last year. The front-page story in the Santiago newspaper Tercera was about a pair of hikers who got lost while in the national park near Ushuaia and waited two weeks on the beach at Yendegaia before being rescued.

The second leg, to Punta Arenas, left after a stopover of only 25 minutes. The first thing that happened was that we were served lunch, but neither of us could look another ham and cheese sandwich in the eye. But later the views of the Great Southern Icefield were fantastic! We even saw Monte FitzRoy and the Perito Moreno, but from the “back” side. Passing over Torres del Paine was awesome. We flew directly over Lago Grey and we could see all the places we had hiked through last year.

Onwards to Puerto Natales. After collecting our bags at the airport, we had hoped to get a bus directly there, but that was not how it worked. Instead we had to go into Punta Arenas, and then wait for an hour and a half before the Puerto Natales bus left. We left our packs at the bus office then wandered around the town. The first thing we noticed was that the city was redoing the Plaza de Armas; instead of being able to walk into it from any side, there were now only two entrances as everything was under construction. There was a sign saying the budget for renovation was just over 1 billion pesos. That sounds like a lot but it’s only about 2 million dollars.

The bus left for Puerto Natales about 2 pm and it wasn’t much either. Most of the way we both dozed, but we did manage to see a few guanacos and rheas, and lots of sheep. We did stop for a few minutes at the roadhouse at Río Rubens and had some juice there.

Finally after a four-hour bus ride we arrived in Puerto Natales! We walked over to Casa Cecilia, where we had made a reservation, and were warmly greeted by Cecilia. We arranged for the bus up to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (at 7:30 am tomorrow) so the die was cast. Instead of going to sleep we forced ourselves to go out to do our food shopping and to buy dinner. We went to the restaurant where we had gone last year with Uira, Rosalie, and Mike. We had hamburgers, Rosemary with tomatoes and Paul with tomatoes and avocado. The burgers were huge and were meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. As we had remembered this place for its hot chocolate, we both ordered that as well.

After dinner we wandered down to the waterfront to see what we could see. The Navimag ferry was in, a big brute called Magellan. And at the end of the sound, Cerro Paine Grande was shining like a jewel in the sunset. Last year we had never seen it there because of the clouds. The black-necked swans were still there, too. Last year we had seen a few, but this year there were nearly a hundred! What a difference a year makes.

Once back at the hostel we reorganized our packs in preparation for our early departure tomorrow.

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