February 7, 2004

Chile flagWe finally decided to get up about 8:20 am. Once again the skies were clear and the temperature was on its way up. Luckily we were still in the shade, but soon enough the sun would rise.

We left camp about 9:40 on our way to the Administration Centre. We would find out shortly if we had misidentified the campground. The trail skirted the side of the hill and started across endless fields of long grass. And sure enough, after about an hour we came to the real Campamento Las Carretas, with toilet building and water supply. This meant we still had two hours of walking before arriving at the Administration Centre. Oh well, we feel a bit stronger than yesterday.

We continued on across the grasses, following ancient horse paths. There were no rheas or guanacos to be seen, but we did see several rabbits dashing away in front of us. From time to time we turned around to look at the spectacular mountain views; at one point we could see the Torres behind the Cuernos (a view that has never made it to a postcard).

Shortly after noon we arrived at the Administration Centre, which is in a lovely setting at the edge of Lago del Toro. It’s too bad we couldn’t camp there. At the little kiosk we bought a litre of pineapple juice and a pack of cookies, which we ate along with the rest of our lunch at a picnic table in the welcome shade.

After lunch we looked at the displays in the Administration Centre, then reviewed our options. We would have to move on, for sure. We had inquired about transport to Lago Grey, and found there was no public transport. Bumming a ride in one of the vans from Hosteria Grey was a long shot, and so was hitchhiking the 19 km out there. Laguna Verde was still a four-hour hike away and we didn’t want to do that much more today. So we decided on a shorter road walk, about 6 km on the main park road to Camping Pehoé.

The sun was extremely hot and the road was dusty, but on we went. But we had only been walking about 15 minutes when a bus came by and pulled up next to us. The driver asked where we were going and after showing him the map (he thought we were looking for Campamento Pehoé), he offered us a ride, which we gratefully accepted. The road went up and down alongside the Río Paine, and we were glad we weren’t walking it in the heat of the afternoon.

We were dropped off at the entrance to Camping Pehoé, where a young man greeted us. In rapid Spanish he explained where everything was and showed us to one of the few empty sites. The cost of the site was 3000 pesos per person. Camping Pehoé is a typical car-camping site, much like car-camping sites were in North America were 20 years ago.

The afternoon was extremely hot, maybe 28 degrees, and neither of us felt very energetic. Eventually Rosemary decided to go wading in the lake, along with several families who were already splashing noisily. Rosemary managed to cool her feet and rinse her hair without falling in (neither of us had brought bathing suits, who would have expected the possibility of swimming?) The view from the gravelly beach was Cerro Paine Grande and the Cuernos, making it one of the world’s most scenic bathing beaches.

Back at the campsite we sat in the shade and watched a couple of condors swooping over the hills just across the road from us. They were so close that we could see their white feathers without the aid of binoculars. And then they flew up to the highest of the hills—named Cerro Condor—and landed in some little caves near its top. They obviously roosted there regularly, since there was a lot of white staining the rocks below one of the caves.

Finally around 6 pm we decided to make dinner. Tonight it was Lipton’s spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, which was really tasty, and once again we had hot chocolate and cookies for dessert. Then we tidied up and got organized to go on our evening hike, which was the signposted trail up Cerro Condor. From seeing other people do it we already knew it would only take about half an hour to get to the top, so off we went. The views were again spectacular as we climbed higher and higher. The trail climbed steeply, then levelled off a bit before climbing steeply once again. The hillside was covered with prickly plants; some were calafate bushes and others had yellow flowers.

One of the condors made a farewell appearance, but not near the top of the hill as we had hoped. And then we were alone on top to watch the sun set. There were some light clouds blowing in from the west, the first we had seen for a couple of days, so the temperature was cooling down. Back at the campground the sunset on the Cuernos was interesting because of those clouds.

It was still light out, so we climbed the little ridge behind the site (along with several other people) to get some sunset pictures. On the way back to our site we noticed a male Upland Goose sitting in a dead tree, then a female swimming in the lake below him, and then out from behind a bush came their five chicks. Even though it was now about 9:40 pm there was still enough light to photograph them.

By 10 pm the stars were coming out (Orion upside-down, Southern Cross) so we made up the tent and got ready for bed. As we were doing that a large bus pulled into the campground. We were hoping it wasn’t the army recruits we had seen earlier, but at any rate it didn’t translate into any late-night noise. Tomorrow we are planning to get up early, as we have to walk most of the way back down the road to the start of the Laguna Verde trail.

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