Torres del Pain(e)

“What are you doing??? You…can’t break the spaghetti in half. That’s criminal.”, screamed Roland in a thick Swiss German accent.

“Yeah but, dude”, I replied in a thick Californian accent, “We only have so much gas. And we can’t boil a whole pot full of water.”

And with that, I cracked the spaghetti and threw it in the pot. Roland looked disturbed. But hey, camping in the middle of the forest with one can of gas requires sacrifices, you know?

So how did I get in the middle of the forest with a can of gas, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you – just calm down for a second and let me write.

It all started several days before (imagine a harp playing that music when people think about a story they are going to tell as they look up at the bubble over their head).

We were going to the famous Torres del Paine, which is a beautiful Chilean national park and it has a really cool circuit that you can walk with spaces provided to camp at along the way. We were so there. But, I needed hiking boots, a tent, a stove, and some pots to cook food in. And lots of food. Our plan was a four day hike. And we would be walking about seven to ten hours a day. Not too bad. So we walked around town after arriving to Puerto Natales on the Navimag boat (you may recall my post about my four day cruise through Patagonia) and rented our stuff. When we split the cost, it wasn’t too bad and before long, we were all ready to go. We bought our bus ticket and would be leaving the following morning, so we went and got our food. Lots of pasta was bought. Along with chocolate, fruit, bread, and meat (which the frozen vegetables and canned fruit we were going to freeze that night would keep cold for a few days in the backpack). I also bought a mini, magnetized chess board so Roland and I could play chess at a moment’s notice.

So we slept well that night and before we knew it, the next morning we were off to the park. After a two hour ride, we arrived and went to take a look at the first lookout point as we waited for the boat which would take us across the lake (where we would start the hike). It had some pretty incredible views and the first thing we realized was that it was going to be very windy. We took turns taking pictures of each other leaning into the wind while it supported all of our weight (it was really cool). I also noticed a slight discomfort in my boots. I didn’t realize that this discomfort was just a taste of what was to come, however…

So the boat took us across the lake. And like I said, it was very windy. At one point, the wind picked up the boat several meters and slammed it back down, and two seconds later, everyone else landed back in their seats with a thud. I think the boat had almost flipped – and yeah, the captain slowed down after that.

So we arrived to the shore, hiked to the first camp, ate some lunch and then started on a trail to see Glacier Grey, which was about two hours away. We were to go see it then turn back around, come back to the camp and continue in the other direction (the trail is kind of like a big “W”, which means you have to turn around a lot). The good news, however, was that we could leave our bags at the camp, which made things faster. We walked and walked and contemplated the beauty of the park. It really is incredible. At one point, we saw a lake nestled next to the trail which was elevated above the land around it. It looked like a swimming pool, and the wind was so strong that it created waves like the ocean – which really throws your mind for a loop because you don’t expect to see stuff like that on a lake (let alone a small one like that). It was almost like something out of the Lord of The Rings (which I saw in Cordoba) and I half expected to see some wizard standing at the front of the lake commanding it to get all wavy (I think that’s a word). Or maybe Moses from the bible standing at the shore just before he commanded the sea to part. But nope. I didn’t see either. Just wind. Did I mention that the wind was strong?

So anyways, we saw the glacier, which was cool and then headed back. My feet were really hurting at this point and I inspected the damage when we arrived back to our backpacks. Two big blisters on the back of my foot. Damn. This is going to complicate things. I put on another pair of socks and we continued on (with me kind of hobbling). Only four more days to go, mentioned Roland.

We arrived at our first camp (Italiano) and made some dinner. Spaghetti. And now we come to the noodle breaking fiasco of 2004. Yes. We must break the spaghetti. It has to fit in the pot. And we ate really well. Pasta, soup, fruit, wine and we slept well too. The tent served perfectly.

So we woke up early and headed towards Britain camp to check out the lookout point (you ascend quite a bit). And my feet really hurt bad. The blisters were really sore and they chaffed my feet despite the three pairs of socks I now had on. We stopped and examined the damage of the trail. The shoe had a really bad design and I stuffed some stuff in the heel to keep it from chaffing my foot. It helped quite a bit, but the damage was already done. I was walking very funny. But it was easy to keep my mind off it, since the park is was beautiful. Roland ended up taking me off the trail (I wasn’t paying attention) and we scaled the side of a rock in front of an angry and raging river of melting glacier water, where I almost fell in.

“Man, that’s dangerous. I don’t see how people could make it over that without at least half falling in.”

“Oh, this isn’t the trail. I thought you noticed.”

“You asshole! I almost fell in!”, I replied and punched him in the shoulder.

“Haha”.

Damn Swiss.

We made it to the top and by then, I had twisted my knee from walking funny over the rocks. It really hurt on the way down and Roland went ahead to get the tent packed up so we could leave when I finally made it to camp. It took me a long time and when arrived, we set off. That part of the trail was supposed to take three hours and I think it took me close to four. I just kind of limped along, but the nice thing was that I was able to go very slow, not push myself and really take in all the beautiful scenery. Lots of lakes formed from melting glacier water (with that really cool wave effect from the wind), spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, condors flying overhead, and when you got thirsty, you just stopped at a stream pouring down one of the mountains and filled up your water bottle with cool, crisp and refreshing glacier water. It was incredible.

When I limped into camp, Roland had the tent up already and we made dinner with some Swedish backpackers who were in the camp next to us. We chatted about stuff, then I took a shower. And damn it felt good. Roland played some guy chess (and lost), and then I headed to bed. I was going to have to decide in the morning if I wanted to continue the hike for another two days or just end it the next day (on account of my knee). I was hoping that it would heal in the night.

Well, it didn’t, but it wasn’t too bad so I decided I would continue. The day of hiking would include an ascent of over 1500 meters, where we would camp out at the base of the Towers (Las Torres), and continue up to watch the sunrise reflect red onto them the following morning. I went really slow and it took me a long time to make it to the camp. On the way, I met quite a few people from the boat and I got another really cool day of taking in all the beauty of the park. It took me many more hours than expected for the trail, but we still had time so we took a break and then continued on to the camp at which we would sleep for the night. That took me a long time too, and when I arrived, we made dinner and got ready for bed. We would need to wake up at 5:00AM to hike up the viewing point for the sunrise.

All I needed to do was brush my teeth. But where was all my stuff? Not in my bag. Not anywhere in the camp.

“Fuck, I left it in last camp”, I thought.

And in the bag of stuff I left was my retainer. I had a replacement made before I left the US, but it was many miles away and sending it in the mail when I am in no place for more than a few days would be nearly impossible. I would have to go back to the other camp in the morning and hope it hadn’t been thrown away. And that was a long ways away. And my knee was in really bad shape. And then I found the pain killers I had in my bag. I consulted a nurse from Germany I met on the trail. They would do the trick. Right on.

So in the morning, we watched the sunrise over the mountain and onto the towers (although it didn’t quite reach the towers completely), and then fought the wind and the rain back down to the camp. After packing up, we headed down the mountain and the painkillers really made the pain bearable. I was able to walk at a normal pace and we made it back to Camp Chileno an hour ahead of schedule. I had them call the other camp on the radio to see if anyone had found my stuff. No one had. And they burn the trash every day.

Damn. That sucks. But I have to go look anyways. It would be a very expensive loss if I lost it for good. And my teeth felt really grimy (my toothbrush was in the bag). So I headed off. I figured I could make it there in a few hours and back in time to catch the 8pm bus. Roland would carry my backpack down the mountain (because, as he reminded me many times, he has so many muscles) and he would go back to town on the 3pm bus and return the stuff we had rented. He would leave my backpack at the hostel at the base of the mountain. Right on.

I hiked and hiked and hiked and after five hours, I made it to camp. The pain killers were wearing off and my knee was hurting bad. And I was really really hungry. But before arriving to the camp, I noticed a small raft that was heading in the direction I was heading.

“Man…that would be cool if they could give me a ride back to the other camp. It would save 6 hours of hiking and my knee.”

I arrived drenched in sweat, found my stuff (It was in the trash and a girl that worked there had pulled it out), and begged the raft guy to take me back.

He looked at me sceptically as I explained my plight.

“So is there space?”

“Yeah, there is space. But what if something happens?”

“Please. I’ll will pay.”

And those where the magic words.

“We need to wait a little while for the wind to calm down. Don’t go too far.”

“HELL YEAH!”, I thought. I would get a boat trip over the lake, make it back in time for the 3pm bus with Roland and not have to kill my knee!

The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the boat (which turned out to be a supply boat delivering food and beer to the hostel) as everyone looked at the huge waves on the lake. As we waited for an opportune moment to shove off, the captain wrapped a flimsy life vest around me and my backpack.

“Now!”, he shouted. And we all pushed the boat into the water and three of us jumped in and started paddling while the captain tried to start the motor.

“RRRRRRRRRRRR”, the motor started and we were off.

The waves were huge. The water cascaded into the boat and drenched me – I struggled to catch my breath from the shock.

Glacier water is very cold.

We dodged the waves and navigated in between them as we danced towards the middle of the lake.

The engine made a weird noise and cut out.

“What does that mean?”, I though. Me and the other guy started paddling to keep the boat straight (so we wouldn’t flip with the waves) as the captain pulled the motor onto the raft and pulled out his tools. I guess it happens a lot. And 15 minutes later, we were on our way again. It was a good thing too – my arms were getting really tired.

So we arrived to the other end of the shore, loaded up the boat in this little truck and headed off towards the camp. I wasn’t going to catch the 3pm bus – as I was a few minutes late, so I would have to wait around for five hours. When we arrived at the camp, I took out my wallet.

“How much do I owe you?”, I asked.

“How much will you pay?”, he replied.

I pulled out a 10,000 peso note and handed it over. $15 bucks. He took it quietly and put it in the ash tray. I said goodbye and we went our separate ways.

I limped around the camp looking for my bag and found it. And then I looked for food. Sandwiches cost $9 US, but I was to hungry to pass up the only opportunity for food I would have for many hours. As I was eating, I met some other travelers who were doing some overland trip they paid for over the internet. Apparently, some big truck takes 30 people all around South America for several thousands of dollars. They had to buy their own food, but the lodging was included in the cost (which entailed a tent, most nights). I think the company was making a pretty huge profit off of it, but I guess it would be good for people who thought just catching a bus from city to city and sleeping where you find space is a little too wild.

And then I took a shower. A long, hot, beautiful shower. And then I sat around for three hours. When I finally took the transport to the place that the bus picked us up, I sat around some more and drank some soda. It was really cold and windy and I was wearing some really thin rain pants since my jeans were wet from my water adventure early. It was really cold. But the bus finally arrived and I headed over to continue on to Puerto Natales.

And then I saw Nic! I met Nic on a bus in Peru two months prior and we went our separate ways in La Paz, Bolivia. He was trying to explain that he had to return a pot so he could get his drivers license back, but the problem was that the bus didn’t return to the place where he needed to do it, and he had to leave that night since he was out of money and his tent had been stolen (you got all that?). Stolen things are a rarity in this area and he had just been unlucky. He asked me for help and I explained the problem to the guys and we got a delivery of the license arranged to Puerto Natales the following morning at 6AM (We both doubted that it would show up at 6AM, but knew that it would probably show up in the next few days). So we hopped on the bus and got caught up on the past few months.

It’s really weird how that happens. How many things had to happen for us to meet back up at this place, at the same exact time. He had been trekking in the park too. It was really funny. We chatted and at the bus station split up, as we had different things to do, but we will probably run into each other again in New Zealand as we leave for there one day apart from each other (Feb 15 and 16). Roland had met several people he hadn’t seen for months on the trail and it’s really funny how it happens so often.

But anyways, Roland was standing at the bus station when I arrived and we joked around for a bit and walked to the rental place to return my boots. I was limping really bad and eventually just took them off and walked in my socks. It was much more comfortable. We turned them in (they didn’t charge me for the extra day on account of the pain the boots had brought me) and we checked our email and then headed back to the hostel to get some sleep after an exhausting day (I walked around town for several hours that night in only socks. It felt soooo good). In the morning, we would leave for El Calefate. We would have to get up early.

I slept really well that night.

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