Both of us, surprisingly, were up before the alarm. After getting up, we rearranged the baggage to have more of our stuff in our backpacks, since there ws no need to worry about packing for planes. We got picked up promptly at 7, and were in a van with a family of four - Nino (who had been to Explora before), his parents, and his partner. Torres del Paine, as the crow flies, is about 100km (60 miles) to the southwest of El Calafate. Sadly, we are not crows. Our route was almost four times as long, going east, then southeast to La Esperanza, then westerly to the Argentina-Chile border, then north, and finally southwest once passing around Lago Sarmiento.

Supposedly there was talk of a more direct route, but the rumor is that Chile decided against it, as they didn't want a horde of day trippers coming into the park for a day from Argentina. Also, the Puerto Natales airport is just 70 miles south of Torres del Paine, in Chile, and just finished upgrading the airport and expanding the runway; perhaps Chile would rather have people come from Puerto Natales than El Calafate. On the Argentine side, the route was longer than it needed to be because part of Route 40 is rather dilapidated, and purposefully so, to encourage people to go out of the way to La Esperanza, in the hopes of assisting the La Esperanza economy.

But we did get puppies. At the place we stopped for some coffee and snacks, there was a mother dog and about a half dozen pups, all huddled together in the hopes of staying warm. The town of La Esperanza was very tiny, and seemed to serve a lot of nearby Estancias. Since we had actually headed southeast from El Calafate, we were actually even further from the mountains and the ice than when we started. It was completely flat, with hardly any trees. As we started heading west from La Esperanza, we could at least see mountains out to the west in the distance. The drive was easy, with almost no one on the road. We just listened to podcasts and went in and out of sleep.

The border crossing was a bit odd. After being in the middle of nowhere for so long, it was weird to see several buses and vans at the border. Inside the small building, which looked like a re-purposed house, were two lines - one for people coming, and another for people going. It wasn't moving particularly fast, but the line wasn't that long. There was a dog milling around, trying to get attention from the people in line. Justin told Crystal it must be a "Border" Collie. After getting everything stamped, we got back in the van, and drove for about 5 minutes, then stopped again to go through immigration on the Chilean side. This time we had to take out our luggage and run it through a machine (although the person running the machine was looking at his mobile phone as our luggage went through). It's unclear why there wasn't a single building right at the border - that would have been much easier.

Then, after getting our luggage back in the van, we drove for about 30 seconds, then stopped a third time. This time we changed vans, as apparently our driver was just for Argentina, even though he went through all of the immigration stuff as well. This is all the more reason for a single building. Anyway, this time we were finally on our way again, coming into the park from the East. We had thought it was quicker getting to Explora from El Calafate than Punta Arenas, but it definitely didn't seem that way. Coming in from the East has its advantages, though. Almost out of nowhere there was an amazing lookout over Lago Sarmiento, with the Towers coming out of the clouds briefly. It was extremely windy, however, when we opened the door, and we weren't dressed for being out of the car for too long. We also saw a ton of guanacos and what we thought were ostriches, but later found out were rheas. One of the mother rheas had close to a dozen chicks with her.

We eventually got to the hotel a little after 13:00, so six hours "door to door." They gave us a brief introduction to the hotel and afternoon excursions, but everything looked almost identical to when we were here in 2008. Besides being a phenomenal hotel in a prime location, what we really like about the Explora model is all of the various options for things to do. There are dozens of different hiking and horseback options, which you can see here. We had looked at the list a few months ago, and had a list of things that seemed most interesting to us. After the brief talk, we went into the dining room and grabbed lunch. We didn't really remember what the dining options were before, but this time there was an option of soup, salad, and five different main courses - you could get whatever combination you wanted.

After lunch we got unpacked, changed, and ready for our 15:45 hike. The last time we were here, it was in April of that year, so the days were significantly shorter. Today was the longest day of the year, so starting a hike at 15:45 was no problem. Condor Lookout was an easy, good hike for the first day - 2.2 miles, with 800 feet of elevation gain. Basically, we headed north out of the hotel along the boardwalk, crossed the street, and went up a relatively steep hill. If clearer and with less wind, it would have been spectacular, but you can say that for pretty much any hike in Torres del Paine. We chatted with Isabella (9 years at Explora) and Grazia (sp?) (2 months) who were the guides. We stopped to learn about the two main types of trees - the regular beech and the Antarctic beech. We also grabbed some of the Calafate berries, which are a bit like blueberries. At the top, we had to worry a bit about getting blown over, as there no longer was any break from the wind. It was starting to mist a little bit too, which ws too bad since the weather was nice when we first arrived. The walk down was fine, although there were some parts that looked potentially slippery. When we got back to the road, some vans picked us up and drove us back to the hotel. We arrived back to the hotel around 18-18:30, then got cleaned up. While glancing out the window, Justin noticed what he thought was an armadillo - sure enough, there are armadillos in Patagonia.

We went for drinks a bit after 19:00. Unbeknownst to us - since we were zoned out when they were giving us the short intro when we first arrived - we missed the longer introductory talk that started at 19:00. Someone came by to ask us about it, but we told them we'd been here before, so it was no problem. We were able to sign up for our excursion for the next day while enjoying our drinks. Every evening between 19:00 and 21:00, when people are out enjoying the common area with couches, chairs, tables, etc., the guides come by and ask what people want to do the next day. They also ask about what things you're interested in generally, so they can attempt to schedule things for the coming days. We took out our list, and realized Condor Lookout had been on our list, so one down already. A couple things for tomorrow were also on our list, Aonikenk and the barbeque lunch at the Quincho. We also chose La Loma for the afternoon, as it sounded like it offered a vantage point in the park that we hadn't seen before. We grabbed an early dinner (by South American standards), heading into the dining room at 20:00, when it opened. We were surprised to see the same menu for lunch and dinner, so not a lot of choice. Apparently that's the way it is, and we just didn't remember that since in 2008 we'd gone on all day hikes and just had sandwiches for lunch. Since we'd had a long day, albeit not a stressful one, we went to sleep shortly after dinner, before it was even dark, around 22:00.

Previous Home Page Next