Thursday, April 3, 2008
We woke up at 6am for a 7am departure from the hotel. We got packed, since we were too tired to do that the day before. The weather was odd again, with more clouds than we had seen in the morning on previous days. We were with Ed and Marissa, as well as Cesca (who went to Kamur with us). Ed and Marissa were also flying down to Punta Arenas, but they are going to stay there for a couple days before heading to Torres Del Paine. Cesca had actually just come from Torres Del Paine, so we discussed in the car where to go. After speaking now with about a half-dozen people, we decided our best case scenario would be to do the Gray Glacier hike, the hike to the base of the towers (both of which are full days), and Cornisas and Ferrier lookout (which are both half days).
We got to the airport at 8:15. Justin thought about eating at the restaurant, but Crystal wanted to get beyond security. The only issue is that this was Calama, not LAX, so it was no big deal and we had nothing to do once passing through security, which took about 30 seconds. On the flight, we both fell asleep, but Justin woke up about halfway through and looked out the window. Most of the scenery looked roughly the same from Antofagasta down to La Serena, but after that it began to gradually change. Little bit by little bit there were more trees and shrubs on the hillsides, rather than just barren. Also, a fog bank started to show up along the coastline. Then, about 100-150 miles north of Santiago, a sizeable mountain range sprang up between the coast and where we were flying. At this point, the smog started to increase (because now we were in a valley), and the trees actually started to decrease a bit (presumably because the mountains blocked some of the rain.
We landed at Santiago around lunchtime, and went to one of the cafes in the airport. Everything was in Spanish, but Crystal was able to order us food and get our bill using the Spanish she had learned. While eating, we saw some of the other patrons using binoculars and cameras, and we couldn't for the life of us figure out what they were looking at. After we had finished and were sitting at the gate, we started seeing Chilean fighter jets doing maneuvers, doing spirals, taking off near vertical with afterburners, and so on. Apparently they were taxiing while we were eating, and that's what everyone was looking at. A crowd started to build along the back window to watch this. The air force must not have their own base, so they use the commercial airport. After the fighter pilots were done, there was an A380 circling around the terminal doing touch and goes - presumably this was to educate pilots on how to fly this new plane. After all of the fun and games were over, we boarded our flight on a regular airplane.
The flight down was cloudy almost the whole way, so it was tough to tell what changes in the landscape existed. We got to Punta Arenas just as it was getting dark, but we could tell it was far away from where we needed to be since it was relatively flat. We found out that it would be a 5-6 drive to Torres Del Paine, and it was 7pm now. Needless to say, we were not thrilled about this. We were also worried that we wouldn't get to do the treks we wanted to do, since they would have already been planned by the time we got there. It was just the two of us and the driver, and it was very quiet. It was a two-lane road for quite a long distance, with almost no cars on either side of the road. At some point we turned onto a dirt road, perhaps a little over halfway.
We did not stop for dinner - as most people do - so we got to the hotel around 11pm, so right at 4 hours. The guide, Gonsaulo (who looks just like Steve Nash), was going to hurriedly tell us about the park and all of the different excursions, when we asked if we could expedite things by just telling him which ones we wanted to do and check if they were available. We told him we wanted to do 4, 8, 12, and 16, and he had to look those up because he didn't know them by number, but when he did he told us that we had chosen good ones and that one of them (Gray Glacier) was available the next day. Relieved, we just got into our room and crashed.