London, January 2014
Pumpkin: “Would you fancy doing a day trip to Torres del Paine from Argentina on our South America trip?”
Me: “You what? Of course I would but is that even an option?”
El Calafate, Argentina, March 2014
Pumpkin: “Straight to bed after dinner for me. I’m knackered. Weren’t we lucky the clouds lifted eventually? Are you going to blog about this?”
Me: “Yeh, it was amazing. Definitely going to share this on the blog. Might even pinch some of your photos, they’ve come out really well…”
London, November 2015
Pumpkin: “Are you ever going to write about Torres del Paine? I’d love it if you did a blog post on it and I reckon people would be interested in hearing about the day trip option. I’d definitely have read a blog post like that when we were planning our South America trip.”
Me (hastily:) “I will, I will, I just haven’t got around to it yet.”
Pumpkin: “But surely if you don’t do it soon, you won’t remember any of it? You do write them in a strange order. That afternoon tea you’ve just blogged about was long after Chile…”
London, June 2016
Pumpkin: “Such a pity you never wrote about Chile.”
Me ( hanging my head in shame: )
No inverted commas, as no speech.
Out of excuses.
London, January 2018
Me: “Are the Torres del Paine photos on your laptop or mine?”
Pumpkin: “Dunno, why? Wait – are you actually writing about it finally?”
Me: “Yeh, I thought I might. This month’s travel link up theme is ‘once-in-a-lifetime experiences’ and this was what sprung to mind.
Pumpkin: “What’s a link up?”
I sometimes wonder if it was my overly competitive high school that was responsible. You were never good enough unless you were the best and even then, you merely blurred into a crowd. It turned me into someone with perfectionist traits, who never felt satisfied when she couldn’t do things perfectly and berated herself when that happened (no matter how insignificant or trivial said things were.) With the blog, those insecurities are more prevalent than ever. I got into this to write and when I can’t write well, I shy away from writing at all. The more an experience moves me, a destination speaks to me and a view reduces me to tears, the harder I find it to pay homage with lexicon. So I don’t – it is easier to give up on a story than tell it badly.
For years, I shied away from writing about our day trip to Torres del Paine in Chile, crippled by an inward fear of being unable to find adjectives that would suitably paint a Patagonian portrait for you all; defeated by the belief that I could never draw you in to my Chilean journey the way a National Geographic or Lonely Planet writer could.
This year however, that changes. High school was an aeon ago and put plainly, this girl is getting over it. I need to grasp, finally, that it’s alright to not always be the best, to not always write blog posts in prize-worthy prose or even prose-worthy prose for that matter; that it’s okay to share my stories in whichever raw, flawed and unvarnished ways they emerge from my mind.
Visiting Torres del Paine National Park
Chile is a long way to go for a day trip (from London) but if you happen to be across the border in Argentina, it suddenly becomes far more plausible. It took a 3-4 hour flight from Buenos Aires to reach El Calafate in Patagonia, which perhaps gives an indication as to the spectra of climate, fauna, wildlife and cultures concealed within the landscape treasure chest that is the length of Argentina. The visit to Patagonia was a detour and a half, especially since we were ending our trip in Rio de Janeiro but that detour was possibly the best travel decision we have ever made.
Chile was never on the cards but when we spotted the option to do a long day trip from El Calafate to Torres del Paine National Park, the opportunity to see the recently voted 8th Wonder of the World was too tempting to pass up. If your legs were built to walk in the wilderness and your heart beats at its fastest when exploring remote, rugged landscapes, it is time to lose yourself (proverbially only please) in this enchanting oasis in South America.
One day, we hope to return, to brave the hikes, to stay for days and even to camp (or perhaps glamp) under the stars. Until then, I feel blessed and forever grateful to have had the chance to see it at all; to see them rather, for the elusive Torres (towers) comprise a trio of granite formations that were in no mood at all to make a cameo when we arrived at the national park after an early morning start. Much like the time we tried to catch glimpse of Mount Fuji, here too, we were at the mercy of the elements.
The Journey to Torres del Paine
I hear that it’s about the journey not the destination and whilst I don’t entirely agree, the voyage on board a truck of such magnitude was certainly a first for me. It was also a journey during which we became grateful to our Mums for always teaching us to carry snacks after the tour company forgot to account for our no-beef dietary preferences. The packed lunch proved to be an interesting affair given that it contained a beef empanada and…err… a beef sandwich. #OnlyinArgentina
Still, there was a coffee shop pit-stop for us to grab provisions and good thing we did, since the apples we had carried from the hotel breakfast buffet got confiscated by immigration at the Argentina/Chilean border. After seeing one too many episodes of Nothing to Declare, I volunteered the apples in my possession with the guilt of a rumbled dealer. You might think that border control on land may be more lax than at airports but it is the one and only time my fruit has been taken off me and I am a habitual apple carrier (the plant variety I mean – it’s Samsung all the way otherwise!) Take home message for the El Calafate to Torres del Paine journey? Don’t forget your passport but you could quite legitimately forget your five-a-day.
The roads progressed further along the serenity scale, as we ventured into Chilean Patagonia. It is worth competing for the window seat for the uplifting, mesmerising views that reward you, views that left even a seven-month-old baby silenced (or maybe the motion sent him to sleep.) Much to our surprise (and admiration,) a single Mum had booked onto the same tour, joining the 7am start and 14 hour round trip with her tiny but shiny son in tow and not a single other adult accompanying her for support. She changed his nappies surrounded by mountains and fed him between barren branches, tidying up after herself throughout the day, gathering priceless memories behind her and oodles of respect from the remainder of our group, proving that these soils will embrace anyone curious enough to delve into them.
We disembarked the vehicle with the eager anticipation of a bride to be exiting the wedding car for the very first time – only there were no dresses here. In the midst of my early start, I had thrown on beige cargo pants, hiking boots and sensible, warm, waterproof clothing. Nothing about it was glamorous but you’d have to be beyond vain to come to a place like this and worry about how you look, when the world immediately ahead is so supremely dazzling. Stare at your own reflection if you wish but the rest of us will be staring at Mother Nature’s reflections in crystalline glacial lakes that possess a purity unparalleled by the human race.
Geology had drawn us to this region of the world but the unanticipated impromptu quasi-safari experience was a delightful bonus. A group of majestic, proud Guanacos stood tall to greet us on our arrival, roaming freely and fearlessly among the peculiar humans that had invaded their patch. Their poise was endearing and we envied their all-encasing fluffy coats of armour, as we shivered in our synthetic fabrics, as we stood to photograph them.
Our guide led us on the first walking trail. We were tiny figments marching like ants in endless acres of sweeping, mountainous terrain. There is so much talk of mindfulness these days but in a city like London, it cam remain a challenge. Where sirens beep throughout the night in the quick-paced, never-ending hubbub of a capital city, how easy is it to switch off and liberate your mind of worry? Rhetorical questions, for which I lack answers but if New York City will forever be my happy place, then I can confirm Patagonia will forever be my peaceful place. Never have I had a moment more tranquil than I did sitting by the banks of the lake, the sun glistening above it, the flawless image ahead of me framed by soaring, snow-capped mountain tops.
But not every region of the Torres del Paine National Park tells a tale of vitality and life. Amongst the horseback riders and South Andean deer, behind billowing river water and pristine glaciers are scenes of destruction, devastation and death; stretches of park where branches are charred to the bone, swaying lifelessly in the wind, where blossoms and habitat are longed but lost. Natural disasters are responsible, in some instances, for the toxic fumes that flattened these plains. But in others, painfully, tourism itself is culpable with bonfires and campfires wrecking vast expanses of land, one more addition to the tragic list of examples of man-induced destruction to some of our planet’s most precious corners.
Throughout the day, we looked over our shoulders, not in fear of what we would see but rather, in fear of what we would not see – the Torres, the symbolic epicentre of the national park stubbornly hiding behind curtains of mist. The lions had been shy during our first safari holiday in Africa and the whales joined in on this rebellious revolt during our time in Ponta Delgada, Azores. But as late afternoon approached and just as we were about to turn our backs on Chile to commence the journey to Argentina, the elements made a U-turn, cooperating the way the aforementioned mammals had refused to.
One final time, we looked ahead, we looked behind and took a 360 degree visual sweep to absorb this magnificent destination, the southern most destination we have ever travelled to. And it was then, rather like the predictable final scenes of a high school chick flick, that a happy ending was bestowed upon us, as the Torres emerged , our faces lighting up in tandem at the crisp clarity of the mountain peaks that finally greeted us.
They do always say that good things come to those who wait.