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  • Over the Hills, the Road to the End of the World, Four Flights and Three Drives to Thanksgiving

    Palm Desert, CA

    It was 42 hours door to door to get from Torres del Paine, Chile to Palm Desert, CA for Thanksgiving. It was a pretty morning in Patagonia. I took a two hour or so ride to Puerto Natales, changed vehicles and driver. We then took the “Ruta del Fin del Mundo” to Punta Arenas airport, where arrived two hours in advance of my flight.

    The Punta Arenas airport is pretty small, though the plane was pretty big. There’s a very small lounge and a couple of coffee places that also sell sandwiches and a gift/snack/drinks shop.

    Three hours after leaving Punta Arenas, I was in Santiago where the temperature was nearly 80. Chile is VERY long and narrow, with huge climate changes from north to south. At the Santiago airport I retrieved a bag I had stored there, thinking I could then check in my bags and relax…alas that was not the case. Check in is only three hours in advance of a flight and I was there five hours early. So my luggage cart became my lounging area in a relatively deserted part of the busy airport. Having not had internet access for a week time passed pretty quickly. The Santiago airport before security though is pretty basic anyway, not enough room for all the people entering it.

    I finally was able to check in, got past security and wandered around the airport a bit. Pro tip: Don’t buy any drinks before boarding the plane to the USA in Santiago, as there is a secondary security check just before boarding and they will confiscate any liquids exceeding 3 ounces/100 ml. On the other hand my laptop never had to be removed and my shoes and hat stayed on my head and feet respectively at all times.

    I had a long flight, about 10 hours, to Houston, a three hour flight to LAX, another three hour layover home, a Lyft ride to my house, then a three hour drive to Palm Desert…left at 7am, arrived in PD around 9pm.

    Getting home for Thanksgiving Day with my parents and cousins was worth it though.

    Tips:

    • It takes a long time to reach or return from Patagonia, plan accordingly. It took me 42 hours without any issues. I could have saved some time not flying via LAX (but it was much less expensive doing it that way)
    • Do not buy liquids before boarding the plane to the US in Santiago (other than Duty Free which is delivered to the plane in sealed bags)
    • Do not wait too long to go to Patagonia. You can see much of the park without rigorous physical activity, including Grey Glacier but to see some of the best views, hiking is really necessary


  • Hiking to the Mirador of the Base of the Torres del Paine

    Santiago Airport, Chile

    Today and tomorrow will be marathon travel days: two different 2+hour drives to get to the airport in Punta Arenas, a two hour wait for a three hour flight, followed by five hours in Santiago (and I can’t check my bags till 3 hours before the flight…😡…then three flights home followed by a three hour drive to visit my parents for Thanksgiving! However, the trip was worth it.

    Yesterday we did the hike to the base of the Torres del Paine, about a 16 mile hike (I had over 40,000 steps by day’s end). We gained about 4000 feet overall in elevation even though our peak was around 700-800 meters…we did a lot of up and down.

    Yesterday was the first day we had rain in Torres del Paine, which is amazing but unfortunate, as the view at the top, instead of the towers was of…clouds, though we could see the unnamed lagoon at the top.

    We started early, 7:30am. I wore rain pants over shorts and a rain jacket (over a t-shirt and long sleeved shirt). It wasn’t freezing, but wasn’t warm either. Our fearless leader Claudio wore shorts, no rain pants and a rain jacket…he’s a native Patagonian and used to the weather.

    The walk up, though lacking clear views, had its beauty. We walked through a beautiful forest for quite a while, across too many small streams to count, over several small wooden bridges, some with rails…some without. The moss covered tree trunks were so beautiful. After exiting the forest we walked down windy point, which luckily for us wasn’t really windy. Then the last 8/10 of a mile was rock climbing basically…..not the kind where you need handholds, more like doing step ups of various heights and stability. I didn’t mind the ascent. At the top we added a layer or two of clothing and had lunch by the aqua colored lagoon. The towers were covered with clouds but the weather kept a lot of people away and it was still beautiful. It was snowing very lightly at the top…brrr!

    It was amazing how many people we encountered hiking in jeans, hiking in sneakers, hiking without any rain protection…(that was not us). I can’t imagine they’d woke up today feeling very good and their jeans and sneakers were pretty much trashed, mud covered up to the knees, and feet soaked and dirty.

    So…after the ascent there was the descent…through that rock forest. I was pretty slow at that part of the walk. We all got down and then it was up and down again. We stopped halfway down at a refugio, a hostel with flush toilets. :-).

    The rain had pretty much stopped by then and the views opened up some, though at that point the towers weren’t visible. We made it down around 5:30 pm, tired but happy to have survived and seen another beautiful area.

    Of course, by the time we were down the towers were somewhat visible again and this morning it was sunny again (but really cold).

    Things I learned:

    1: Claudio Silva is a superb guide for anything Patagonia. Energetic, speaks English and Spanish well, patient, extremely knowledgeable and always upbeat. Loves what he does and loves where he lives.

    2: You can go to Patagonia and just stay at a hotel and walk up to the base of the Torres del Paine, and take the boat ride to Grey lake to see the glaciers, but you won’t learn as much as if you use an experienced guide and you won’t see the less populated areas we saw

    3: The standard domes at Ecocamp…great beds, but it’s really cold in the mornings! Really good dinners too.

    4: This was an REI Adventure trip. It was a good experience, my first but Claudio made it wonderful.

    5: Don’t wait to do this, you can take buses around the park and see beautiful places, but the hike to the base of the Torres is not super easy. And it’s 16 miles…

    6: Patagonia is more beautiful than I expected.

    7: I am not a bird person.


  • Kayaking Among the Icebergs

    Punta Arenas Airport, Chile

    Photos aren’t loading well…I posted the ones that go with this post also on FB and Instagram (@seniortennisblog)

    So while we had no internet, how was Davis Cup? (I did read today that Rafa beat Canada).

    Sunday afternoon we had “Kayaking Take 2” and it went much better than “Take 1), which you may recall ended up with us dressing in the kayaking gear only to end up taking a hike (too windy to kayak).

    Dressing consists of donning a base layer, a neoprene suit and booties, then a jacket and a “skirt” (something that goes around first one’s midsection to the ribs, then attaches to the kayak’s opening to keep water out and feet and body warm), a helmet, and putting one’s phone (photos you know) in a wet sack which is hooked to the kayak’s hood).

    Sunday it was quite calm so we were able to start at Grey Lake (where we boated on Thursday to see Grey Glacier). I was, to say the least, apprehensive. The only kayaking I’ve ever done was at Lake Tahoe as a kid, where our goal was to tip over our friends’ kayaks and dump them in that cold water. But it was not bad…we were pushed into the water. The back person (Zahid), was the driver, and both of us were to paddle. I don’t think I paddled too well, but I tried. In the one day we got to 1: Kayak on a glacier lake among icebergs 2: Touch and iceberg 3: Kayak on a glacier river and 4: Drink the water from a glacier lake and river. No one was tipped over and everyone finished the ride. There were six of us plus two guides. The river portion was about 20 miles and took a while. There were some rapids…several, but not heavy duty ones.

    I’m lucky I could do the kayaking this time because the company does not let anyone 65 or over do this activity.

    On the way home we had one last stop to see this view:

    And in the evening there was a pretty special sunset.


  • Patagonia Hike Day 4: 360 Degree View

    Patagonia, Chile

    This morning we had a drive with stops for photos and at a lovely waterfall, before a hike up above condors’ nests. There we had a 360 degree view of Lake Sarmiento and another lake and beautiful mountains of Torres sel Paine.

    Last night I took a walk towards the start of the clime to the towers of the park, over a stream and through the campgrounds, & past a nice hotel. I saw gauchos returning for the night leading their horses.

    Next we are trying kayaking, if not too windy, then tomorrow there’s a 14-16 mile trek to the towers.


  • Mountain Biking..or Not & Lamb Barbecue

    Patagonia, Chile

    Today, Saturday was the mountain biking day, which I did try, but flunked. So I walked the same route, which was lovely. We went through moss covered forests, past cattle and horses, and saw beautiful vistas. I waded through streams, my shoes and socks are soaked and muddy.

    We had a lamb barbecue on a working ranch, with sopadillas, and salsa for lunch. The lamb was barbecued over an open fire.

    More hiking tomorrow and kayaking. 😳🤔


  • Patagonia!

    Torres Del Paine, Chile

    Quick post, have an hour with Internet.

    Patagonia is amazingly beautiful. From the high peaks to the green valleys, blue lakes and glaciers.

    We saw dwarf owls, called Pygmy owls (really tiny), a mammal related to Llamas called guanaco (and it’s baby), a condor and a miniature orchid, Palo it’s, or dog orchid.

    We are staying at the eco amp in Patagonia in the standard domes..beds but no bathrooms or heating, very comfortable. It’s a complex without cell service or WiFi , but with a beautiful view and great food. I had eel for dinner (did NOT taste like chicken!)

    Today we drove to Grey Lake to see the glacier. It was cold but beautiful. We saw pieces of glacier, floating in the lake. The pieces had this bluish glow and they were so pretty. The glacier itself at the edge has a really interesting texture and has been receding in recent years.

    Our drinks on the boat were served with glacier ice.

    Torres Del Paine park, which we are exploring translates to Blue Towers more or less.


  • Flying to the Bottom of the World

    Punta Arenas, Chile

    I flew from Santiago today where it was going to be in the 90s, to Punta Arenas (via Puerto Montt). It’s around 50 and breezy (for a high) in Punta Arenas, which is right on the Straight of Magellan…closest land mass is Antarctica.

    Puerto Montt is a port city about 1000 km (600 or so miles) south of Santiago, which has a population of over 200,000. I booked a direct flight…just not the nonstop I thought I’d booked, but it was fine, the flight wasn’t full and the stop was short. Most of the people exited the plan at Port Montt.

    We flew first over Santiago, then over the lake country (Port Montt is the capital of the lake or Lagos region of Chile, the entrance to Patagonia). It was another 2+ hours after leaving the port city till we reached Punta Arenas. The weather wasn’t bad today but it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Hopefully the penguin tour won’t be cancelled.

    I saw my first group of people marching and chanting today in Chile, walking along the waterfront. The taxi driver had to make several turns to avoid them. I didn’t really expect to see problems here and the march appeared spirited but peaceful.