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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.


  • Penguins, Cemetaries and Graffiti: One Day in Punta Arenas

    Punta Arenas, Chile

    From the bottom of the world (where no one seemed to be worrying about how to watch Davis Cup/World Cup tennis).

    Note: I have put photos into this blog post but the internet is very slow…they may load eventually…otherwise, check instagram, @seniortennisblog for photos.

    Q`1First thing in the morning (6:15am) I went to see if the penguin tour was a go today…it was, starting around 7pm. We were bused to a boat (about 30 minutes), then had a smooth, hour long trip to Magdalena Island where the magellanic penguins were. We had about an hour on the island to view the penguins. They seemed to be mostly in their burrows, probably taking care of recently hatched offspring, but some were frolicking in the water. There were tons of seagulls, way more than penguins. It’s always fun to see penguins, they look so funny walking and have great facial expressions.

    After seeing the penguins, we boated over to Magda Island where there were lots of sea lions. However, there are also lots of sea lions where I live in the States and it’s easy to view them up close, so that wasn’t too exciting. The Chilean sea lions though are just as noisy as the California ones.

    We returned back to Punta Arenas around noon. We had to be dropped off at a different spot because of another group of demonstrators. There is a lot of graffiti everywhere in Chile, some pretty and artistic, but now, some is just angry.

    I walked up to the highest spot in Punta Arenas, where one can see the entire city. Then I went to another tourist attraction, the cemetery, which is large, with some huge mausoleums. It also had an area of small graves of babies and children which was pretty sobering, and some nice monuments to soldiers. There were lots of crosses, some vertical, some angled (which apparently is called a Portate Cross or cross of St. Gilbert), of various materials from metal to granite.

    I wandered back to the main square, then down to the waterfront, where there’s a promenade, complete with concrete chairs, though it’s hard to imagine the weather being warm enough to sit and watch the water.

    This may be the last blog for a week…off to Patagonia and Torres del Paine where we won’t have internet access unless we walk a mile or so to access it. I’ll write my blog but may end up publishing them all next Wednesday. Have a great week!


  • 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.