Mr. Postcard vs. The Travelbugger, Round 1

Mr Postcard is a jerk. He is a inconsiderate, selfish, greedy jerk. Mr. Postcard is the guy who always manages show up at various scenic locations in perfect weather and finds the best angles to take his photos and then sells them as postcards that can never be achieved by a regualr traveler. He can get within 3 inches of ferocious tigers, he can can 6 feet from mountain faces in a helicopter with money he made likely by swindling Floridian retirees or stealing candy from babies. No matter how beautiful what you see is, Mr Postcard can make it look better. He is a dick and I want to be him with all my heart.

This attack comes after a 5 days trip I have just finished through Torres Del Paine National Park in Southern Chile. I flew down here last Wednesday from Santiago, taking the early morning flight after a late night out. All I wanted to do on the flight was sleep but I was seated next to a 2-year old child who amused himself for the ride by throwing his cutlery at me and then whacking me constantly with his bottle, his plate and any other blunt object he could find while I tried desperately to doze off. Rather than reprimanding him, his mother thought it was really quite funny. And it WAS funny, particularly when the child woke me from my deepest slumber by reaching over and punching me square in the testicles. Luckily, they got off halfway through the ride. (The plane landed. Homicide, though definitely in my thoughts, was not necessary.)

The flight was truly impressive, though, as you end up flying alongside the Andes for all 4 hours of the journey; exceptional beauty never gets boring. I landed in nearby Punto Arenas and hopped on the first bus to Puerto Natales, the closest town to Torres Del Paine. I stayed at a family's house, who rent out rooms to travelers - it is very homey and is absolutely lovely after 4 months of hotel living. As well, I am right next door to a laudromat that specializes in trekker's laundry and promises on the sign to "Wasth & Drive" my clothes. How could I resist?

I set out on to do a 5 day trek of the park with three guys I met in Puerto Natales: Kai, a South African, and two English guys, Ed and Charlie. We arrived into the park on Friday morning with beautiful weather, a definite blessing as weather in Southern Patagonia is exceptionally variable and it can get quite cold here, near Antarcitca. Odd thing, that. We set up our tents and decided to hike up to see the Torres Del Pain, three massive rock towers for which the whole park was named. As we hiked the trail, the weather continued to get more and more suspect, until the point that we were hiking through ankle deep snow and were just hoping that we were still following the path. We continued up higher, falling into streams that could no longer be seen as it had begun to rain and slush hard on us and the snow had deepened. As for my waterproof jacket, pants and shoes? They weren't. Freezing and drenched we made it 90% of the way to the lookout point for the Torres when we realized we could no longer even see Kai, and he was only 20 metres away from us. We turned around and headed back to the campsite. At least Mr. Postcard made it look nice.

We slept hard and woke up for day 2, which was to be a long 7 hour day with our packs on. The weather had reverted to its sunny face so the walk was really enjoyable. The day was spent wandering through valleys and mountain passes and nearly the whole day you walk beside a crystal green glacier lake. Incredible stuff. Once again, however, the path suddenly ended, leading us into a marsh that we had to cross. Half an hour later, we had made the 30 metres and I was knee deep in mud. A few metres on from that I noticed a very fresh paw print from a very big cat. Very quickly, we headed on until we heard an enormous avalance atop the mountain we were moving towards. On a 3-to-1 vote of prefering to be eaten than buried alive, we slowed our pace back down. We arrived at the campsite safe, sound and soggy and collapsed once again.

Day 3 was beautiful, start to finish, with sunshine lasting throughout the day. We started the day by heading up to Valle de la Frances ("Valley of the French") which was absolutely gorgeous in the sunshine - sunlight hit mountain faces, small glaciers and glaicial lakes at various angles colouring the whole vista incredibly. We came back down and walked to the next campsite where there was also a travelers' refuge where we could buy a cooked dinner. Though pasta, tomato sauce and tuna is quite good for 12 meals in a row, we opted to treat ourselves. We managed to make it to a late night of 9:30 pm before conking back out.

At this point I had already started to catch what would become a pretty decent cold - my shoes were permanently wet and all my socks drenched. I tried warming one pair up by the fire; a spark jumped out, landed on one sock and set it ablaze rendering it virtually unwearable. I emphasize the word "virtually" because I stil wore the sock with a 2-inch burn hole in it. Hey, it was still my warmest pair!

There is a saying "Any idiot can be uncomfortable". I knew I could be that idiot!

Day 4 we walked up to the Grey Glaciar, a glacial field so massive that you couldn't see both sides of it. We hiked through sleet for 3 hours to get there and the strength of the wind storm - it hit well over 60-70 km/h - kept us from getting too close, but it was absolutely majestic. Impossibly blue and overwhelmingly large, it was awe-striking. We stayed out as long as we could before having to return back to our campsite.

Our timing was good as moments after we got in there was an intense wind and rainstorm that lasted over 15 hours without subsiding. Now spoiled, we ate in the refuge again. Sleeping outside was an amazing experience, though - the winds kept up at around 60+ km/h for the whole night and my tent nearly became unanchored numerous times throughout the course of the evening. When I woke up in the morning I had to fight off the wind in order to pack up my tent, but at least it was no longer raining. Now it was a blizzard. A huge snowstorm had set suddenly upon the campsite we were at and was near impossible to see through. As I kneeled there, soaked head-to-toe, being snowed on heavily, trying to fold my tent, I read the explicit insturctions of the tent-makers "Do Not Fold When Wet" and promised myself I would firebomb the company for putting that on there.

Frozen and wet, I waited with about 20 others for the boat taxi to arrive and take us out of the park. When the boat arrived there was a teeth-chattering cheer from the masses. However, the wind made it impossible for the boat to dock and we sat there, still in mid-blizzard, as the boat continued to ram head-first into the dock and then need to try again. Eventually he docked and everyone hopped aboard gleefully.

The truth of it is that despite inclement weather and lack of visibility of a few of the major sites, the park is still unbelievable. Surrounded by beauty from the moment you enter, it is impossible not to be impressed. The travelers now are few - the 4 of us were the only people we saw for the first 2 days - there is no litter and the scenery is mindblowing in every direction, all day, every day. Absolutely worth doing.

Now I am back in Puerto Arenas and all I need is my clothes wasthed and driven. I bet Mr. Postcard never has wet socks...