Chile (2): Entry 1

23 January 2003: Puerto Natales, Chile

Subject: Chile (2)

Greetings from Puerto Natales, Chile. I've just got back from the famous Parque National Torres Del Paine, and would be about to get on the almost-as-famous boat up the coast to Puerto Montt - but it has been cancelled. I don't have much time to write now (I have to get on a bus) but here are a few lines about what I have been doing.

Torres Del Paine

Certainly the best-known mountain area in Chile, Torres Del Paine is a large national park full of glaciers fed from the Campo De Hielo Sur, the green and blue lakes that they feed, and huge sheer-sides mountains (the Torres, towers, from which the park gets its name).

I spent just over a week in the park and did the "circuit", a circular walk all around the main mountain group. It included two days on side trips up dead-end valleys where the most famous landmark peaks are found, the crossing of a very Scottish-feeling 1200m pass, and lots of walking along valleys and through forests. Some of it is forested but other areas were cleared for animals decades ago. One particular valley was full of billions of daisies where the trees should have been. Then there are the usual glaciers calving icebergs into lakes, which are becoming commonplace now, and some pretty fauna and flora. Actually there were fewer interesting plants than in Argentina - I think that it is now a bit late in the season so many things have stopped flowering - but more birds and animals. I even saw the first birds that I was sure were condors!

I have got my photos back and there are some nice ones which I will scan in in due course, though not right now. Check back in a week or so.

Boat Disaster

So it seems that the boat that should be taking me up the picturesque but seasickness-inducing fjord-coastline to Puerto Montt is stuck there havings its hydraulics fixed. Boo hiss. So I will be flying instead. It's a shame but it means I will have another couple of days to explore the Chilean lake district before I go to Santiago and then to Easter Island. (Though whether my muscles are really up to hiking around yet more mountains I'm not sure - I had promised them a trip to the beach next...)

Much agro with Navimag, the boat company, and their Puerto Natales agents Comapa, about a refund. If I had cancelled my ticket with less than a week's notice they would have charged me a cancellation fee of 70% of the cost of the ticket (and that's a lot when the fare is US$250). But when they cancel, they offer me nothing. But worse than that they offer me less than nothing, as the refund that they will make to my credit card will end up worth about 6% less than the US$250 that I paid by the time it reaches my account. This is because of the difference between the "buy" and "sell" exchange rates, and I think it's a scandall. I spent a long time trying to pursuade them to make sure I was not out of pocket, but although the man on the front desk was in agreement their big boss refused to co-operate.

Anyway, must go and pick up my bags and go to the bus station now. More news later.