We left the best hotel we've had so far. Nothing like having enough bathroom counter space and a magnifying mirror so I can see whether I got that contact lens in to make my day. There was a spectacular sunrise on the lake just outside out hotel. Then we hit the road for Torres del Paine National Park, the most popular national park in Chile. Chile is a skinny country under the best of circumstances and down here in the south we were on a little road bounded by the Andes to the west and the Argentinian border to the east. A great location for the navigationally impaired. If you want to travel between Chilean cities in this area, you have to keep crossing the border into Argentina. Straight north you are blocked by a huge ice field.
We lingered every so often to see the local wildlife, but shooting through a bus window with the vibrating engine running, does not produce optimal photos. We missed our African safari jeep and drivers who had the freedom to get us to that perfect position. Guanaco are the largest animals we saw. They are related to llamas, but apparently have never been successfully domesticated. The road was lined with fence, but the guanaco leaped over it gracefully and roamed freely. We also saw Andean condors soaring overhead on thermals, taking advantage of their nine foot wing span. A group of them were feasting on carrion in a field and made us think of the vultures we saw in Africa. It was clear that the rheas are related to ostrich and emus.
Sheep are the main agricultural product here, although there do not seem to be nearly as many here as in New Zealand. The vegetation is not as nutritious. We came upon a fox having his lucky day. The sheep are much too large for him to kill, but he found a dead one in a field and rolled around on it as if eau d'sheep was his favorite scent. Perhaps he was marking it as his???
The hotel packed us lunch boxes, which we ate on the shores of a lake overlooking the mountains. In Africa we always had camp stools and portable tables; here we just sat on the ground. Luis said we are his last group of the season and this was the first time the weather was good enough to have a picnic here. We wish there were less clouds and grayness and more sunshine and blue sky, but he keeps telling us how lucky we are to see the mountains at all. I remember having similar feelings when we waited to see Denali in Alaska and had to go up in a plane to see it at all.
Torres del Paine exists because of an unusual mountain formation. This massive collection of peaks looks like leftovers from other parks that were jammed together. They do not look like they are composed of similar minerals or that they were created at the same time. Three distinctive peaks gave it its name - Massif of Blue Towers - in a local language. Luis said that the main thing people do here is hike. We started with a two hour stroll that was somewhat hilly. Some folks opted out or turned back. We felt pretty tired when we were finished and wished that we had better views along the way. We should have saved our energy for the second hike, which began with a waterfall and progressed along the mountain range. We took our time to enjoy the views and did not come close to hiking the whole thing. Too bad.