Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Today, bright and early,we headed to Torres del Paine, Chile. Although on a map, El Calafate & TDP are relatively close, there is a mountain between them and only a few specific border crossings. We needed to head east & then south and back west to reach the border crossing. This took about 3 hours.Our transportation was included in the Las Torres Hotel all-inclusive charge. They gave us a bag full of goodies to munch on during our trip. When the van picked us up, there were already about 6 people on board. We were the last pick-up (at 7 o'clock!) We finally arrived at the Argentinian border, where we all got off the van to be processed out. We waited about 1/2 hour for our turn. There were quite a few others already there. We bumped into some other people we had met in El Calafate, who were driving a car through to TDP. Eventually we all cleared the Argentinian post, and drove across that imaginary line, known as the border. Now we had to clear the Chilean immigration & customs. This time all luggage on the van had to be off-loaded and put through the x-ray machine. We waited in line again, but no one had any problems, and we were soon loaded back into the van with our luggage. We then headed across a parking lot to another van which was waiting for us. Unloaded &reloaded our luggage again! Glad the drivers were doing most of it!! We all got a chance for a restroom break & if you were quick, could purchase something in the nice little shop. Wish we had had a little more time to shop, as it was a cute shop with some nice things. But the guys were lucky, Margarita & Conejita only looked. Not enough time :(
We were back on the road again, and the scenery grew progressively more beautiful as we neared TDP. We got our first sightings of guanacos (pronounced wa -knock-oes). They look a lot like llamas.The driver eventually stopped for a photo op, but these creatures can look you straight in the eye and then dart off just as you snap the shutter! They are very fast. We ended up seeing a lot of them. We also glimpsed some foxes, as well as sheep, cattle & horses. Finally, the beautiful Torres del Paine were in front of us. Paine (pronounced pie-nay) is a large Mountain massif, and the Torres are tower-like formations. There are three Torres and two Cuernos (horns) in this range that are the focus of travel in this area. As we neared a beautiful lake, the driver stopped again for us to take pictures with the Torres and the lake in the background. It was an absolutely gorgeous spot! We came to a narrow old bridge - fortunately we crossed on a new one next to it! We were now entering the national park and soon the Hotel Las Torres came into view.
This hotel was once a working estancia, and has many of the old farm implements scattered about the property, as well as old saddles, stirrups & other riding gear. There is a very large stable of horses for the riding excursions, but I think the horses are mainly allowed to roam the property. I did hear several galloping by during the night! The hotel itself has expanded over the years and runs lengthwise across the land, sections connected by walkways. The newest section, where our rooms were, was the farthest from the dining room building and the spa buildings. The reception area is in the center. Speaking of reception, this was probably one of the very few letdowns on our entire trip. We had seen on the hotel videos and had read in someone's blog, that guests are met by gauchos on horseback for a traditional Patagonian welcome. Our cameras were ready! But there were no gauchos & the only welcome was the usual hello at the front desk & the usual paperwork to fill out to complete our registration. Always meant to ask where the gauchos were, but never did.
It was not quite 2:00 (7hrs.since we were picked up in ElCalafate!) and since our rooms wouldn't be ready until 3:00, we headed over to the dining room for late lunch. It was actually a HUGE lunch, ordered from the menu & served- not a buffet. It was fabulous, but more like dinner than lunch. It also was a very "leisurely" lunch, if you know what I mean. Finally at about 3:30, we headed back to the lobby for our keys & to get some other hotel info re: our excursions for the next 2 days. We were reserved for the next day on the full- day "Full Paine " excursion, but wanted to figure out what looked best for Friday. The guides would be available at 7:00 for guests to schedule their excursions. So we decided to head to our rooms, unpack, clean up & relax a little before meeting again in the Lobby/Bar area at 7:00.
As I said earlier, our rooms were at the far end of the buildings. Conejita & Miguel were on the first floor, Margarita & Pancho on the second. Our luggage was in our rooms when we got there. We did not have the mountain -view rooms, but other than that, the rooms were quite nice, although warm. There was air-conditioning, though, and we were comfortable. After a long day of travel, it was nice to put our feet up and relax a little.
I tried to get on the Internet with the code they gave me, but was not very successful. Found out later that it worked best in the Lobby/Bar area- not really too convenient . And I'm not sure what kind of connection it was, but it sure wouldn't upload photos quickly !
Anyway, at 7:00 we met up again with our amigos and looked around a bit while waiting to speak with the guides. ( Conejita & Margarita were very disappointed with the gift shop - not much there. We were really looking forward to finding some cute t-shirts since we were badly lacking in SHORT-sleeved attire.) The guys lucked out again since the gals didn't spend any of their hard- earned pesos in the shop.
We finally met with the guides, confirmed the "Full Paine" tour for the next day, & asked our questions about the options for the day after. We needed to reserve those the next night! We then went over to the bar area for beers & pisco sours, & then it was time for dinner!!
Dinner was good, but we weren't all that hungry since we had had such a big lunch. It was also VERY warm in the dining room - obviously no ac and no fans. Only a few small windows. Outside the breeze was actually pretty nice. Following dinner, we headed back to our rooms for a much- needed sleep!