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We took a lazy week in Santiago. Treated ourselves to a 1-bedroom apartment in the city and spent a lot of time relaxig there. We were fortunate to be able to connect with some Chileans we had met a few months previously on the Carretera Austral. Reminiscing over traditional Chilean fare was a real treat and a great way to experience ´normal´life. It´s been some time since we´ve had the pleasure to meet with friends for dinner. In our typical style we managed to avoid most museums, opting instead for the joys of strolling the fruit and veg market, particularly enjoyable considering how hard it is to come across anything remotely fresh in Patagonia.

Our day trip out of the city to do a bit of wine tasting was quite a treat. Amazing that we could take the metra out to some of Chile´s famous vineyards. And of course the wine was delicious! Especially the Carmenere variety which was thought to be a lost variety after a virus wiped out all of the vines in France. But in the last decade the grape was rediscovered in Chile. It was thought to have been a Merlot grape for over a century.



From Santiago we had a whirlwind tour of Valparaiso. This port city set amongst some 43 hills was very important during the California gold rush days as a stop for the ships rounding Cape Horn. Two full days had us dizzy trying to enjoy everything the artsy town had to offer. Two months or two years may have been a more appropriate time period.

The real highlight of the cities, Santiago and Valparaiso, was the street art. Wherever there was available space some creative artists displayed thier spray paint skills. These colorful images help to liven up even the most drab and run down of neighborhoods.
 
 
NAVIMAG FERRY
4 days, 3 nights on a cargo boat
Highlight - We are in agreement that the highlight of our ´cruise´ from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt were the occasional sightings of Magellanic Penguins hunting in the calm waters of the Patagonian fjords. Other notables were the 20+ Minke whales spouting in the early morning light, smooth sailing and sunshine for the first half of the trip, no walking and no tents (post Torres Del Paine).
Upside - Being that it was shoulder season we scored an upgrade to a 4-bunk room rather than squeezing into the 20 bed dorm.
Otherside - With fewer tourists we didn´t make the high season stops in hidden bays to see glaciers, and there was no landing at Puerto Edens, one of the more remote settlements on Earth.


COCHAMO VALLEY
The Yosemite of Chile
Highlight - A rare April day of sunshine in the lush and verdant valley, camped out by a crystal clear river in a field with sheep, surrounded by granite domes.
Upside - As the only tourists in the valley at the time we were fortunate enough to partake in the end of year asado (BBQ) with the valley´s inhabitants.
Otherside - None. The shin-deep muddy tracks and high rainfall are present year round.


PUCON
A 2,847m perfectly conical Volcano that resembles exactly those that you make with mashed potato in science class
Highlight - The summit! Just hold your breath for the sulphor fumes as you breathe in the panoramic views, including a handful of neighboring volcanoes. Witnessed a crazy phenonmenon at sunrise caused by the mountain casting its shadow on the haze. Also had the brillant experience using ice-axes and crampons to ascend the glacier leading to the summit, and got to sled back down.
Upside - Less people on the mountain. And we had the black sand beach by the lake to ourselves whilst we relaxed the next day.
Otherside - The hot springs we visited were neither particularly hot nor springy. Better described as ´tepid man-mades´.
 
 
An Introductory Essay on the complexities of Natural Resource Management in modern-day Chile, in 500 words or less.
Just kidding... this will never be 500 words or less.
Let´s see... how to describe the ´Torres Del Paine´ experience. 
Eight nights, nine days.
One hundred thirty five hard fought kilometers.
A section of massive vertical structures towering 3000 meters above seal level.
We encountered all sorts of funky weather patterns during our outing, from blue-bird gorgeous days to tempestuous snow storms with ridiculous gusting winds.
It´s easy to sit here and type this in the comfort of a hostel, with a cold beer in hand and warm pizza in the belly and focus on the good things, but that would not quite do the experience justice.
Torres Del Paine is renowned for being an erratic and unpredictable trek. So in that sense I am glad that we encountered the good with the bad. We had a really enjoyable first half, with wonderful weather and grandiose views of the peaks and glaciers. Our only difficulty during these few days was having to carry so much food on our backs, a problem we were addressing just as quickly as we could stuff food into our mouths.
We had a tremendous encounter towards the end of one particularly arduous day as we were entering the back half of the trek. About six in the evening we were strolling a pampa (field) when we happened to spot a puma about 150 steps ahead of us on the trail (we counted this later). It spotted us at about the same time and within about ten seconds had disappeared into the grass and shrubs. Later we learned that a mother and two cubs were known to be living in the area. Still having a hard time deciding how to categorize the experience... not terrifying but with a knowledge that these cats are capable killers it took a while to fall asleep in the tent that night.
Two nights out from finishing the circuit the bad weather set in. Beautiful to see the peaks covered in the seasons first snow, but disheartening to know that the pass was now closed. As a final definitive hard stop to our progress we learned an avalanche had taken out the trail on the other side of the pass in an area that was already quite treacherous. An interesting insight into what kind of frustrations many expeditions must face.
As a final note to link back to the title - we still don´t have a clear understanding of what a ´paine´ is. Best theory we have heard yet is that it is a native word for ´blue´in reference to the many glaciers that plaster the slopes in the area.
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Our first few steps on the trail. Big smiles before we realized how heavy our packs were.
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Los Torres. The draw card. Admittedly not the best photo ever taken but one of the few moments of clear sky we had to take it.
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Yep - it´s this good.
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An unreal view of Los Cuernos. Days this still are rare down here. The reflection is even clearer than the real view.
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In the less visited back side of the trek with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. Hard to believe a few hours earlier it was pouring rain and blowing a gale and we had to brace ourselves with our hiking poles to stay upright.
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A view of Cerro Paine Grande and Los Cuernos across Lago Pehoe
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Whew....Done with the major uphill bit of the trek for the day, or so we thought. Got to camp and since it was still beautiful out decided to add another 1km straight up a mountain to get a view of los torres.
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Hiding from the erratic weather in the old growth forest on the back side of the circuit.