By Zachary Moses
This is Part 2 of a three-part series about developing HE Travel’s Adventurous Gay Patagonia Tour. To read Part 1 CLICK HERE.
Day 4: Enter the Estancias
After waking up to a beautiful Patagonian dawn we got up and had breakfast in our hotel. I ordered carrot juice that was mixed with grapefruit… don’t try this, bleh, what a horrible combination. Later, our driver came to fetch us, and we made our way deeper into Patagonia to visit our first estancia (the local equivalent of a ranch).
The drive was not nearly as long as yesterday’s and we also had the opportunity to stop at a local handicraft shop. I found a fantastic painting of a naked demon with a bag on his head. We cracked all kinds of hilarious jokes about the local demons being so ugly that they had to be represented with bags on their heads. At some point someone made a crack that the bag-covered demon would be an improvement over the guys we had flirted with in the bar.
As we continued toward the estancia, the clouds opened up for an amazing view of the iconic peaks of Torres del Paine with the three towers exposed. When we got to our estancia, a ranch larger in acreage than Belgium, we quickly changed so that we could go out for our first session of horseback riding.
The views were absolutely stunning. The horses were fast and in great shape. The Gauchos are real cowboys, just like the American cowboys used to be (and as I am sure some still are). These guys don’t commonly deal with tourists, and had no interest in babysitting us, so our guide let us do pretty much whatever we wanted. We chased cows and sheep all afternoon. At one point my horse and I snuck up on a hawk. When the hawk noticed me, it flipped out! Have you ever seen a fierce bird of prey run along the ground like a chicken? It was hilarious!
I had some trouble at times getting my horse to go where I wanted. He really wanted to follow with his nose buried in the rear end of the Gaucho’s horse. That was also where the lead horse wanted us to be. Whenever I would pull ahead, the Gaucho’s horse would get upset and walk in crazy circles until my horse returned to its proper place.
Back at the lodge, we were taken on a fascinating walking tour of our tiny corner of the estancia. This is a working ranch, and we watched how they process wool: the same way it was done a hundred years ago. There is not a lot of money in producing wool, so this practice is mainly maintained for tradition.
Tonight we had dinner at the estancia’s restaurant and proceeded to stay up way too late… again.
Day 5: Into the Heart of Torres Del Paine
Our next lodge was about an hour away from where we started. My butt was soooo sore from horseback riding. I’m not used to sitting in a saddle – the last time I rode a horse, I was 12 years old. I was not looking forward to sitting in a van on dirt roads for an hour. Luckily we were using a new van with excellent suspension. We stopped for a panoramic view across from the cliffs, and observed several condors flying overhead.
When we arrived at the lodge, it reminded me of Park City, Utah, with a Chilean flair. The owner and manager themselves came out to meet us. We made plans for dinner, then prepped ourselves for a hike to a nearby waterfall. The drive to the cascadas took about an hour in pouring rain. When we arrived, we donned our rain gear and walked along a fairly easy, beautiful path. We were soaked, but having a blast.
Jim and I often fell behind as we paused to make funny promotional videos and take loads of pictures so we would have plenty to share with you, our loyal readers (and travelers). The guide kept glaring at us as we lagged behind making videos and goofing off, but each time she looked at us, we made a show of helping a really slow woman that was hiking with our group. The slow hiker was wearing a green coat that stood out amazingly, so we referred to her as the scary cat lady in green. (Because for some reason we were all just sure she had at least nine cats at home.) Today we were drawn to make a lot of videos based on bathroom humor. Why, when two grown men play with a camera, does it always devolve into bathroom humor? I’m not sharing these videos. Bathroom humor isn’t professional.
Back at the hotel, we had a lovely lunch with Sergio, the owner, and Paola, the general manager. At night we watched Sergio play his guitar, and I played some tunes myself.
Day 6: Trek to the Three Towers
Alvero met us this morning and we set off on foot from the hotel. The hotel is situated right at the base of the mountain, giving unparalleled access to the hiking.
The day started off beautifully as we climbed toward our first waypoint. However, the weather soon turned foul. I put on my raingear, and marveled at how rapidly the day had changed. About a third of the way up, we came to the Chillano refuge camp, where we had hot cocoa and socialized with backpackers. I sat for a while and listened to a group of Californians trying to explain to a girl from Spain about Mormons and Utah. I grew up Mormon, and can say that everything they told her was not true… But I was laughing so hard at their version, I decided to let it fly.
Shortly after departing from the refuge we entered an enchanted forest. The trees were covered in eerie mosses, and I kept expecting there to be Smurfs living in mushroom houses around every bend.
The mountains flanking us were massive, with waterfalls everywhere. The rainfall was creating hundreds of spontaneous waterfalls as well. Even with the cloud cover the view was awe-inspiring.
When we reached the two-thirds point, we could tell we were climbing into a snowy storm at the top. The next leg of the climb was across a field of giant granite boulders. When we reached the top, the towers were shrouded in clouds. The effect made for an amazing view. Below the towers is a green lagoon fed by glacial runoff.
The wind was up, so we climbed to a large boulder for a sheltered place to eat our lunch, then continued down to the lake. I found a beautiful condor feather floating in the lake. I reached to get the feather out, and the water was so cold that I felt like I had just placed my hand in liquid nitrogen. I swear if I had smacked my hand on a rock it would have shattered like glass.
Coming back down the mountain and into the forest, the scene was magical. Falling all around us were huge fluffy snowflakes. Jim ran out of water and we filled a container with fresh glacier melt-off. It was interesting to think that we could be drinking water that has been here for thousands of years.
When we returned to the Chillano refuge for more cocoa, the staff explained that a 2-km-long zipline is under construction, to fly hikers back down to the base of the mountain. I can’t wait to return in 2014!
Tonight we got drinks and went to another part of the lodge to relax near the huge, medieval-looking fireplace. Jim and Fabian talked for hours moving in and out of Spanish. I realized that I had followed about 90% of the conversation. My Spanish is really improving! All this world traveling is starting to leave its mark on me.
[to be continued…]
CLICK HERE for part 1
To read more about the tour inspired by this trip CLICK HERE!