Day 8: A LESS PAINEFUL BOXING DAY
We didn’t have to wake up early on this day since yesterday we endured a long nearly 9-hour up-and-down hike. So we allowed ourselves to sleep in a little (until 7am) and have the usual breakfast.
This morning, clouds dominated the scene and many of the tops of the Cuernos del Paine were obscured. So much for the morning light shots of Salto Grande, I thought to myself. At the same time, both Julie and I were glad we had the opportunity to do the big hike yesterday instead of today.
So by 8am, we got into the truck, got a glimpse of a rainbow (so we knew it was going to be a gloomier day), and we headed out again. But instead of driving for 90 minutes to Hostería Las Torres, we only had to drive a little less than an hour to the trailhead of Salto Grande.
This was the prime waterfall attraction of the park so we really looked forward to it. I also planned to add an additional 90 minutes to the 30-minute return hike to the Mirador de Los Cuernos. But since we could tell the top of the horns were obscured, I doubted that effort would’ve been worth it.
So by 9am, we were at the unsealed car park, which was just a few minutes past the more developed car park for the catamaran across Lake Pehoé. We were the first ones there so we enjoyed the relative solitude and took our time hiking.
The winds came back a little stronger than yesterday, and we both had to wear our light jackets since it was certainly much colder than yesterday. The dark clouds around us certainly hinted that we might even get rained on.
Anyways, we were at our first glimpse of Salto Grande by 9:20am. We could already hear the powerful falls before even getting to the overlook. There was some sun breaking through the ominously dark clouds, which somehow seemed to have amplified the threatening effect of those clouds.
Since I had brought the light Giotto tripod along for this short hike, I was finally able to take long exposure shots of the falls without worrying about improvising. Julie voluntarily walked towards the brink of the falls along the established trail so she could serve to provide scale in my photograph.
A few minutes later, I rejoined Julie and we took a few more photographs from the brink of the falls – all the while making use of the tripod.
As we walked out, there was a large group going the other way. That could only mean one thing – a tour bus! Clearly, I could see why this attraction was popular since it was one of the easiest hikes to do in the park.
We were back at the car a little after 10:30am. As we drove back towards the perimeter of the park, there were lots of cars going back the other way. I guess this was when the park really starts to get busy with shuttles and self-drivers, I thought.
Anyways, the last region we had planned to see in the park was Lago Grey and the Grey Glacier. It was on the way back out to Río Serrano, but we had to make a turn and drive another 30km or so all the way to the Hostería Lago Grey.
We arrived at the accommodation at around 11:15am. The sun was partially breaking through the dark clouds and the wind hadn’t really picked up upon our arrival (or so it seemed) as midges were annoying and even got in a bite or two.
Of course just as I had gotten used to the relative stillness, the winds picked up again. Well at least, they’d be blowing away the midges.
Inside the hostería, Julie hoped to go onto one of the glacier tours, but they were fully booked for all the early day tours. The only opening was for 6pm for the 3-hour tour. We went ahead and put in our name, but I wasn’t sure about killing so many hours in one place just for a glacier boat tour – especially after having seen the Perito Moreno Glacier, which we were able to see by foot and not by boat.
In any case, we enjoyed a quick sandwich lunch and expensive drinks. It was good thing they took credit cards here because we were really low on Chilean Pesos, especially after the hefty admission fee into the park in the first place.
Still, everything was expensive in Torres del Paine and this hostería offered no price relief.
As we gazed out at the scenery from the lodge, we could see icebergs drifting before what looked like a peninsula where people were walking across. Way out in the distance beneath the dark clouds and squalls was the Grey Glacier. The mountains backing the lake were impressive even when obscured by clouds. The winds also got more intense.
After our quick lunch, we decided to do go out to that peninsula where people were walking. The icebergs looked like you could touch them from where we were at. We had never been close enough to touch a big iceberg so the possibility of doing it on this day was something we couldn’t resist.
But when it got real close, we all of the sudden realized that it was a fox! Quickly we got my camera and tried to take as many photos of this as we could.
By 1:30pm, we got to the trailhead that would get us to the peninsula we sought after. This was the same trailhead for the Pingo-Zapata trail, which was another one of those multi-day treks that we knew we weren’t going to do on this trip.
And so we proceeded to walk towards a nearby swing bridge over Río Pingo before going up a hill then down into the gravelly plain left by the Grey Glacier before it retreated many years ago. The winds were really strong by the time we made it to the peninsula.
Fortunately for us, the winds were somewhat behind our backs so it pushed us forward. Unfortunately, we’d have to walk against this wind on the way back. Either way, we’d have to deal with pebbles pelting us like beebees again when the gusts got real strong. Once again, this reminded us of that day we did the Laguna de Los Tres hike early in the trip.
This peninsula seemed a lot longer than it seemed back at the hostería. What’s more, the iceberg we thought was so close was actually a bit further from land. So we wouldn’t be touching it, but Julie did manage to pick up a small piece of ice that did manage drift to the peninsula.
It was too bad the Cuernos del Paine in the distance were still a little obscured by clouds because I could imagine how gorgeous a photo from here would be with the granite peaks along with the lake and the blue icebergs.
It was almost 2pm when we got to the far side of the peninsula. We saw there was still more trail on the neighboring island. We thought it was getting late and we figured the mirador at the tip of the island wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The Glacier Grey was still far off in the distance.
So back we went against the wind and back towards the lodge. The walk back was actually a lot longer and a lot tougher than we thought. The winds didn’t make it easy and the dark clouds above us made it seem like we’d get rained on.
Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain, and by 3pm, we were back at the car park.
I was getting tired so we drove back to the Hostería Lago Grey and decided to have a nap in the lobby area. Julie was engaged in a conversation with an elderly couple who were UK ex-pats who moved to Sydney, Australia and lived there for 16 years.
By the time I awoke, it was still 4pm. There was still 2 hours to go before our tour. I told Julie I didn’t feel like waiting around for that tour especially since we wouldn’t be back at our lodge in time for dinner until around 9 or 10pm. So we cancelled our reservation and headed back to the Hostería Lago Tyndall.
Back at the Tyndall, the truck was now at half tank. I figured it was enough fuel to get back to El Calafate though.
When dinner time came around at 8pm, we decided to try out the pricey Río Serrano. Once again instead of having a buffet, we ordered from the menu. And finally, Julie got a meal she was satisfied with in terms of the quality of the food. Still, I paid around $70USD for this dinner so I knew it was a pain in the wallet.
Back at the Hostería Lago Tyndall, it was time to shower, tend to our dental hygiene, and sleep. Unfortunately, for this night, there was no more hot water so we took a cold shower (fortunately not a frigidly cold shower though).
Like I said before, this place only met our lowered expectations. But for a place charging $200 USD per night not having hot water? That’s a bit of a rip off in my book.