We had a nice breakfast, early, this morning at the hostel, as we had to catch the bus at 7:30. When the bus had not showed up by that time, the lady that cooked the breakfast began to get concerned, so tried to phone our tour company. She got no answer, so tried again, and then the bus showed up. We turned out to be the only English speakers on the bus, so the guide, Umberto, spoke personally to us before repeating everything in Spanish. It was almost as good as a private tour.
We stopped at many hostels and small inns around town, picking up a couple of people at each, until we had a load of about 16. Fortunately we were the second stop, so we got a seat at the front, which made the long, long day on a rough road much easier on Enid’s back.
Our first stop was at the Mirodon cave, where we spent about half an hour in the very large cave. After that we continued on the paved road to the tiny town of Cerro Castillo, where the bus stopped to allow use of the restrooms, and create a small amount of tourist business for the area.
The paved road ended not long after that and for the rest of the day we drove on a narrow gravel road. We stopped along the way at many viewpoints, to see the scenery and the wild animals (rheas and especially many guanaco).
As we drove further into the park the large Paine Massif began to dominate the landscape. Throughout the day we navigated part way around it. The horns of the Paine (Cuernos del Paine) are very beautiful rugged peaks of black volcanic rock overlaying much lighter sedimentary stone. Throughout much of the day the top of the highest mountain, Cerro Paine Grande, was obscurred by clouds, but you could see the large glacier very near the top.
We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant on Lago Pehoe. It was incredibly windy. Just before this we had stopped at a beautiful waterfall on the Rio Paine. It was as windy, or even windier there, but the views of the waterfall and of the Cuernos del Paine were spectacular. Just after lunch, while waiting for the bus, two large raptors came snooping in. They were probably chasing some of the small birds. They landed in a large tree and many people stop quite close to photograph them. They had some food stashed in the tree as one of them was eating what appeared to be a rabbit leg. We believe that they were black caracara.
We also drove in to Lago Grey, but couldn’t see too much of the glacier, only a few icebergs floating on the water. It took a long time to cross the bridge over the Rio Pinto, as it has a load limit of 6 persons, and another large tour bus pulled in at almost the same time as us. We rushed to the lake, and back, and there was no one at the bridge on the way back. We got back to the bus before everyone else. The trip would hardly have been worthwhile except that we saw an Andean Condor circling overhead as we came back.
From there on it was just a long and jolting bus ride back to the park gate at Laguna Amarga. Our guide phoned the hotel when we got there, and our transfer ride arrived in about ten minutes. We coud see the Torres del Paine as we arrived, though they were partially cloud covered.
We checked in to the Hotel los Torres, which is one of the nicer hotels in the park, though it’s location is what really makes it special. The hotel is rustic, but it caters to high end clientelle, and certainly pricey. Tonight after supper we had a beautiful sunset with golden clouds touching the peak of the Paine Massif.