10 January 2014
I got up late, but to a good breakfast at Yagan House. The dining room tables are laid out with yogurt, cereal, coffee and a selection of teas. One of the staff members asked me how many eggs I wanted. I said one, and she prepared a bowl of scrambled egg and toasted brown and white rolls for myself and the Germans who were also at breakfast. Not bad for a place that charges less than $USD 20 per night.
I told the staff that I need to rent gear for Torres Del Paine National Park and they said they will sort me out before I leave. I visited the shops in town to familiarise myself with what goods are available for trekking in Torres Del Paine.
There is a limited selection of dried fruit, no M&M’s (although Rocklets which are like Smarties is a widely available alternative), and Snicker Bars which are available in some of the small supermarkets.
Every street has shops offering tours, camping and trekking gear (for purchase and rent) and bus or ferry tickets.
The town is quite flat and I found it pretty difficult to find a spot that’s high enough to allow me to take a picture of the entire town. It’s also in a Tsunami risk zone. At Yagan House I met up with a friendly Mexican guy who had just returned from Ice Trekking at Perito Merino Glacier in El Calafate. He was heading south to Punta Arenas. I felt honoured to be the first South African he met. I hope I made a good impression.
I ate at Burjuba restaurant – grilled salmon with butter sauce and lemon, plus rice with mixed vegetables. There may have been too much butter in that dish. What I liked about Burjuba was the free starter they serve. Warmed rolls with butter and freshly diced tomato, pepper and onion pebre. I first saw this starter served in Punta Arenas. Restaurants elsewhere in the world take note of this cheap and tasty option to differentiate yourself and please your customers!
At 3pm I went to Base Camp, a small coffee bar next to Erratic Hostel. They provide a fantastic community service by giving a 90+ minute English seminar each day on trekking Torres Del Paine National Park. Tea and Coffee are served free (although they do accept donations for some fund) and they sell fresh sweet and plain pretzels.
They also have gear for rental. And a box with free used gas canisters available, and for placement of empty canisters for recycling. I made many notes and have prepared a separate article on how to hike at Torres Del Paine National Park (overview here, detailed guide here).
I bought a few supplies for the trip that evening and then went to Masay Sandwich and Pizza Restaurant. I was struggling to understand the Spanish menu (I was slowly translating each word on the Spanish/English app on my phone). The waiter saw this and came to ask me if I want to see the English menu instead. I shook my head and said Si and to my relief he gave me a menu that I could read. Scanning through the menu I couldn’t find any fish or vegetarian options. I told him “me no carne, me vegetariano”. He smiled and understood and I left. A block away from the restaurant I hear a whistle. I turned back and the waiter was holding one of my parcels. I was carrying one parcel within another and left this under my chair in the restaurant. Somehow the inner parcel fell out of the other parcel. I quickly ran back to collect my parcel and thanked him. I then settled for an olive and mushroom pizza at Messita Grande.
That night at Yagan House I purchased my bus tickets to Torres Del Paine (15000 pesos, although it should be available for 12 000 to 14 000 pesos at the bus station for a return trip) and El Calafate (14 000 pesos). I also met a young Australian BMW mechanic who told me about his 30 hour bus journey from Bariloche to El Calafate plus an additional 7 hours when the alternator and fan belt in the bus got damaged. The bus keeps driving for the entire journey with a number of 10 – 20 minute stops along the way and 3 drivers alternating on board. I’m not sure if I could do a trip like that.
11 January 2014
I got up early to make preparations and final purchases for my trek at Torres Del Paine the next day. I met a Dutch dad and daughter at breakfast and shared some of the advice I learnt at Base Camp. They were heading to the park that afternoon. I did my shopping that day at a number of smaller shops and Unimarc (a superstore).
I only managed to rent my gear from Yagan House around 6 pm. Their prices were cheaper than Base Camp. Here is a bad quality picture of their price list.
I realised that they had no gas so I quickly ran out to search for a gas canister from the shops that were closing while a staff member at Yagan House was folding my sleeping bag. None of the stores that stocked gas canisters were open so I decided to check Base Camp who were open and fully stocked with gas.
Dinner was at Burbuja Restaurant. I then started my least favourite activity on any trip – packing! You would think that packing from one backpack to another smaller backpack for a short journey would be quick an easy. I went to the reception with the -5C sleeping bag and told the staff member that the sleeping bag and I are fighting. It’s just too big for me. He smiled and gave me a 10 degree Celsius rated sleeping bag, which would be fine as I also had a sleeping bag liner which adds 3 degrees Celsius of warmth and I was sleeping inside the refugios (mountain huts) at Torres Del Paine National Park. While packing I kept asking one of the US guests who returned from the park that day for final advice on whether I really need to pack this or that item. By 1230am I was fully packed.
I had a hot cup of tea, set my alarm for 5 am and retired to bed around 1 am.