Tuesday, April 20, 2010

¡Hace frío!

I went camping for the first time in my entire life, not counting the summer when I was a kid and my friends and I slept in the backyard in a big tent luxurious enough to host a cocktail party. The tent sat in the same spot all summer, just long enough to kill the grass leaving a perfect rectangular patch of dark brown. Indeed, my camping trip this past weekend was the real deal. Who would have thought that my very first trial with roughing it in the wilderness  would be in the famous Patagonian national park known as Torres del Paine? I still don’t know the meaning of the word paine,  but the torres are the main attraction. They are huge towers of rock that can be seen from many distances throughout the Magallanes region. I cannot claim that I fended for myself entirely, because I was accompanied by 4 very strong, capable fellows. Greg traded backpacks with me because mine was too heavy, Nathaniel cooked dinner for everyone (rice, tomatoes and tuna) and made hot chocolate,  Chris was our most punctual and responsible leader, and our team was entertained about every hour by Jason’s renditions of “Can’t touch this” and any other song that came to mind.  Needless to say, I would never have made it without them. If we been living a reality tv show, I would have been the first to go.

Our trip began with a short bus ride from Puerto Natales to the entrance to Torres del Paine, which led to a second bus ride much deeper into the park. Our trek to the top passed in about 4 hours with lots of descansas along the way. It began to snow about halfway through the climb, but I continued to de-layer until I was wearing only a light long sleeve t-shirt! No importa the temperature, I was sweating! We decided to put our jackets back on when we made it to a high edge of a mountain side where we had to scoot along, the wind whipping and whirling bitter gusts and tiny pieces of ice. We fought a constant battle against our body temperature, hardly ever satisfied with what we were wearing or how our toes and fingers felt.

We arrived at the camp site ready for a change of pace. Setting up the two tents could have been a great learning experience for me if I had only tried to observe carefully. I didn’t. I stood in one spot shivering, occasionally walking around to another side to watch preparation efforts  from a different perspective and to say, “can I do anything?” I pretended to care, but in reality I was so thankful that someone else was doing the work. I got the main idea. A tent has a main body, poles that unfold, stakes to secure it, and a fly which provides more protection from wind, rain and snow. Next time, I’ll help.

With a few hours left of sunlight, we tried to make it to the top to see the torres. We had seen them already on our trek, but the best view of them rested about an hour trekking from our campsite. A few of us didn’t make it the whole way for various reasons, but Nathaniel and Chris took some pictures that they later shared with us. Back at the campsite, we all gathered in one tent together to eat dinner, devour some cookies and chocolate and to pass around a bottle of pisco sour before trying to fall asleep. We talked about our day, our experiences and feelings for Chile and how much we were really enjoying this crazy life at the end of the earth.

It snowed all night. I shivered and slept in 30 minute increments. I looked at my watch regularly to see that I was getting closer to daylight and the hike to the bottom that would surely warm me up. To make things more interesting, we were accompanied by rats for most of the night. Mama Tatiana had warned me about los ratones and that I needed to guard my food, but in all my frozenness it was all I could do to put on my North Face botties and crawl into my sleeping bag. I couldn’t even muster the energy to walk to the bathroom facility. I could hear the rats screeching and nibbling, and I prayed that they stuck only to my food and not to my hair or ears if I had happened to fall asleep. In the morning when I opened the tent door, I noticed crumbs sprinkled on the tops of our backpacks and found a tiny hole in my bag of bread. They had at lease been polite enough to leave some bread for my breakfast.

The next morning we awoke to one less person, Nathaniel. I asked some other campers at the site if they had seen an adventurous Australian guy attempting to climb the last stretch. Yes, they had. The four of us packed our things, brushed our teeth and ate granola bars and candy for breakfast. Nathaniel returned just in time to leave. The return hike took a fraction of the time, and before we knew it we were resting at the steps of the hotel and gift shop.

Next time, I will do a few things differently, of course. I will have different shoes, a mat for my sleeping bag, and a lighter pack, but I would not change a single thing about my first camping trip in Torres del Paine.  Discomfort aside, it was an incredible experience  I want to relive again.


At April 20, 2010 at 7:02 PM , Blogger Jami said...

Brrrrrrrr...I am cold just reading your post! How exciting...well, minus the rats!
Take care, Marie!


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