It’s Always Sunny In Patagonia

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 28, 2010 was originally posted on January 05, 2011.

DAYS 13-14:  When the European explorers “discovered” three distinct rock formations in southern Patagonia in the late 19th-century, they were first known as “Cleopatra’s Needles.”  The trio of rocks were so admirable, they inspired others to come down to gaze upon them, and over a century later, I had come to make the pilgrimmage myself.  Over that century-plus period of time, the “needles” were renamed “Torres del Paine” — torres meaning “towers,” and paine meaning “blue” in the indigenous Indian language — and the park that surrounded them was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  The designation of being “blue” was due to the fact that in certain weather and lighting conditions, the towers do in fact have a blue hue.  However, they would change different colors depending on how the sun hit them — the most dramatic color shift at sunrise.

IT WAS STILL DARK when The Gang left camp at the stupid o’clock time of 4:30am.  We donned our headlamps and our flashlights, and trekked the steep Valle Ascencio to the mirador, a journey that would take an estimated 45 minutes, but more for a guy with a gimpy knee.  My painkillers hadn’t quite kicked in yet, so I straggled — and struggled — behind, as the sky got brighter and brighter with time.  Torres del Painkillers, I thought to myself, yearning for them to kick in as I raced the rising sun.  Regardless of it getting bright around five, I kept on getting lost with no one around to follow; I always ended up following the footsteps of the previously lost and had to re-find my way.  Eventually I found an orange trail marker and made it up to the mirador with time to spare.

“You made it!” John greeted me with a high five.  “Where is everyone else?”

“I’m the last one,” I replied.  Everyone else in camp was already at the overlook site setting up cameras, waiting for the show to start.  There were only about twenty-five people scattered about, and I was happy it wasn’t the mob scene I experienced at Huang Shan’s sunrise in ChinaFelix was setting up a camp stove for morning coffee and tea.

“Anyone got a light?” Felix asked me.

“Yes?” Alaitz perked up like a dog noticing a squirrel, hearing the homophone of her name.  I laughed at the Abbott and Costello moment I’d been waiting for during the past five days.

“Erik, you got a light?” he asked me again.

“Yes?” Alaitz perked up again, looking like a cute catepillar in her sleeping bag.

Her other half Jorge was not as comfortable with the moment.  “We’re going to get fucked,” he said, watching the cloud coverage over the Towers of Blue

“As long as it’s not by John,” Florin quipped immediately.

“It’s not going to happen today,” Simone said, as a slight drizzle started to fall down on us, and into the nearby stagnant lake of murky mineral water.  Patagonia’s weather is unpredictable, but one prediction we had always heard was that when trekking for five days, at least part of one of them would be raining.  So far we had been lucky with sun-filled days, but our last day might not be as fortunate

For Florin, it seemed like a major disappointment; after all his jokes during the past four days, he was quite serious about his photography on this morning, setting up lenses and filters with his camera and tripod, for his all important money shot.

“Shouldn’t you be going into your coffin?” John joked with him as the sun was rising from the clearer skies to the east

“Um, I was told there would be tea,” he answered smugly.  “They are always making fun of me,” he told the nearby Danish couple observing him.  Simone served him a cup and he went back to being his unusually serious self.

Frowing faces were coming from the many others who were giving up and heading back down to camp, certain that nothing magical would happen since it was drizzling.  “Going already?” I asked the girl from Chicago I met the night before.


“Not so hopeful?”

“You mean do I think they will magically change color?  No,” she answered.  “But I still think they’re beautiful as they are.”

“You could wait a week,” Florin said, feeling a bit down.

The British guy we’d paralleled our five days with started his journey downwards as well.  “I was expecting fireworks,” he said.  “I want my money back.”

“It’s okay,” said a familiar Israeli.  “They have pictures on the internet.”

It was just our group and a few others that remained, still hopefull something would happen.  The clouds surrounding the tower peaks were moving rapidly and I was optimistic they would clear.  I wondered why the others left so soon; sunrise over the horizon was one thing, but it also needed time to clear the mountains as well.

“The sun’s just coming up the ridge,” John announced.  The power of our nearest star started burning off some of the clouds, but in patches, causing “spotlight” effects on the towers, first on one, then another.  Soon, all three were lit in a photogenic way (picture above).  Florin was pleased, and continued to shoot pictures at different settings.

“Get out of my picture, man,” he said in the most courteous way he could with the unpredictability of the lighting conditions.

“I knew you were an asshole,” John joked to him. 

Needless to say, we were all happy we stuck with it, and eventually we had miraculously come to enjoy to a fifth sun-filled day in a row — something almost unheard of in those parts — and without Patagonia’s signature gail force winds either.  (We’d heard that winds had knocked over a truck the week prior.)  Alaitz and Jorge sang a song at my request in celebration.  And with photos captured, Florin was back to his regular wisecracking self — even willing to do the Rabbit Dance for a group picture.  (He mounted the park’s mirador sign, but didn’t gyrate.) 

“Let’s do [the group photo] by the sign,” Simon suggested.

“But the sign is kitschy,” Florin answered.

“But we’re kitschy,” I told him; he concurred.  He set up his tripod and we took all the photos, including ours: three towers for three wisemen — three wise-cracking men, that is.

SPAGHETTI BOILED IN THE POT for our last breakfast after trekking back down to camp; we figured that since was the last item of food we had left.  We packed up our tents and bags, and took one last picture of our last “breakfast club” with the other faces in camp.  While packing up our cooking supplies, I made sure John and Florin took the spoon-knife-fork Sporks I’d given them for Christmas.  “This is yours,” I told Florin.  “Whenever you use this, you’ll think of us.”

“I will,” he answered sincerely.  “Thanks, man.” 

John joked that he’d use his and reminisce and cry in his cornflakes back in Buenos Aires.

Our time was not over yet, for we had a few hours to trek from camp back down the valley to the luxury hotel, where we’d pick up the shuttle back to the guard station where the outbound buses parked.  We sneered at horse-riding tourists “cheating” on the way up.  Florin felt bad for the sweating horses, some of which had a look of dismay in their eyes.  I however, noticed one snooty woman with a look of disgust on her face, probably because she just realized she had so much uphill walking to do that that day.

“Maybe [it’s because] she smelled me,” John joked.

Eventually we made it down to the base of the hill, stopping one last time for a water break.  “I’m never going to get over that novelty,” I told John as we shared a teacup to scoop out fresh water from the river to drink without filtration.  Hydrated, we crossed the bridge and entered the manicured private property grounds of the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, run by a Croatian family that still retained territorial ownership of part of the land within the park for generations.  The hostel-turned-luxury hotel boasted full amenities, including overpriced drinks and food — but at least there was a little exhibition in the conference room where I could take a picture with a stuffed nandù.

“It’s like when they met The Others,” I told Florin, mentioning a storyline in Lost (which I never really followed), when the stranded islanders encounter a collective of buildings after a season of being in the wild.  We set our bags down where we met The Others — the other trekkers on the trail, that is — at a promenade of trees near where the shuttle would arrive.  “I don’t smell that bad,” John told everyone.

“I think your brain has just interpreted that smell as normal,” I told him. 

We had a little more than an hour before our transport, which meant there was enough time for celebratory beers inside the hotel

“I feel weird being inside,” John said.  True, it was surreal to sit in a couch, especially in our unkempt states, but what was weirder was, as if on cue, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” came on as soon as we walked into the restaurant, followed by a whole playlist of his and other ballads from the 80s.  John, Felix, and I made sure we air-drummed the hard-hitting drum part, like Mike Tyson did in The Hangover

“Meat!” we exclaimed when a big platter of fries, assorted meats, and grilled vegetables arrived at the table for us to share.  We were all in bliss, shoving our faces after having eaten nothing but mostly pasta for five days.  It was the perfect and filling ending for our last moment in the national park.

A minibus shuttle took us off the hotel grounds.  Behind us in the distance were the mountains we had come to know for the past five days, transforming us, bonding us.

“On the left, Torres del Paine!” Florin announced to the entire minibus, playing tour guide.  “Tips in the back.”

The views of the peaks soon faded away, but we all knew it would be an experience not to be forgotten, especially since they knew I was “The Record Keeper” taking notes every five minutes to write up these immortal blog entries. 

“You’re a hero, man,” Florin said to me in his farewell as we were about to part ways.

“You’re a hero, I’m a hero, we’re all heroes,” I told him.

“I’ll talk to you, man,” John said to me after a handshake and man-hug.  We knew we had made a connection — one that might not have happened if LAN Argentina didn’t go on strike when he was scheduled to fly south to Patagonia from Buenos Aires, thus making him have to take an alternate flight through Santiago, which ultimately led him to meet me on that lonely curb at Punta Arenas airport seven days before.  Perhaps it was fate.

“I’ll see you in New York, if not sooner,” I told him.  I had joked to him and Florin that we should have a reunion and camp in Central Park.

John and Florin waited for their later bus bound straight for the Chilean/Argentine border where they’d eventually split ways, while the rest of us hopped on the departing bus back to Puerto Natales.

“All good things must come to an end,” I remembered John say earlier that day when we left the mirador of the famed rock formations that brought all of us there.

“It wouldn’t be good if it didn’t end,” Florin retorted.  “Otherwise they would just be things.”

IT WAS DOWNHILL FROM THERE, in a figurative sense, that is.  I took a quick shower back at Erratic Rock and consolidated my things, before meeting The Germans and The Spaniards at their hostel for one last drink together.  Our time was brief for I already had a ticket for a bus ride back to Punta Arenas for the night flight back to Santiago. 

On the way to the airport that evening, on that road through Patagonia, it finally rained.

* * * * *

“ERICK TRINIDAD” WAS WRITTEN ON A SLATE and held by the taxi driver who came to pick me up in Santiago’s airport close to three in the morning.  He brought me to the cozy Atacama Hostel where I spent the entire next day resting — especially my knees.  I blogged all day on my own terrace on a beautiful sunny day.  I heard the chirping of birds and the mowing of lawns. 

I did manage to make it outside to stretch my legs, run some errands, buy some provisions, and go to a divey greasy spoon to sample the completo, one of Chile’s signature fast foods, a hot dog completely loaded with sauerkraut, a carrot slaw, and a whole lot of mayonnaise.

It was a lonely but welcomed day of rest for me — a vacation within my vacation (even though it involved a lot of sitting in front of a computer).  I took a breather to reflect on what I’d done so far over the past two weeks: Santiago, Valpo, and Mendoza with Emily and Ina, and five days in Patagonia with newly-made friends John (McClain!), Florin, Felix, Simone, Alaitz, and Jorge, plus The French Girls, Marion and Sandra. 

“This has turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever had,” I had told John at restaurant in the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia.  At the time I didn’t know if I would meet another motley crew as fun or wisecracking, or if the experience could be matched, but I was soon to find out as I geared up for the third and final part of this “Chill Out in Chile” Global Trip travel blog: Easter Island…

Next entry: New Year’s On Easter (Island)

Previous entry: The Fellowship Of The W

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Comments for “It's Always Sunny In Patagonia”

  • The Easter Island episodes next…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  03:13 AM

  • Hi Eric! I just wanted to thank you for the nice blog entries about Patagonia. I cannot wait to see Florin’s pics smile

    Sil, the Spanish translator who didn’t teach his boyfriend what was the meaning of “homophone”... Oh, Gosh, when I read it… raspberry

    PS. Great pics too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  12:32 PM

  • I meant “her boyfriend”... Sorry for that. Good luck with your next trips!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  12:34 PM

  • “It wouldn’t be good if it didn’t end,” Florin retorted.  “Otherwise they would just be things.”
    i’m gonna miss Florin the Philosopher

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  02:19 PM

  • It’s a quote for the ages.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  02:26 PM

  • Sil: Glad you enjoy; perhaps we will meet one day!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  02:26 PM

  • good things.

    definitely felt like we were there, minus John’s BO and your swollen knee issues.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  03:45 PM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

Next entry:
New Year’s On Easter (Island)

Previous entry:
The Fellowship Of The W


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