We didn’t spend more time than necessary in Punta Arenas, and hit the road asap after collecting the camper van. Or Ramone, to use it’s short hand name (the name should be self evident from the pictures). Personally I have no idea who The Ramones were, but we’ve had a fan take a selfie with Ramone, so I guess we could have worse luck as to the décor. But it’s hardly a speed machine, and doing more than 90 kmph is quite… loud. Not the engine of course, more from the wind noise as the car is hammering itself through the patagonian wind.
The wind! Constant. Unrelenting. Wind!
Everyone who’s been to Patagonia says something along the lines of; o-ehm-gee, so beautiful, amazing, nature, llamas, mountains, glaciers, steppes, rain, sun, rain and sun, and _wind_. They are… not wrong. Already in Punta Arenas we could start to get a feel for the ever-present wind, and we quickly learned how important it is to park Ramone nose first into it. And that’s the weird thing about the patagonian wind; it’s always just the one direction, mostly west to east, although you can have local variations depending on the terrain. Apparently the wind is a pure summer phenomenon, and in the winter there is hardly any (according to a seemingly knowledgeable local person).
Anyway, heading out of town, due north. We decided to skip Terra del Fuego, and spend the some 24 hours of driving to/from Ushuaia saved, in the mountains instead. After only a few hours of driving on Ruta 9, due to a late start (lost quite some time hunting down gas canisters for our kitchen stove), we found a nice side road next to a river to park for the night. Lots of anticipation for our first night in Ramone, rough camping it in the Chilean middle-of-nearly-nowhere. And it was awesome! Super comfortable beds, though some refining the technique of the getting in and out of the side door while putting on/taking off shoes and not dropping them is needed.
The next morning we arrived in Puerto Natales. By a real stroke of luck we managed to get on a kayak excursion the morning after, arranged by Hello Kayak. Not a cheap option, but very professional with great personal equipment (semi-dry suits) and the guides were real kayak-bums (maybe I invented this term) and very skilled. The kayaks were the double kind, which can be a challenge for people with different paddling timing, but after some initial cursing and dousing of river water, Lars and I managed to paddle sort of in sync. But not much paddling was needed, where we flowed with the down stream of River Gray, with the quite stately Torres del Paine at our backs, and the absolutely magnificent ice range in the west (I instantly forgot the name after asking, but something with O’Higgins). After some hours of paddling, we drove to a nearby camp ground (Luis the minibus driver was kind enough to slow down enough for Ramone to catch up), where the kayak bums served up delicious salmon and beef for dinner, and we had Australian and north-American help in finishing our boxed wine and Cerveza Austral. They were amazing company and it took an embarrassingly short amount of time before the conversational topic deteriorated into bodily functions and the like… always a sign of quality company!
Waking up with a slight red wine hang over, we took farewell with the rest of the guys who were paddling on for the next stretch, while Ramone and us headed to the main attraction of the park; the Torres del Paine. Pavement has yet to come to the park, and it was a fairly bumpy ride (although, this is just the beginning of the bad roads ahead).
We decided to only walk the day hike to the Torres (towers). Just under 3 hours up, with sun and summer-temperatures, to be rewarded with dipping warm feet into the ice cold laguna underneath the Towers. When sitting by the laguna and looking up, it’s quite mind boggling when you realize the summit is 2000 meters above where you are sitting — the scale of the place is so unfamiliar that I would probably put the summit at just about 500 meters up; this is the sort of stuff I’m “used to” seeing from back home. Properly impressed, we rushed back down to cook some pasta bolognese-ish dinner, and found a super nice camp spot right outside the national park gates, with a sweet view of the towers in the sunset.