We left the glaciers of Argentina behind and crossed into Chile at Cerro Castillo heading to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. It was our usual approach to a Chilean border - eat or cook any food likely to be seized with a few (hidden in plain sight) exceptions. ...Unusual for us - nothing seized, which meant we had food for a few days in a park that has limited facilities and certainly no supermarkets.
We arrived after nightfall and the wind was full on Patagonia - a van shaker. Our camping for the next three days would be in car parks.
The following morning, New Years Eve, we took a drive to see flamingos, before deciding, rather last minute, to set-off on a hike to see the infamous Torres peaks. We thought the weather looked hopeful! How wrong we were....
The 10 km walk was a challenging four hours up, only to find a misty lake and the Torres hidden in the haze. We were given the 'four seasons in a day' treatment with a very short summer section - chill, gale-force winds, rain, hail and snow. The return 10km was almost as challenging. Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed it, but once back at the van, we quickly ate the food we'd prepped pre-border, celebrated with a bottle of wine and promptly fell asleep, exhausted. We were fairly tired and missed seeing the New Year in.
The next few days were shorter walks. The weather was mixed, but luckily we were given the odd glimpse of the great views of the mountains. The scenery throughout the park is beautiful.
On our last day, and with the promise of a big breakfast at a very nice restaurant, I agreed to get up at the crack of dawn (to miss the crowd) for a hike to see Lady Gray Glacier. A great walk took us to within 12km of the glacier face, a little far away, but we returned to the restaurant and the promised breakfast. Sadly, Rachel had not read the small print. Restaurant not open until midday and there wasn't another option. Porridge again! The day did however improve. Our afternoon was spent by the river and I had a few hours failing to catch fish.
From the park, we moved on to Puerto Natales. There we found the Last Hope Distillery. For now, the most southerly gin distillery in South America. A great place owned by a super-enthusiastic Australian couple. We had a great evening. After a distillery tour and a few obligatory cocktails, we headed off with a few bottles having promised to take pics of the gin bottle in Antarctica.
Next on our list was Punta Arenas where, once again, we camped alongside Okan, Donna and Indigo.
We were overlooking the Magallan Straits and decided to visit Magallanes Park, which has an old fort and a pretty good museum. On route to the park we came across a monument marked 'Middle of Chile'. A little strange considering we were so far south and there was only another 20km of road left, but it turns out that Chile has claimed the Antarctic Peninsula as theirs!
Punta Arenas has some very fancy houses and a very fancy cemetery, with large mausoleums for the former 'Sheep Barons'. These Barons appear to have been responsible for the slaughter and of the indigenous Selk'nam population, which allowed them to grab the land and gain their riches - a very sad story, and one to bear in mind as your travel past the huge Estancias.
From Punta Arenas we took the ferry to Porvenir with the aim of visiting the King Penguins. I guess we were worried we wouldn't get the chance to see any again - how wrong we were (South Georgia to follow)! A little more camping, the odd camp-fire and time to cure some delicious Chilean salmon.