Sporting my Lufty PJs
Sporting my Lufty PJs
Hassun: Snow Crab Sushi, seared Blowfish Sushi, Fish Roe rolled with Kelp, blanched Blowfish Skin served with Ponzu Sauce, Gisei-Tofu and Kumquats simmered in Syrup
Hassun: Snow Crab Sushi, seared Blowfish Sushi, Fish Roe rolled with Kelp, blanched Blowfish Skin served with Ponzu Sauce, Gisei-Tofu and Kumquats simmered in Syrup

One of the biggest attractions in southern Chile is Torres del Paine National Park.  Most visitors to the park complete multi-day treks such as “the W” and “the circuit” but, being short on time and perhaps toughness, we opted for a simple day tour ($40 per person) of the park’s highlights.  After a hearty breakfast at the Yaganhouse hostel in Puerto Natales a bus picked us up at the dark hour of 7:30am.  We were the first ones to board and, consequently, were able to snag the two front seats.

The huge mouth of the cavern.  Amy pictured at center.
The huge mouth of the cavern. Amy pictured at center.

On the drive north to the park, we made a very short stop at Milodón Cave.  The milodón is an extinct giant ground sloth and apparently the remains of quite a few of them were found in this cave.  We believe it is Puerto Natales’ claim to fame as its silhouette is depicted on all the town’s street signs.  Oh, and there is also a giant metal statue along the road into town.  The cave was nice enough (it is impressively large) but perhaps not worth the 6 USD entry fee since we were only there for 30 minutes.

Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.

Before we reached the park we started to see large herds of guanaco, a few ñandu and we managed to catch our first glimpses of the spectacular mountains.  Before reaching the guardhouse we stopped at Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) a stunning turquoise-colored lake tinted by the heavy mineral content.  Unlike most of the other lakes in the park, this one is “closed” meaning it has no outflows of water.  The continuous evaporation makes the water six times saltier than sea water and the banks are crusted with white salt.

We paid our entrance fee (30 USD for non-residents) and drove onward to Lago Nordenskjold.  Before unloading at the mirador, our guide warned us numerous times about the strong winds.  Sure enough, we jumped off the bus and before I knew it Amy was chasing her glasses which had been ripped from her face.  The winds that day were in excess of 100kph and we heard later that some climbers had been blown off one of the peaks.

Hosteria Pehoé
Hosteria Pehoé

A couple of stops later we checked out the very scenic location for Hosteria Pehoé in the middle of Lago Pehoé.  We took a lunch break at a small tourist village outside the park.  Some of the people on the tour had their meals included, however, we budget-sensitive travelers had packed our own food.  They still let us eat in the restaurant and enjoy the spectacular views.

Lago Grey
Lago Grey

Our final scheduled stop was at Lago Grey on the western end of the park.  Lago Grey has a wide stony beach and, on a clear day, a view of the Gray Glacier some 10+ km away.  Unfortunately, the high winds that day were kicking up so much mist from the water that we could scarcely make out the glacier.  We were able to spot some electric blue icebergs.  One upside to the mist was that it produced a very nice rainbow over the beach.

A rainbow over Lago Grey.  Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.
A rainbow over Lago Grey. Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.

On the way home, as a final treat, we managed to spot an Andean Condor.  These birds have the largest wingspan of any land bird at 10.5 ft.  They aren’t all that rare, however, it is pretty uncommon to see one up close and I was very happy that we had those front bus seats so that I could hop out and snap a photo.

Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Torres del Paine National Park
The sloth (milodón) cavern
The sloth (milodón) cavern
The huge mouth of the cavern.  Amy pictured at center.
The huge mouth of the cavern. Amy pictured at center.
A to-scale milodón
A to-scale milodón
Many farms surround Torres del Paine
Many farms surround Torres del Paine
We had the best seats on the bus.
We had the best seats on the bus.
The torres (towers) from afar.
The torres (towers) from afar.
Guanacos
Guanacos
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.
Amy enjoying the wind-free comfort of the inside of our bus.
Amy enjoying the wind-free comfort of the inside of our bus.
Amy trying not to be blown away by the 100+ kph gusts
Amy trying not to be blown away by the 100+ kph gusts
Salto Grande
Salto Grande
Hosteria Pehoé
Hosteria Pehoé
Short gnarly trees are everwhere in the park
Short gnarly trees are everwhere in the park
A rainbow over Lago Grey.  Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.
A rainbow over Lago Grey. Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.
Lago Grey
Lago Grey
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor

One final post on Bahia Bustamante before the blog moves on to the mountains of Bariloche.  We spent our last day at Bahia exploring the nearby peninsula in our tiny VW Gol.  The terrain on the peninsula is quite varied: scrub land, sand dunes and tidal pools.  There are also three landing strips, a solar-powered lighthouse and the ruins of many small buildings.  The pictures below tell the story better than I can so I will just leave it at that!

It was sad to leave Bahía Bustamante but we had a bus to catch later that night from Comodoro Rivadavia.  From a backpackers standpoint, Bahía Bustamante was definitely a splurge ($110/night plus rental car expenses) but we felt that it was certainly worth each and every centavo.  We would highly recommend it to other travelers!

Bahía Bustamante – Day 3
Bahía Busttamante from the peninsula
Bahía Busttamante from the peninsula
Our rental car on the landing strip.
Our rental car on the landing strip.
Ñandú, sheep and guanacos!
Ñandú, sheep and guanacos!
Rush hour!
Rush hour!

 

Our second excursion at Bahía Bustamante was a trip to the nearby petrified forest.  We drove about an hour across a landscape that looked much like eastern Montana or Wyoming except for the dozens of ñandú and guanacos we spotted along the way.  Our destination was the base a cliff where fossilized pieces of wood were slowly being revealed by the dry and windy climate.  We were told that most of it comes from trees that were alive about 65 million years ago.

As a kid I remember finding small pieces of fossilized wood and plants during my summers in Montana but this place was different.  There were dozens of intact tree trunks laying all over the ground.  Many of them had a bark-textured surface that was remarkably similar to a real tree.  I kept picking up pieces out of disbelief that they were actually rock and not real wood.  Of course, the weight of each piece was a bit of a giveaway!  While most of the pieces were an reddish color there were a few there and there that were blue, green and yellow.  Apparently this is caused by different trace elements mixing with the quartz in the fossil.

Bahía Bustamante – Day 2 (Petrified Forest)

Fortunately, our marathon bus ride from Buenos Aires was the hardest part of our journey from the biggest city in the country to one of the least inhabited parts of the country.  We read about Bahía Bustamante in a NY Times article a few weeks ago and decided that a visit was an absolute must.  Bahía Bustamante is a tiny village and nature preserve that now accepts a small number of guests each night.  The village calls itself “el único pueblo alguero del mundo” or, the only town dedicated to producing seaweed in the world.

Bahía Bustamante is on the coast about 200km north of Comodoro Rivadavia.  One option for getting there is to take a bus to the nearby town of Garayalde and from there you can arrange car transport to the estancia.  The other option is to rent a car in Comodoro and drive the whole way yourself.  We opted for the latter for the flexibility and we were glad we did as there are a number of sights in the area to which you can drive.

Renting was a piece of cake.  You can either use a local firm (there are dozens) or you can use one of the corporate giants (Avis, Hertz, etc).  We ended up with Avis as the seemed to be the cheapest of the bunch.  Total price for a three day rental of a VW Gol came out to $145.  While I was shopping around I discovered that it is often helpful to pick up from the city location (as opposed to the airport) as you can avoid the nasty 20% concession tax.  This trick also works in the States…good to know.

While I was working on the rental car situation with Avis, Amy ran to the grocery store and stocked up on food for coming days.  At Bahía Bustamante you can choose between self-catering (some houses have kitchens) and having your meals prepared for you.  We opted to self-cater to keep our costs down.

My first Argentine truck stop!
My first Argentine truck stop!

With a (very small) car full of groceries and backpacks we headed up Ruta 3 towards Bahía Bustamante.  It is a good thing we stocked up before we left town because there is very little along the highway north of Comodoro.  On the two hour drive we only saw one truck stop and by that I mean a shack along the side of the road that didn’t even sell gas (only meals and refreshments).  Once we turned off Ruta 3, it was about 40km further to Bahía Bustamante along a gravel road.  It was on this road that we had our first guanaco and ñandu sightings.

The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante

The village was exactly as promised.  Laidback and quiet.  The streets here are all named after different species of seaweed!  It took us a little while to find the staff (read: this place is quiet!) but they soon showed us to our house.  I believe that the house we are staying in was originally workers housing, although it seems they have been modified to make room for a kitchen and large bathroom.  Our place was $110 a night and was more than enough space for the two of us.  There will be more tomorrow about Bahía Bustamante including lots of pictures of penguins! 

Bahía Bustamante – Day 1
My first Argentine truck stop!
My first Argentine truck stop!
First guanaco sighting!
First guanaco sighting!
Then some ñandúes!
Then some ñandúes!
Steamer ducks (patos vapor)
Steamer ducks (patos vapor)
American Oystercatchers and some seagulls
American Oystercatchers and some seagulls
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
Home cookin
Home cookin
Moonrise
Moonrise


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