We were both sad to leave El Calafate as we hadn’t really given ourselves much time to chill or look around, or, eat our fill of ice-cream. Yep, the Calafate berry and dulce leche combo had truly won us over! We were obvs destined to return another time…
The bus, packed full of locals and touristas alike, sped along the steppe. From the window we caught sight of huemels and gaunacos grazing on the open grassland plus small flocks of flamingos…. The stakes in our game of ‘spot the wildlife’ had gotten much higher!!
After hearing Sofia’s “horror” story of how she nearly got fined $5000 ARP for forgetting she had a banana in her bag, we thought carefully about what we were taking over the border into Chile; I was neither blond, cute or fluent in Spanish (she had spent 18 moths in Rosario) so would not be able to blag my way out of a cell for bringing in contraband! Plus, let’s face it, we weren’t really prepared to visit a prison cell for carrying organic Scottish oats! Like the good honest citizens we were, we mentally prepared a list of the trekking staples we had with us… Just in case.
We filled out one set of immigration forms, in duplicate, then another set in triplicate, then a third set (suspiciously identical to the first) plus finally the all important declaration. Even if we had a better grasp of Spanish, it probably would still have probably felt like a bit of a farce; we got off the bus, ID’d our bags, declared our oats and dried fruit goodies (greeted with a whatevs shrug), picked up our bags (with a side trip thru the scanners) and got back on the bus.
We were now in Chile. Whoop-whoop!
Arriving at Puerto Natales was “interesting”. Our bus threaded its way along through the ‘burbs and, without warning, pulled up on one of the main drags into town. Not quite what we expected, even with what looked like a bus terminal sign a block or so away. The end of the line it would seem and obvs “the norm” as out of nowhere people appeared; touting for business, hostels and taxi service alike, with makeshift placards bearing passenger names. Had we been a bit more savvy as to the drop off point, we would have sorted out onward transport too!
As the other passengers dispersed, Matt hailed a cab and with a pit stop at an ATM, we made our way to Espacio Kau. Has to be said, “the boy done good”. One of the trendier places in town it was smack on the sound/seafront and had its own cheeky cafe. Result!! I could already taste the freshly brewed coffee with my breakie tomorrow …
Puerto Natales is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine and the 200 odd hectares that make up the national park; a colourful and imaginative mix of low-level painted corrugated homes and shops, really modern design-led spaces and ramshackle old brick buildings. We liked the seaside-cum-travellers vibe that sat side-by-side its small town sensibility with municipal gardens, churches and clean wide pavements.
With diets that had been somewhat lacking in fresh fruit and veg, we drooled over the oranges, apples, peaches, plums and pears piled high in the shop window of the local supermarket. Plump juicy raisins, dried mango, cranberries and cashews were added to our shopping basket to take trekking with us. We got over the fact we couldn’t find wheat crackers and tins of tomato sauce drenched fish for our lunches… instead we would munch on lomo vetado, salami and queso oveja.
Tummies rumbling from missing lunch and our supermarket sweep, we realised we were a tad too early for supper (it was only 6pm). Bugger! Tempers soon began to fray as we searched the streets for somewhere (read anywhere) that was open. We lucked upon La Picada de Carlitos, a restaurant split into two with the main restaurant side closed and the more local refectory style dining open. Half a dozen families sat eating and we ordered what we thought what would tide us over til supper ‘proper’….OMG it was a mountain of food! Matt’s cheeky starter ensalada of agucata y pollo, with it’s whole avocado filled with chicken was enough for four alone. We sighed with immense relief we had only ordered pollo a la plancha, grilled chicken and chuleta de cerdo, pork chop with a couple of simple mixta salads, as we spied a table across the room…. Giggles erupted as their mains arrived …. The parilladas, mixed grill they had ordered (for one) could have fed a family of four!
Stuffed to bursting, we ambled along the waterfront and watched the setting sun across the sound.