The last thing we did before leaving Buenos Aires was withdraw a ton of Argentine pesos from the bank . . . forgetting that we would shortly be in Chile where Argentine pesos are not legal tender. Oh no. We found that in this modern age, you can manage for a week in a foreign country without any cash.
In crossing the border from Argentina to Chile, I realized that I haven’t crossed a national border by car since traveling to Nova Scotia in 1978. The Photographer has not done so since 1989, when he went from West Berlin to East Berlin.
The situation at the Argentine-Chilean border was a few degrees warmer than Cold War Germany. It was no U.S.-Canada!
One of our guides had advised us in advance that we would “exit” Argentina, enter a No Man’s Land representing an ongoing border dispute between the countries, and then enter Chile a few miles down the road.
Like many countries, Chile has strict rules regarding the importation of plants, animals, and animal products. The gist of the rules is: DoN’T DO iT! So sobering were the signs describing the wide array of products that are considered animal by-products and so dire were the potential punishments that I showed the guards the two bottles of Coca-Cola Lite (sin azucar) that I had stashed in my knapsack. Coca-Cola Lite: the most unnatural product on Earth!
It was cold, windy, and little rainy at the border but there was a bright spot: Lulu the Drug and Plant-Detecting Dog.*
Ahead of us, a tour bus was inspected. Half the bags were pulled out of the cavernous luggage compartment and Lulu ran along them and then got inside the compartment with her handler to sniff the rest. A large group of passengers stood around her grinning with delight at her antics. Which seems a little weird because she was there to bust them.
We drove and drove and drove across Patagonia and arrived at this spectacular lookout roughly 45 minutes before reaching our hotel.
If I were a PRO-fessional travel writer, I’d be able to tell you the name of this spot, but I am not.
We were delighted to reach our hotel after a hard day — five hours — of being chauffered from spot to spot. Roughing it. We were even more delighted when we stepped inside.
This beautiful hotel is perched in a beautiful setting amid hills and mountains, lakes and a river in the heart of Torres del Paine. It looks like something out of a James Bond movie: blinding white exterior, pale interior covered in gleaming bleached wood wainscoting. It felt a little like the interior of a beautiful ship, but unlike a ship had powerful showers and toilets.
The hotel was the only thing around for a considerable distance — the closest town was probably two hours away — and therefore everything one could ask for was provided by the hotel: meals, activities, pampering.
The hotel employs a full staff of guides — enough to run 8 or 10 excursions daily, ranging from leisurely to difficult.
These bright, young people were very keen to see guests engaged in the activities, so we did at least one moderately-difficult hike a day and participated in one full-day hike where we walked more than 10 miles over uneven terrain.
The Photographer and I discussed the possibility of inserting rogue activities into the daily lists: Body-surfing; Guanaco Hunting; Puma Wrestling
Many of the hikes led to closer or better views of the mountains we could see (very comfortably) from our room.
Here are more views of the horns.
A substantial forest fire in 2011 burned for three months before it was extinguished. The source: well-intentioned but very foolish hikers trying to incinerate their soiled toilet paper. Here’s another good rule: Don’t set things on fire in heavily forested, windy, dry places.
The resulting damage left a ghostly forest behind.
Come closer and look at this tree.
It’s beautiful, but tragic.
Guanacos, a relative of the alpaca, were plentiful in the park.
There is no hunting in the park, so the guanacos live in absolute peace.
Correction: There is no hunting by humans. Pumas hunt guanacos. Oh no.
In addition to guanacos and pumas, there are red foxes in the park. We saw several, sitting very tamely within yards of the hotel. Whenever one appeared, hotel guests would approach to take photos.
When we checked in to the hotel, we signed a waiver that included a long list of misfortunes that might befall us: sunburn, falls, etc. Animal bites were among them.
At dusk, The Photographer went outside and encountered a pair of foxes frisking on the path leading to the dock.
No one was bitten.
Signing off now for a few days. Please look back at my earlier trip entries if you missed them: Big Ice, Out and About in Buenos Aires, The Immense Seriousness of Art, and We’re Off. The posting schedule has been highly irregular, but more frequent.
I may be far away, but I am still your Directrice.
* I don’t know what the dog is actually called. I named her Lulu.