Day 8 |
Nov 08, 2009

Puerto Natales, Chile

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 51º 44’S, 072º 32’W

Weather: Wild!

Air Temperature: 4ºC

Pressure: 998 hPa

Wind: 50 knots

Today was a crazy weather day; we had all four seasons in one day. The temperatures are still quite low for this time of the year in Patagonia and the blizzards were sweeping across the landscape all day. In between we got some sun and beautiful views, but the wind blew incessantly all day, often loaded with massive snowflakes. From my point of view, that was one of the highlights of the day. It was so nice to see Torres del Paine under a blanket of snow! A face of the park I had never seen before. It was stunning.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. After an early breakfast (starting at 6 am), we were picked up by four coaches to set out for the National Park. We drove past the quaint town of Puerto Natales, then through vast plains (locally known as ‘pampas’), up and over several moraines and finally into the mountains. 

It felt more like a safari than a bus ride to see the park. Along the way we stopped constantly to take pictures and have a look at the abundant wildlife found by the road. Andean condors flying around as well as on land, herds of guanacos, lesser rhea, pink flamingo, gray fox, black necked swan, armadillo, black faced Ibis and many others. More than 30 animal species were seen today.

As we entered the National Park, we stopped at a couple of the beautiful glacier lakes to take photos and take in the stunning scenery. These lakes are particularly beautiful because they are a unique pale turquoise color, not the usual dark blue. The coloring is a result of the high mineral content from the sediments produced by the movement of the glaciers.

The combination of the green-blue waters with the majestic snow-capped mountains behind was really beautiful. Once inside the Torres del Paine National Park we stopped at the Salto Grande waterfall trailhead. It was a short 1km walk to the falls themselves. As we walked over the last hill, the scenery in front of us took our breath away: rugged mountains set the backdrop for a roaring waterfall.

From the waterfall, we had the choice to stretch our legs and walk the 6km to the restaurant where lunch was being served, or take the coaches back. The restaurant is perched on the side of an island in the middle of a large lake. To get to it we had to walk across a bridge.

Many of us chose to walk the road that hugged the lakeside. As soon as we started walking a blizzard came by. It was a great experience to be out there walking under such conditions, very strong winds and lots of snow in the air.

Once at the restaurant, we drank a Pisco Sour and had a nice meal. We were warm and comfortable sitting inside watching the snow flying horizontally across the lake.
After lunch we headed back to the ship. On the way, we made a quick stop at Cerro Castillo to buy souvenirs and then carried on back to the Prince Albert II so that the Captain could sail away in time to make the slack tide to pass through the White Narrows safely.

Right after Recap & Briefing, many of us gathered on the Observation Deck to watch the ship pass through the White Narrows safely and head on further south into the Chilean Fjords. This passage is only 80 meters wide and it is in what I consider to be the most scenic segment of the Chilean fjords. 

As twilight approached the scenery got more and more spectacular, with lots of snow on the steep mountains. What a day!