Patagonia, Park Ranger Strike and Trekking (Part 1 of 2)
It was about 10 PM at night when we arrived into Puerto Natales from Argentina. The temperature was quite cold and we walked the 1.2 km down to our accommodation. We stayed at the Refugio Bulnes Hostel which was great. Yelka was the hostel manager and having lived in the United States for many years, spoke perfect English. She was very helpful in getting us settled in. The next morning we were up early, heading back to the bus station to purchase our tickets to go out to Torres del Paine. The buses normally leave between 6:45 to 7:15 to get tourists out to the park.
The ticket seller explained to us that the Torres del Paine park guards were on strike and that we would be unable to go to the base of the towers which is the iconic vista that defines Patagonia. We were advised to take the bus to the location where we could take the catamaran from a place called Pudeto to another place called Paine Grande. This part of the park was still open. We took this option as it appeared to be the only one available to us.
We had already purchased our park tickets which are not cheap. If you hadn’t purchased tickets to the park, the rangers were not checking. As most folks visiting the park purchase their tickets online, the strike action aimed at the management body for parks within Chile was not really having a financial effect on the government departments concerned.
For anyone reading this, the strike ended on 23/11/2022 with all paths open again. Unfortunately, we were caught in the middle of the strike action during our time in Patagonia, just two weeks ago.
Disappointingly the timing of the buses’ arrival and the catamaran’s departure meant that we wasted more than 2 hours waiting around. The catamaran company has a monopoly over the journey between 2 locations and charges accordingly. While it offered us an opportunity to see a part of the park that we probably wouldn’t have visited, had the trek into the base of the towers been open, we would have chosen that rather than what we were forced to choose.
I hasten to add that this part of the trek is also beautiful, but is more favourable for those completing the entire W trek and camping within the park rather than returning each day as we were planning to do. Even though this trek was only about 17 km it was the longest day, due to the waiting times for primarily the catamaran.
A major potential issue is that if you miss the catamaran you are stuck in the park potentially without accommodation.
After the catamaran ride and bus ride back to Puerto Natales, we opted for a rest day the next day just walking around the town which has stunning scenery to enjoy. In strolling around the town we discovered some of the cool street wall art, and birdlife, and took some pictures of iconic objects at the entry to the town.
One of these is a statue of a 1.65 tonne sloth called a Mylodon, discovered by Charles Darwin. Another is a statue of a hand emerging from the sidewalk. This seems to be a popular theme in South America with a number of cities repeating this form of art.
We also went to a local restaurant called Patagonia’food and I ate a dish called Pichango consisting of a variety of meat such as pork, beef, chicken, sausage, chorizo, cheese, olives, pickles, tomato, hard-boiled egg, salami and avocado which was great. Helen had grilled salmon which was as fresh as you can get. The slab of salmon was at least three times the size you would get in any other restaurant. Cooked perfectly. Pictures above.
After a day of basically chilling out in town with arguably some incredible scenery, we were reinvigorated enough to take on Torres del Paine again, despite no good news about the strike in the park, which by now was on local and national news.
Continued in the next post.