Not at bad view from town!
Ah, Puerto Natales! How we loved thee! This was definitely our favourite location so far, and where we’ve spent the longest (writing from one month in, that is!) I think there were several elements at play here. Firstly, this is where we felt like we transitioned truly from tourist to travellers. Borne out of necessity, we had to break the tourist conveyor belt and reach out to the locals. Unsurprisingly, our bus journey of ‘winging it’ down from Puerto Madryn wasn’t a seamless affair.
Playing cards waiting for the bus, a casual few hours late
Our first bus was 2.5 hours late, then broke down in the rain; the connection we’d been told about didn’t exist, and so we just chanced it with a bus that got us closer to the Chilean border, so we could pass into Chile, and eventually arrive at Puerto Natales – the town from which you can visit the Torres Del Paine National Park. The final bus we ‘chanced it’ with was a pretty eventful affair. Firstly, we got pulled off it by armed police after about 15 minutes, and they made us empty out our rucksacks for a rifle through our stuff. Presumably a spot check? Who knows. This was pretty scary as the bus had ‘Scarface’ on at the time, and we’d just been watching people getting hacked with a chainsaw and shot (on the film!) before getting pulled off a bus by a terrifying big man with a gun. Anyhoo, this aside, the bus also failed to make its promised connection with a bus to get us into Chile, so – after the bus driver tried to pile us into a nearby taxi to get us to the bus stop quicker, and failing – we ended up stranded in a one-horse town called Rio Turbio on the border with Chile. It was 5pm. There was no hostel or hotel. There were no buses until the following afternoon. There was no bus station, or place to wait. So, we hitchhiked! A lady at the previous bus station had suggested it, so we figured it must be pretty safe! And, after about 5 minutes (literally) of standing there with a sign, we were picked up by a lovely Chilean couple who took us over the border!
Our first hitch-hike into Puerto Natales
They were super friendly, showed us pictures of their daughters, and we communicated in broken English and Spanish about the beautiful lakes and mountains surrounding us, and their previous hikes in the National Park. They whizzed us through the border super-quick (we jumped the line) and dropped us off at our hostel. Amazing! The husband even had the same Google Translate app as Sam, so we had a good laugh about how shit our conversational abilities were! Then things just went from great to even better in Natales.
The colourful tin houses in town
Our hostel was lovely, run by a hardworking hilarious Chilean guy called Shakana, and a lovely Brit called Gemma from Devon was volunteering there. We had hungover breakfasts of eggs and dulce de leche on toast, and evenings spent drinking 1.5L bottles of red wine with fellow travellers from Chile, Brazil, Israel, Australia, England. We even managed to do our laundry as they had a washing machine and a huge garden to dry it in! Town was so cute and welcoming – we finally felt at home somewhere.
The streets were all colourful corrugated iron houses, little independent supermercados, nice backpacker-centric restaurants and hiking gear shops. Chile seemed super affordable after Argentina so we treated ourselves to lots of meals out – Patagonian lamb, more steaks (obvs) but generally a much higher quality, lots of fresh veg and mash, and the delightful Zambian-Chilean fusion restaurant Afrigonia where we had delicious meats with apricot, port and mushoom accompaniments. We also found a burger joint that sold incredible burgers with kilos and half-kilos of ‘loaded’ fries which were insane!
Delicious Patagonian lamb
Burgers and mental ‘quarter kilo’ of loaded chips! The last supper before the W trek….
There were lovely cute parks where we chilled out over a few sunny days before and after our trek in the park, and we made lots of new friends here – namely a couple of awesome Belgians who we ended up spending a very drunk night with, starting with red wine at dinner, at the hostel, then many pisco sours in a deserted rum bar in the wee hours. They had a travel mascot too: Carlos the bunny, who enjoyed hanging out with Sam the Unicorn. Just don’t pay attention to the lude sex pose photos we took on the dancefloor…
Drunken night out at the deserted rum bar
Things get frisky on the dancefloor
Next, onto the trek itself…!