March 13, 2010

Rio Grey to Puerto Natales

March 12. This post was to have been titled something else, maybe just “Puerto Natales,” but the logistics continued their slide from last night. We gathered for breakfast, expecting the boat at 10:30. By a little after 10, we learned that the boat wasn't coming – all day – due to mechanical problems. Apparently there was more than the weather involved last night and repairs could not be made overnight. By today, they realized that parts would be needed – parts which would have to come from Punta Arenas. I seriously doubt that the boat will run tomorrow, either.

So, we saddled up once more, carrying our hiking and “extra” gear, and headed south, over a ridge and onto the Rio Grey (the outlet of yesterday's glacier) and thence to the nearest road, where our bus would be waiting.

The weather continued last night's wind and rain, so it was not much of a scenery walk (though this walk, especially up-valley, would be excellent in sunny weather). There was wind and this area is a designated windy area, so it was good that it was at our backs all day. It was strong enough to knock you off balance (and it did me several times), even from behind.

The walking was easy, once we were over the ridge and into the valley, because this is a huge glacial outwash valley, five kilometers wide. Most of the walking was on smooth trail, with little grade, through grassy fields. You could see the old river channels braiding back and forth across our path.

There was plenty of traffic on the trail, as we weren't the only refugee party stranded by the lack of a boat across Lago Pehoe. And, as we approached the end, and the administrative center for the Chilean government agency responsible for the park, we met a flow of people headed in, too – brought in by the afternoon bus. They had a harder time of it – no good views and a strong headwind.

After four and a half hours, we saw our bus and trudged the last hundred meters to its side and bundled ourselves in for the drive to Puerto Natales, skipping the planned sightseeing. Our hotel, the Francis Drake, is comfortable (hot showers, reasonably-sized rooms, and Internet, though no wireless), so comfortable, that no one wanted to leave. The wind wasn't as strong as in Rio Grey, but it still qualifies as blustery, and the rain is harder. While we have an hour or two before dinner to wander, no one has taken the opportunity.

Most of us had dinner at Ultima Esperanza, a seafood restaurant a few blocks away. Norm's Spanish came in handy to get an idea of the menu, but they had English-version menus and the waitress had enough English to make it work. The menu had a nice selection of seafood, mostly local, and the usual meat selections. The star of the menu was the Abalone. I had a taste and it was excellent. I had a good scallops dish, two pisco sours, and a Calafate mousse, all for less than $25. I like this town.

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