The tour guide promised the trail to Salto Grande Waterfall in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park was easy. “Just a 20 minute walk,” he said. As a casual aside, he advised us to take our jackets, as it “might be a little windy up there.” The first 15 minutes were a breeze. A graveled path led through a field of flower-strewn tall grass, with the famous horns of the Cordillera Paine Massif peeking over the top. A stretch of turquoise river came into view and the thunderous sound of crashing water filled the air.
Excited for my first view of the falls, I crested the final rise and was nearly bowled over by a blast of icy wind. The mountains in the area act as a natural funnel. Wind screams through the river valley, becoming increasingly fierce until it dips down the face of the falls and dissipates into Pehoe Lake. Each step was more difficult than the previous one. Soon I was leaning at Read More
What struck me most about Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonian region of Chile were the colors. Depending upon the angle of the sun, the mountains of the Cordillera Paine Massif range from the deepest black to pale gray, lavender, and Wedgwood blue. As the sun sets, abundant feldspar in the granite flanks reflect iridescent orange patches. Add snowy peaks and grass covered foothills, and the mountains of Torres del Paine become a veritable rocky rainbow. Even the name of the park is derived from a color. Paine means “blue” in Aonikenk, the language of the original inhabitants.
Late in the afternoon, I took this photo at Lago Nordenskjold viewpoint. The oblique angle of the sun’s rays illuminated the landscape in iridescent colors that seemed almost unworldly. The lakes in the foreground added to Read More
Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is one of the world’s beautiful places. The centerpiece of the park is a branch of the Andes mountain range known as the Cordillera del Paine. Located in the southern Patagonian region of the country, the park’s magnificent scenery includes lakes ranging from ultramarine blue to brilliant turquoise, raging waterfalls, deep green valleys, and vast glaciers that cascade down mountainsides.
Most awe inspiring are mountains themselves. In geological terms, the Cordillera Massif emerged relatively recently. Thus, rather than being eroded and rounded like much of the Andes, these mountains are jagged and rugged. They began life as underwater sediments that were deposited in layers. Over eons, volcanic activity compressed these sediments into rock and thrust them up, tilting and folding them into bizarre shapes. The lava that welled up from deep within the earth cooled into a grey granitic platform for the multicolored sedimentary bands. The result is a kaleidoscope of colors that changes throughout the day, depending on the angle and direction of the sun. Read More
When my tour van entered Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonian Chile, our guide enlisted us as wildlife spotters. She ticked off some of the species we might see. The Patagonian Puma is the most sought after sighting, however they are reclusive and usually stay far away from the only road through the park. But if we had sharp eyes we might spot one of two varieties of fox; the small, endangered Huemul deer; Andean Condors; Southern Crested Caracaras (a large bird of prey); the Patagonian Mara (a large rat-like creature); and the Patagonian Armadillo. “Oh, I almost forgot the Guanaco,” she added dismissively.
Two minutes later we cruised past a couple of Guanaco, a close relation to the llama and part of the camelid family. I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough and was frustrated Read More
The pretty little town of Puerto Natales is perhaps best known as the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonian region of Chile. But I discovered an intriguing backstory. The town is located on the Señoret Channel, which connects Última Esperanza Sound with Bahía Desengaño, eventually leading to the Straits of Magellan and the Atlantic Ocean. Última Esperanza translates to “last hope,” while Desengaño translates to “disillusionment” or “disenchantment.” I stood on the shores of the town’s waterfront and drank in what could only be described as a stunning vista of marine blue waters, framed by snow-capped peaks. How could this magnificent landscape have elicited such despondent names?
The explorer Juan Ladrilleros is responsible for the moniker Última Esperanza. In November of 1557 he set sail from Concepción, Chile, with a mission “to discover, explore and take formal possession of all the country from Valdivia south, and through the Strait of Magellan.” Read More
Pop-pop-pop-pop!! I was staying in a guest house less than two blocks away from Plaza Italia, the epicenter of political protests that happen most evenings in Santiago, Chile. Sirens had been screaming up and down the avenue outside my window for more than an hour when the first four shots rang out. The screams of demonstrators and rocks bounding off police armored vehicles, punctuated by occasional gunfire, continued until 10 p.m. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the protest dissolved and quiet descended. I’d put off my visit to Santiago till the last minute. During my cruise to Antarctica I’d met two couples who had visited the city over the previous couple of weeks. Both had been robbed. I could find little current news coverage that answered the question, “is it safe to visit Santiago at this time.” In the end, since I had to fly through Santiago in order to visit Easter Island, I decided to take my chances.
Over the next five days I explored the Chilean capital on foot. My first stop was the boarded up Metro station at Plaza Italia, a couple of blocks from my guest house. I was reading slogans painted across the graffiti-plastered entrance when a 23-year old nurse on a bicycle stopped and began explaining what the protests were all about. On October 19, 2019, residents of Santiago, Chile, took to the streets to protest a hike in subway fares. Long considered to have the best economy in South America, that wealth had not trickled down to the common people, a majority of whom were poor and had little access to even basic services. Read More