is the support-town for trips to the Torres del Paine national park. As we were both suffering with flu at the time, Sonia and I decided to forego the traditional hiking and camping in favour of wilderness travel American Style. So we hired the biggest, fattest, most lumbering and fuel-inefficient SUV we could find (Jeep Grand Cherokee) and pummelled it over the dirt road to the Torres.
Our first day in the national park was a bit drizzly which, combined with our flu, meant we were not experiencing the place at its best. Our acommodation was a basic ´refugio´ where we shared a room with six unfortunates who had to listen to our coughing and spluttering. The refugio was next door to Hosteria Las Torres, near the base of the famous towers themselves - three granite pillars which rise steeply over the park. This area was quite seriously damaged a couple of years ago when some Czech numptie lit a fire and burned down half of the park. The locals seemed quite annoyed about this but I thought the charred remnants of trees looked spectacular surrounded by the fresh growth of daisies. The parts of the park which hadn´t burned looked pretty ordinary in comparison.
Once the sun came out, the park was spectacular and we enjoyed cruising around it in our environmentally-unfriendly American behemoth. Sadly our third night, which was supposed to be a luxury respite from the basic refugio at the astronomically expensive
Hosteria Las Torres, turned into another night in Puerto Natales as the Hosteria was double-booked. At first they admitted their mistake but effectively told us it was our problem. Eventually, after someone woke up the extremely professional and courteous (English speaking) manager, we were showered with apologies and given a free breakfast and a room in Natales. Nevertheless this was one of the biggest disappointments of our trip. There are so few hotels in the Park (about 4), and they are so far apart (half a day´s travel over bumpy dirt tracks), that double-booking is a complete nightmare.
From Puerto Natales we took the unfeasibly overpriced
Navimag ferry to Puerto Montt. The journey has the potential to be spectacular, and we were lucky to be upgraded from our US$350 standard cabin, which we were going to be sharing with 20 other backpackers, to a private cabin for just Sonia and I, which would normally have cost US$750. The ship we were supposed to be on (the Magallanes) had broken down, or sunk, so we had a different one (the Puerto Eden) instead. The Navimag is a small ferry for sheep, cows and lorries, with some cabins for tourists tacked on to pay for the journey. It is nothing like a cruise ship and not even anywhere near the luxury of a cross-channel ferry. You don´t get the opportunity to disembark anywhere on the 3 day trip through the fjords and the points of interest along the way are reached whenever they´re reached, rather than at a convenient time for tourists (such as during daylight hours!) Sadly the weather was awful so the promised spectacular scenery was largely a view of grey drizzle, and the destination, Puerto Montt, turned out to be considerably less pleasant than Puerto Natales.