I woke yesterday morning to a clear, crisp day. Cuernos del Paine shone brightly in the morning sun. Days like this are precious. The weather in Torres del Paine is notoriously unpredictable and quick to change.
I made the five-hour trek from Punta Arenas the day before with two Chilean women, Carolina and Christina, and by the time we got to Torres del Paine, we were fast friends. Christina didn’t speak English, but that didn’t seem to matter much. Google Translate was useful, but it has its limits. At one point, I entered, “That door is beautiful, covered in rust.” Google returned “Az ajtó gyönyörú, roszdás”, which didn’t seem at all correct. It didn’t even LOOK Spanish. She looked puzzled. I checked, and realized I had translated my phrase into Hungarian. So I typed, “What, you don’t speak Hungarian?!”, in Spanish this time. We laughed and laughed and laughed. This would be a good time to note that a two pisco sour limit is a sensible policy.
Carolina and Christina graciously invited me to join them for dinner, and it turned out they were celebrating Carolina’s birthday! They shared a special bottle of wine that they brought. The two of them turned out to be one of the greatest highlights of my trip to Torres del Paine. As it turned out, they were also scheduled to go on the trip I had reserved for the following day.
That was the good news. The bad news was that there were so many people going on that trip, they divided it into the English speaking van and the Spanish speaking van, so we were separated. The upside was that I had the opportunity to make some new friends, particularly my seat mates, Molly and Ken. Molly was a fisherwoman with an adventurous soul and the brightest smile you’ve ever seen. And Ken was hilarious. It was an international group … Americans, Swiss, and Belgian, and everyone got along famously.
We had breathtaking views of the Paine Massif, throughout the day, and the weather continued to cooperate. We had crazy wind, which is common in Patagonia, and created ever-changing color and texture to the clouds in the sky. We hiked out a long jetty to get a peek at Grey Glacier, and I was extensively sandblasted. I’m fairly certain I will need to re-grow a couple of layers of skin. Later in the afternoon, we made our way to an unforgettable overlook, where the views of Cuernos del Paine were a spectacular backdrop to the turquoise hue of Lago Pehoé.
After lunch, we took a short hike to the Paine Waterfall, where I experienced the windiest conditions of my life thus far. At one point, I had to stop and put all my weight forward just to keep from tipping over. The waterfall? Worth it. We also saw hundreds of the quirky, funny guanacos. One was in a super bad mood and chased another one out of the herd. It was fascinating. They are FAST.
I enjoyed another dinner with Carolina and Christina, where they later taught me a couple of their favorite Spanish swear words. I was having trouble with the pronunciation of one, so we were exaggerating the enunciation: Mierda. No. Meeeee-errrrr-dah. Mierda. Mierda. And so on. When we noticed our neighbors at a nearby table looking at us in horror, we laughed and laughed and laughed. Remember: two pisco sours. Tops.
This morning came too soon. I longed for a few more days at this otherworldly place. But … on to the next adventure. We had a full van back to Punta Arenas, with not a single English speaking person on it. I kind of loved the challenge, with only hand gestures and community college Spanish classes in my toolkit. I got really good at charades.
We were treated to vibrant rainbow after vibrant rainbow on our way out of the park. It was a magical way to transition to this next leg of my adventure.
Now, off to Punta Arenas for a day before I head off to Antarctica. I’m always fearful before a trip like this. But the moment I begin my journey, the trepidation falls away, like I’ve shed a heavy coat. I am left with nothing but a sense of wonder.
Tiptoeing along the razor’s edge of death was hard. It was scary. But it occurred to me today that I would not be in this beautiful part of the world had it not been for that day. I never would have been so bold; so audacious, if I hadn’t been given that glimpse into my own mortality. I’ve never had an appreciation for that truth as fully as I do at this moment. Surrounded by the most beautiful mountains I have seen in my life.
I am grateful.