"Luckily for us, a hostel in town did a briefing every afternoon for people who were going to do the hike just to answer questions, etc. because once you went, you were on your own."
Embarking on a year and a half trip around Latin America and Southeast Asia wasn’t meant to see us venturing so far south. However, when we started talking to people when we were in Chile they told us it was an absolute must do so we decided to book in flights from Santiago down to Punta Arenas to hike through the Torres Del Paine National Park.
Punta Arenas itself was a nice change from the 36 degree weather in Santiago and had a cold mountain town feel (minus the mountains). We had decided on doing the 5 day ‘W’ hike in the park which was going to mean carrying all our own supplies … food, tent, cooking equipment etc. By this stage we had already done the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu which was also 5 days, but we had porters and cooks so it was more like a glamping experience. This was a whole new kettle of fish.
Firstly, we didn’t have any of the right gear… my partner and I both had regular sneakers and large backpacking packs, no sleeping bags and certainly no pots and pans. But because the hike is so popular there were many places you could hire the equipment and our hostel had everything we needed. Luckily for us, a hostel in town did a briefing every afternoon for people who were going to do the hike just to answer questions, etc. because once you went, you were on your own.
I was so nervous before the hike…would my shoes be ok? Would the pack be uncomfortable? Would my body be up for the task? What would the weather be like? (We had heard it can snow, rain, kick up gale force winds, etc.) After all, I had never done anything like this before where we had to be self sufficient.
NOTHING could have prepared us for the views and experiences that were in front of us. To begin the hike you have to be dropped off by boat and the notoriously fickle Patagonian weather meant the day was not perfect. Once we started walking though, I felt this sense of excitement and motivation that I hadn’t felt before. I don’t know whether it was the scenery or the fresh air but I felt so invigorated and determined that I didn’t feel one bit tired. The first day of the hike finished at Glacier Grey where we camped below the mountains with a large glacier and icebergs just over the hill. That experience is something that will be with me forever.
Our third night however was less enjoyable because we were kept awake the ENTIRE night by the notorious Cuernos Camp mice and rats. They ate a hole in our tent and nibbled on our jandals all in the search for food. It’s safe to say I didn’t sleep one wink so the prospect of walking 6 hours the next day on no sleep was one I wasn’t looking forward to.
The next day I surprised myself though. The scenery was just so beautiful and even though it rained, there was no one else around so we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Even falling in a muddy hole after trying to show off couldn’t dampen my spirits (only my shoes).
The whole hike was the highlight of my one year trip. The scenery was amazingly beautiful and the sense of achievement I felt from carrying my food and shelter on back for five days was unprecedented. Something I thought would be so physically and emotionally challenging turned out to be quite the opposite and the memories I made there will be imprinted in my mind forever.
Jess Tabak is a New Zealander who recently returned from 12 months of travelling the world.