Sunday, April 20, 2008

Welcome to Chile

Last week (the days are starting to blend) the parents and I hopped on a bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales which is a Pacific coast town in Chile. Because I had over stayed my 90 day visa free welcome in Argentina I would have to pay a 50 peso (about 17 US dollars) fee to leave the country. The official at the office in Puerto Madryn had informed me that I could pay this without problems at the border. Not so. The bus stopped at the border office, all the passengers got out and got thier passports stamped and reborded the bus. I, however, was told that I could not pay the fee there, so my parents and I, to the surprise of the other bus passengers, stayed there as the bus continued on.
It turned out that I would have to go to a nearby town to pay the fee and the nice officer ordered two other officers to escort me and one parent there in a National Guard vehicle. Mom and I were driven all over the muddy streets of Rio Turbio until I was sure we were headed no where near a National Guard office, when a white cement building appeared among the small wooden houses and we got out. We were taken into a back room where two officers took down my passport number about a hundred times, passed my passport around to three other officers, and rarely spoke to me at all until we broke the ice by making jokes about the amount of paper work in government jobs. Turns out that is a headache here as well. After paying my fee we were driven back to the border where we were informed that another bus would probably pass through in about 3 hours. Fortunently a nice Chilean man named Angel drove by a few minutes later and offered us a ride. So we hopped into his beat up 16 passenger van and were on our way. Turned out Angel was from Puerto Natales so instead of just dropping us of there he gave us a tour of the town including his mothe´s house, the house where he was born, the plaza, his favorite fishing spot in the harbor, and the meat market. The tour ended at the house of a child hood friend whose mother now ran a sort of hostel from the upper story bed rooms. That night we slept the softest beds ever pilled high with quilts and afgans. Lovely.

The next day we took a bus and a boat to where we would start our hike around the Torres del Paine. The day was sunny and bright and we had high hopes of another perfect hike. The weather soon became more normal for the area and we ended up not seeing the towers the entire time we slogged around them in the rain and snow. It wasn´t all bad though. The area was still lovely with the mountains, lakes and narrow forests squeezed inbetween, and as the area is a popular destination for international trekkers there are several hostels along the route as well. We didn´t pay the big bucks to sleep inside but as campers we still were granted enterance to these warm, rustic buildings where we could dry infront of wood fires, fix our meals, and rub shoulders with world travelers from places like Switzerland, Korea, Israel, and the Czek Republic.

Tonight we are back in Puerto Natales for a short while before heading on to Tierra del Fuego. Just long enough to eat seafood, dry our gear, and sleep one more night in those amazing beds.

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