Into the Teeth

The boat ride from Punta Arenas was beautiful.  We had a few hours of sun and clear skies, just as we came to the Pacific Ocean from the Straits of Magellan, passing some gorgeous islands on the way.  A description of them sounds a bit like some fantasy land dreamed up by Tolkien; snow-capped, veiled by a half dozen waterfalls streaming down sheer cliffs, packs of sealions playing in the fjords, etc.  The navigator was kind enough to point out several bona fida fjords to me, which were not quite as I expected.  On the return flight to Punta Arenas almost two weeks later, the pilot banked right over the shore of a fjord, following it up along a glacial valley with a river from a glacier.  Watching the whole thing go by was like the best kind of geology class movie.

When I arrived on Isla Navarino, I realized that me and my 7 or 8 boat-mates were all the tourists on the island.  Puerto Williams is a very small town, dominated by the naval base where crime is unknown and phenomenal wilderness is a half hour walk away from my front door in any direction.  The little houses are all of corrugated metal with crab traps out front and boat parts in the back.  I am volunteering with a Dutch organization looking at using renewable energy sources, so they set me up with a home-stay with a very nice woman that lives on the coast.  I love the view from the breakfast table. 

A day after arriving, I felt I´d seen the town, so I set off into the woods on my Dientes Circuit trek with high hopes and a heavy pack.  Bopped on up a hill where I hit my first snowfield and walking got a lot tougher.  Followed the cairns I could find with ever decreasing frequency, scouting around hillsides and ridges, until I went an hour on an increasingly steep hillside with no sign that I was on a trail.  At that point, alone, cold and slightly lost, I decided to turn around.  I was unprepared for a five day trek through snow up to my knees.  On my way back, I ran into an English guy on a dayhike that was on the boat with me from Punta Arenas.  We scouted around together a bit, climbing up one ridge, then another minor one, but still no sign of the trail.  The weather started deteriorating when he suggested going up to another ridge.  At that point I said I was done, was already in the mindframe of returning and would head down.  He caught up with me before I´d gotten to far on my way down, saying that he thought maybe there was something up there.  It gave me pause, just long enough to turn around and get some hailstorm in the face before deciding to stick with the original plan and go back down. 

So, I pitched my tent in the woods, much lower down, and went on day hikes instead. Thought I would wait to see how the snow melted off and see if I could still go on the trek. I had the place to myself, saw some more beautiful bogs and creeks and took a bunch of pictures. Two days later I felt even better about my decision when I woke up to four inches of snow on the ground outside of my tent.  I watched it for a while and it didn´t let up, so I packed everything up and headed back into town.  The snow didn´t stop.  I couldn´t imagine being on the backside of the Dientes taking the brunt of the storm, two days from town.  I smiled and smiled as I stood next to the wood burning heater.

Unfortunately, that storm blew my last chance at doing the Dientes trek.  So I continued going on day hikes, scouting up around the valleys closest to town.  There is one dirt road on the island (not counting town of course) that hugs the north shore, so I rented a horse for two days and got as far as I could both to the east and west. Can you believe they let me rent a horse, alone, and canter off?  Old Grey Mare and I went trotting along the coast, up and over the mountains and down to the beach.  We had lunch in a protected little cove off the Beagle Channel and underneath wind whipped trees just starting to show their autumn colors.  The sunsets were amazing, the weather perfect, yadda yadda yadda.  It was fantastic.  That whole riding a white horse along the coast has been a dream of mine since before I knew what dreams were (ask my parents how much I begged and pleaded for a horse), the more recent addition to the dream of along a coast in Tierra del Fuego while the autumn colors were showing just added to it. 

But now! Back to the tropics, to the heat and bugs and jungle and swimmable water.  I´m pretty excited to get back to see Tim, and we having guests! One of my sisters and Al from Ute and hopefully David from Bear Camp in Ecuador and maybe Tim´s sister too!  This is all very exciting anyway, but particularly after days of talking to a horse.

The album photos

Our delicious dinner the night Tim left, biggest mussels you´ve ever seen.


The mountains play hide and seek with the clouds

Me in the Beagle Channel.

I woke up to a winter wonderland outside my tent.

Old Grey Mare giving me one of her ´looks´.


The clouds were spectacular

Old Grey Mare at our first lunch spot.

If I knew a patriotic song of Chile, I´d totally sing it for this pic.