“Nowhere else are you so completely alone. Nowhere else is there an area of 100,000 square miles which you may gallop over, and where, whilst enjoying a healthy, bracing climate, you are safe from the persecution of fever,plantar fasciitis treatment, friends, savage tribes, obnoxious animals, telephones, letters and every other nuisance you are elsewhere liable to be exposed to.” ‘Across Patagonia’ by Lady Florence Dixie
I’ve always been looking for somewhere to escape the persecution of my friends so to Patagonia I headed, to treat boldly through the Torres del Paine National Park.
I was going to just rock up and find a bed near Lake Pehoe but upon chatting to a Dutch couple over breakfast they planted the theory in my head that perhaps all the Hosteria’s would be full already, a quick check online after desayuno confirmed this, and so I began to prepare myself (both mentally and physically) for a few nights under the stars.
A tent, sleeping bag and roll mat were hired from my hostal (Geminis). I left half of my stuff back in Puerto Natales and just took what I needed to shoot and survive in the cold for a few days out there. It was a big temperature drop going from the perfect climate of Santiago down to the frigid temperatures of Patagonia. On shoots out here I was in full cold weather gear – Vest, t-shirt, thick cotton shirt, fleece jumper, fleece jacket, goosedown vest and ski-jacket (I get cold pretty easily it seems).
The Dutch couple were on the same bus out there, and once the conversation with Youri turned to football it didn’t look back. I can’t remember when I’d last had a chance to discuss the beautiful game, must have been weeks ago, so the 3 hour journey passed by muy rapido.
Upon the first stop we disembark and are giving a short introductory speech from one of the Park rangers about the rules and advice for the Park. Most of the passengers left us here at Laguna Amargo to begin the ‘W-Trek’ from the east side. This is the traditional route, the three of four day trek will take its participants to the main highlights close to the Torres.
The bus carried on to the ‘Pudeto’ refugio, where a catamaran was waiting to carry more gore-tex clad young hikers across the Lake Pehoe where they would trek from the west side back across the National Park (smart move chaps – they were going to use the permanent westerly wind as a tailwind). This just left the driver and me, we had a conversation:
“El cafe es carro?”
“Quantos cuestra para almuerzo?”
“Si, Quince mille”
That was the end of the conversation, I had to wait on the bus for 45 minutes for another bus that was carrying on south, to drop me off at the Pehoe Camping site. You see I was doing things a little differently to everyone else, with my huge pack loaded with camera equipment, tripod, basic camping paraphernalia, food supplies, bottle of Johhnie Walker and collection of jackets I had no intention of doing any serious trekking, I was here to shoot..
After walking for many hours, climbing hill after hill, crawling through caves, scrambling over scree, wading through gushing waters, hurdling over deep crevasses, I came across this stunning location, looking north towards the incredible granite peaks of the Torres del Paine (Paine Towers). Actually that last bit wasn’t true, I walked 200 yards from the campsite over a small ridge and found this bay, which offered some limited shelter from the relentlessly furious wind and a perfect view north.
Did I mention the wind yet? Jesus christ, it just doesn’t stop, it won’t relent, if you harbour any thoughts of setting up a tripod and opening a shutter for a long exposure in this gale then forget it pal. I find a spot partially sheltered behind a rock and tree, if the wind does happen to take a break a bit then maybe this could work, so I back I return each morning, 7am sharp, dragging myself out of my sleeping bag into the freezing pre-dawn temperatures. I need a ten minute motivational period each morning between the alarm and first movements up, I suppose we all do before work. One of the four days I finally get the light, its not perfect – the main peak is slightly obscured by cloud but it is certainly something to take home.
It is difficult deciding how long to hang around on these trips waiting for the perfect shot of a location, I’ve flown 2000 miles from Santiago down to Patagonia to get something here, but I can’t afford to give away weeks if the weather isn’t co-operating, there is a lot still to see on my schedule, 3 more countries to visit, and the early April departure date is drawing closer now.
The landscape here really is incredible, like many of the most beautiful places in the world you sometimes have to be patient with the weather, much of day here the Towers were obscured, but that made it all the more special when they were revealed, visible in all their ragged beauty. It is certainly a place I’d like to come back too, he locals say the wind dies right down in their winter (july and august), its hard to believe having spent four days being battered by it but it would certainly make photography a bit easier.
“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”
― Bruce Chatwin – ‘What am I doing here?’