Section 9, part 4: The Carretera Austral

Day 122: Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales, 65k

It was a drizzly and grey morning to start. We took our bags to the trucks and waited for the rider meeting before going back to our hotel for breakfast. We were on the road by 8am, about 30 minutes after everyone else. The rain had lifted by this point and the sun was starting to peek through the clouds, and a good riding day was ahead because we were riding with a tailwind!

IMG_3726Bruce and I were flying through the park much faster than we had entered a couple days ago. We saw a few condors flying along side us and a baby guanaco. We stopped to shed layers after about 40 minutes of riding. After leaving the park and turned onto the main road back to Cerro Castillo we could see storm clouds up ahead, luckily the wind was coming from behind us. Lo and behold the winds are always changing in Patagonia and soon enough we were caught in the squall with freezing rain and winds. We stopped to put all our layers back on before the rain hit us too hard. The rain lasted for maybe 20 minutes before blue skies opened up ahead and we rode out of the storm. I was drenched and cold and once again contemplating why I’m doing this. I realized that we were the last riders to arrive at the lunch, and what’s the point of continuing on for another 3 hours in the rain if we could be at our destination town in an hour. A few other riders had the same idea as well. There was a restaurant close by and we drank coffee and looked at the souvenirs until the lunch bus was ready to go. The sun had come out intermittently on the road to Puerto Natales, as well as more drenching cold rains. I’m glad to have not been that garbage!

We stayed in cabanas for the night, cozy shelter for the continued rain showers. We shared a cabana with another couple on tour who were contemplating riding a tour bus to our next rest day destination, Punta Arenas. If we rode with the group it was about 240k and two days of riding, with a bush camp in between. More rain, cold weather, and high winds. Bruce and I decided to join after learning about boat rides to Penguin colonies from Punta Arenas.

Day 123: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, 3 hour bus ride

Our bus left at 9 am so we were able to have a slow morning. We arranged for taxis to take us to the bus terminal. When we arrived there was a coffee cart with a beautiful espresso machine and a slew of coffee making toys. I was in love! The baristas made a point to explain where the beans came from and the flavor profile, how I have missed coffee nerds!

The bus ride was pretty uneventful, no brushes with death like when we had to take buses from Argentina to Chile. The road was mostly flat prairie lands. I saw very few trees but lots of lupine, which was a nice change to scenery. There were thousands of sheep, cows, horses, and several wild rhea and guanaco. The rain held off although it was a chilly day, I hope that the riders who continued had tailwind. I knew if we left the weather would be fine, its Murphy’s Law.

Punta Arenas is actually a large city. The streets are bustling with department stores and restaurants. There is a sense of Christmas spirt in the air now, more decorations and a Papa Noel sitting on the street for pictures. Its hard to believe that Christmas is in 10 days. I have thoroughly enjoyed the lack of holiday capitalism shoved in my face over the last two months.


As all the other riders were battling out the high winds, we got to see Penguins!  We had to be at the Expedition company office by 6:30am, less than 10 minute walk from our hotel. We loaded into vans with 40  plus other people to drive to the boats. We were crammed onto the boat. I’m always amazed with other peoples’ lack of self awareness when traveling. We were squished together yet people wouldn’t move their bags off the seats to make room for others. Bruce and I went outside to hang out but there were so many people crowding in the small spaces it was impossible to move or see anything.

IMG_3734The wind was strong and the guides mentioned that it would be rough water. We rode about an hour to Santa Marta Island where sea lions rested. The water was too rough to get too close on the boat. People were crowding to take pictures, and again wouldn’t move to allow others a chance to view the animals. We sailed on and the waves were crazy! IMG_3735The front of the boat would slam into the water with a loud crash and toss around. Several people were getting seasickness, you could hear and smell the vomiting all around. Some people were crouched in the fetal position at the back of the boat. I felt bad for them, but steered clear to avoid the smell. The crew was very comforting and helpful to everyone and made sure the sick passengers had what they needed.

IMG_3741When we docked the Magdalena Island it seemed to be a relief to everyone. We were able to get off the boat and walk around the island on a roped off trail. It was amazing to see the Magellan Penguins in a natural habitat. They come to this island every September to mate and fish. The females dig holes in the dirt to lay eggs and care for the chicks. The holes were everywhere and we saw hundreds of penguins wandering around and sleeping. We even got to see a few chicks peaking out of the holes!! The wind was strong and the air was cold and I wished I was a penguin so I wouldn’t be bothered with the weather. It is advertised that there are 60,000 breeding pairs of penguins on the island. However it has dwindled to about 20,000 in the last few years. The marine biologists are not sure why. They assume it is because of the crowds of people,  they have restricted most of the trails to reduce the presence of humans in the environment.  I really enjoyed the trip and learned a lot about the penguin colony. It was worth the rough ride out to the island. The ride back to the dock was much smoother and quieter, most everyone fell asleep.


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