“I was so nervous before the hike. Would my shoes be okay? Would the pack be uncomfortable? Would my body be up for the task? What would the weather be like?”
Our year-and-a-half trip around Latin America and Southeast Asia was not meant to see us venturing so far south. However, when we talked to other travellers on our Chilean leg, they told us Patagonia was an absolute must do. We took their advice and booked flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas, with plans to hike through the legendary Torres Del Paine National Park.
Punta Arenas itself was a nice change from the 36-degree Celsius weather in Santiago and had a cold mountain town feel (minus the mountains). We decided on doing the five-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 five 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 we easily found everything we needed. And luckily for us, a hostel in town did a briefing every afternoon for hikers just to answer questions—because once you went, you were on your own.
I was so nervous before the hike. Would my shoes be okay? Would the pack be uncomfortable? Would my body be up for the task? What would the weather be like? (We were told there could be snow, rain, gale force winds, etc.) After all, I had never done anything like this before where we had to be completely 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 massive 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 six hours the next day was not one I relished.
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 my 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.
Author - Jess Tabak
Jess Tabak is from New Zealand. She recently returned home from 12 amazing months of travelling the world.