Leaving Ushuaia and downtime in Puerto Natales

January 3, 2015
I leave Ushuaia on the 6:00 bus, the sun already high in the sky and melting a little of the snow off the tops of the mountains I missed seeing on the bus ride in thanks to the rain.

It’s a long but mainly uneventful day of bus rides north, across the border with Chile, into the little coastal town of Puerto Natales. There is one moment I wrote about –

18:43 – one of the drivers checks to see if anyone is going to Puerto Natales on the 18:00 bus. (At this point it doesn’t even bother me that 18:00 was 45 minutes ago – after my bus journeys last week I think I would have been more surprised if the bus were on time). A few minutes later, the bus pulls onto a gravel shoulder by the side of the road at a small intersection and stops, idling. There’s no bus terminal in sight – not even a gas station – just wind, grass, hills, the long stretch of road. A few of us get out with our bags, along with one of the drivers. We mill around. After a few minutes the driver gets back on and the bus leaves us by the side of the road with our bags: me and my strange seatmate; a woman with her two kids; and an older Argentine lady traveling solo. We’re all alone. The wind blows. The sheep graze. A couple of minutes pass. I start wondering if I understood correctly that this is a bus transfer, or maybe something got lost in translation and I’m supposed to start walking. At least everyone else is in the same boat as me, and none of them seem concerned. After a few more awkward minutes a bus pulls up showing PUERTO NATALES on its front window display – sure enough, this is the bus transfer. We’re on the bus in a minute and a couple of hours later I’m hopping out at Puerto Natales.

January 4, 2015:
I wake up sick. The plan for Puerto Natales was to prepare for and set out on a backpacking trip in Torres del Paine national park, but the cold that I caught in Ushuaia is hitting me hard today. In cities it’s not so difficult to get by with a cold, you can vary your activities and take breaks and drink lots of tea when you need it – but I know better than to head into the wilderness with a fever. I force myself to relax, be patient, and recover before the hike.

I spend the day chugging tea and lying in bed.

January 5, 2015:
I chug tea and lie in bed.

January 6, 2015:
I chug tea, lie in bed, and watch a Star Wars marathon with Miguel, who works at the hostel.

January 7, 2015:
I feel a little better. The tea appears to have had no effect but the medicine I finally bought is doing the trick. I spend the day packing, renting equipment, panicking when it seems impossible to fit all my equipment in my modest 50-liter backpack, taking a deep breath, and managing to fit everything in anyway. I chug more tea just to be safe.

January 8, 2015:
I’m ready. I buy a ticket for the 14:30 bus to the park. I’m doing the “Q” circuit through Torres del Paine – the full loop around the famous peaks, plus the “tail” trail that leads into the park from the south. It looks to be about 140 kilometers – 87 miles. The nine days I have allotted should be sufficient, based on all the information I was able to gather before hand, and will even leave me with a buffer day if I run into bad weather or need to take an extra day to rest. This is a big deal, though. I’ve done long hikes, and I’ve camped, and there was that time in Colombia when I walked through a jungle for four days – but this will be my first honest-to-goodness backpacking trip. I don’t do anything halfway, apparently. I’m a little nervous – but I feel ready.

I leave a thank-you drawing in the hostel’s guest book and get ready for my bus ride.

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