Torres del Paine, Day Uno: Wild on the W

Tonight, Drunk and Jobless is coming to you live from Patagonia’s world famous Torres del Paine National Park. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard about it until a few weeks ago, either, but it’s famous with the hiking set, and for good reason. The mountains in this part of Chile are incredible, the lakes are so blue it almost hurts. There are glaciers and icebergs, angry cliffs and violent winds. The weather changes its mind every five minutes, there’s the ever-present danger of being blown into a fjord, and every wonderful sight is beaten by an even more wonderful sight around the next corner. This place is great.

So great that thousands of people come to Torres del Paine every year. Seriously, this joint is Disneyland for people who enjoy looking at trees. I knew that when I found it on one of those shit ‘Top 5 Things to do in Chile’ blogs, but it was driven home when I happened on an introductory lesson for hiking the trail while I was picking up some gear.

“Are there toilets out there?”

“Will I get cold?”

“Where are the Wi-Fi hotspots?”

I’m not some unreal bushman, but I know that if you need to shit on a hike, you go behind a tree… but more on that later. Things didnt improve when I woke up at some some silly time, jumped on a bus, and ended up in the Park. I swear half the motherfuckers there were dressed as if they’d only ever read about hiking on the internet. North Face hard shells when it didn’t even look like raining, five layers of snow clothes when it was about 12 degrees, I even saw some fuckwit in a sombrero.

I took a catamaran across a windswept lake to the start of the hike, and that’s where I met a Portuguese chap named Antonio. He told me that he’d managed to sneak past the front gates of the park without paying, had climbed onto the cat without paying, and planned to camp without handing over a single peso. One thing I’ve learned since arriving in South America is that you don’t want to get between a Chilean and a dollar unless you’re willing to lose a finger, so when I said goodbye to him at Paine Grande camp, I didn’t expect to see him in one piece again.

I’m in Patagonia outside the peak times, but I was still worried that I’d be pushing through people just to keep going along the trail – and the truth is that I pretty much was as I started out on the famed W Trek. I can walk faster than most otber people (except the Germans) but I take a lot of photos, so I had to wind my way around the same people over and over again. For someone who usually hikes alone in Australia, I didn’t really get that feeling of being out in the elements that I usually look for.

It can be a clown show at times, but it is bloody amazing. It’s not just about the mountains and lakes, because every tree and shrub and rock is worth taking a photo of, or just standing back and basking in its glory. There aren’t many places that can match the epic scale of Torres del Paine, so watch your step whilst you’re gaping in wide-eyed wonder at the incredible stuff going on in the Patagonian wilderness around you.

The hiking in Torres del Paine isn’t exactly difficult. There are no really steep bits, or really rocky bits, so as long as you’ve got a set of legs that work, it takes no major effort to get around. What has made it tough for me is the fact I’m carrying everything I need for five days on my back – tent, sleeping bag, mat, and food. Most people choose to stay in the refugios along the way, or rent a different tent each night. Those who really have money falling out their arses also eat in the restaurants, so all they need to carry around is a spare cashmere sweater. Really, if you’re on a week-long camp and you can’t carry your own supplies, maybe you’d be better off staying at home.

Like most people who hike the W, I spent my first night at Camp Grey, about 11km north of where the catamaran docks. After setting up my tent, I hiked a further kilometre to Glacier Grey, which is absolutely astonishing. A wall of glowing blue ice lurks menacingly on the lake, while massive chunks of frozen water constantly break off and cause deafening crashes.

Things were also noisy back at camp, because I got the squirts. There was some bad stuff going on in my guts, and the toilets were full, so I raced down the track out of camp and let rip with last night’s chicken vindaloo, which looked like it hadn’t even touched the sides before coming back out. Unfortunately, in my panic I hadn’t realised that the path looped back towards the campsite, so when I started wiping my arse I looked over to see a couple of horrified Germans gagging on their sausages about three metres away from me.

“Sorry, Gunter,” I chuckled as I wiped my blurter. “I guess a threesome’s out of the question, then?”

There’s quite a nice bar at Camp Grey, but when I wandered in and asked for a cold one the little bloke behind the bar gave me a toothy smile and asked for 4000 pesos, so I stole as many complimentary olives off the bar and hotfooted it out of there. Luckily, I brought a bottle of Chile’s cheapest vodka with me, so when I got back to my tent I was faced with two options. I could take it out to the camp kitchen, where gorgeous European women would treat me like a king and fight for the attention of me and the bottle, inevitably leading to an evening of raucous sexual debauchery. Or I could mix it with a can of overpriced Sprite and smash it in my tent by myself, thus achieving maximum drunkenness and increasing my chances of vomiting on a puma.

I took a deep breath, made my decision, and walked towards the camp kitchen with the cheap bottle in my hands. A dozen women, each one looking stunning despite a hard day of hiking, was drawn to me like moths to a flame. For a few minutes, I was the king of Torres del Paine, as offers of sex and chocolate were thrown my way. But I’m a man of simple tastes, so I chose a delightful Brazilian lass and escorted her back to my tent as she sucked back the vodka.

Once inside, she began to strip off for me in preparation for hours of getting naughty in nature. And then… well, I don’t know, because I was so tired from walking all day that I passed out. When I woke up, there was no sign of the Brazilian or the vodka. I climbed out of my tent, and was stunned to see Antonio sitting on a log with a massive smile on his face.

“You wouldn’t believe my luck!” he told me. “Last night I arrive in camp late, a beautiful Brazilian lady come up to me with a bottle of vodka and asking for sex. She take me back to her tent, we make fuck all night. Three, four, five times. Free accommodation, free alcohol, free poontang. It’s a good day to be Antonio!”

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