One of the most difficult things about studying abroad, specifically in regards to going places and doing detail-intensive activities, is planning things out based on the resources available.
In the U.S., where English is the main language spoken, if you want to go on a weekend trip, you can usually find websites that provide all the information that you need in English. Being abroad here in Chile, where Spanish is the primary language, at times finding this information and understanding it can be difficult. Many times, the holes in the plans made aren’t noticed until you are actually doing the activity that you planned. This definitely held true with my trip to Torres del Paine.
It wasn’t until I arrived in Puerto Natales that I fully realized that Torres del Paine National Park is not actually located next to this town. You can’t just casually walk from your hostel or hotel to the park. It is almost a two-hour bus ride to get to the park and once you get to the park and are all signed in, there is a solid chance that you will have to take a shuttle or a boat to where you plan to start hiking.
Then there is the hiking itself. Being an inexperienced hiker, I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to experience in terms of the hikes themselves, but this one was an adventure. In total, we hiked close to 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles. The biggest challenge that I had was not knowing what to expect from each day, in terms of the difficulty or distance we were hiking.
We had a general idea of what we were hiking, with our four campsites booked, but while we were in the middle of hiking, it was difficult to tell how far we had hiked or how much farther we had to go. Many of the trails had maps with the progress you had made marked, but for our use they didn’t seem to be quite accurate.
When we entered the park, we were also given a map that gave approximations for the amount of time that each distance would take. These times weren’t quite accurate for many people on the trail, which we learned after talking to some of the other people at the campsites. This stands to reason, though. Everyone hikes differently, with some people taking breaks or hiking faster than others based on their abilities and experience.
Another factor that slowed us down on our hike was the sheer beauty of Torres. We started our adventure with a boat ride across the lake to where we started hiking. This gave us a preview of some of the mountains, but only gave a hint of how beautiful they were. Our first night we stayed near a glacier, which the next morning we hiked right up to. The second night we stayed right on the edge of the lake. The third night we stayed in the middle of three very different mountains and on the final night we stayed at the base of the path that, after 45 minutes of hiking, gave a perfect view of the actual towers (Torres).
With all these locations that we camped near, we also saw many sites as we were hiking as well, causing us to stop to take in the view, snap a few pictures and just soak in where we were.
With this being said, this experience was a sporting experience as well as a visually stimulating experience. There were so many ways to experience the park and while I chose to do it through doing the W trek, there is no wrong way to do it if you get to experience the beauty of Torres del Paine.