It arrived, the much anticipated date, the day we were starting the epic ‘O’ circuit of the Torres del Paine. The name says it all, (learning to pronounce it was another matter). In the months leading to our departure from home, we upped our exercise, he rowing and me running, and we added a weekly ‘personal training’ session to be sure to be able to complete this mountain circumnavigation injury free. Never have I been so glad to have given so much time to lifting, squatting, lunging, pushing and pulling. But the preparation fully paid off.
There was chaos at the entry to the Torres del Paine National Park. Hikers and day trippers poured off coaches from Puerto Natales. For all the complexity in the booking system, there was little information on what to do, where to go, how much to pay, what to expect.
At the Welcome centre, whilst Andy left a message for Gerado, who was due to deliver our repaired camper, left behind at El Calafate, (Argentina) I went in search of the water bottle that had got lost in the scramble for the bus. Fortunately, I found it on a counter along with someone else’s box of small pink pills. I asked around the groups gathered outside if anyone might have dropped their medication. “Probably birth control’ said a young women with dreads and piercings. ‘ Ah yes’ I responded, ‘not critical then’. ‘No’, she agreed, ‘but this sure is a cool place to conceive’!
We set off, not quite sure of the route but soon found the way. After a few steps Andy informed us, in true tour leader style, that the ‘zonas de recouperaciones’ were for habitat recovery, not ours.
The route to camp Seron was gentle, a lovely path through forest, along the bank of the aptly named Rio Ecantado. We were warmly greeted at the camp. There were only 12 walkers dining in that evening, the others were cooking in a shelter outside. On our table were two women, in front of them a bottle of wine which they immediately offered to share with us. They were Russians, living in America, with no desire to return. Thirty somethings, mothers, married to Russians met in the US. They were fresh, beautifully poised and turned out. One was in clothes that coordinated head to toe, pinks purples, mauves. They were on their 5th day of the circuit, having started at Paine Grande. That day they had walked two stages, starting from camp Chileno at 3:00 in the morning, hiking up to the Torres for sunrise, then all the way down to the Central Sector and on to Camp Seron. A mammoth hike. You must be totally exhausted’ I exclaimed. Think Villanelle, from Killing Eve, ‘ I feel totally rested’ the coordinated one replied. She took a long slow breath, her eyes closed for a second or two. ‘I have no worries. Children (three, under 7) are with father.’
The evening meal was excellent, each plate carefully constructed – a tower of gratin potato, roasted veg, crowned with a fillet of chicken finished with a crispy ‘leaf’ of Parmesan.