Tales from the end of the world
It may seem like cheating to be updating about a trip in Chile when I’m not in Chile anymore, but in all fairness to me, I’m not yet home either. I’m writing this from somewhere over the Caribbean Sea at 3:30 in the morning because I just woke up and mysteriously can’t sleep. Plus, I still have not posted anything about my last, and quite possibly my best, Chilean adventure.
Exam season in Chile was a bit of a nightmare for me, so as soon as it was over, I was ready to take off on my final trip. I had two free weeks after finals ended, and was originally going to be traveling for both of them. In the end, though, I decided I would rather one shorter trip and then a last week on the beach before I headed home, a good move since it also gave me some more time with my awesome host family before I left. The place I chose for my remaining one week of travels: Chilean Patagonia.
As my friend Lauren (mihijita!) said when she went, “it’s not just an outerwear company”. For this last exciting adventure, I had decided to travel alone and test my independence skills after a semester abroad. I started out in Punta Arenas, a city on the Straits of Magellan. I ended up meeting another exchange student down there and sharing a hostel room with him for two days. While he hung out in the hostel and watched TV, preparing for his hike of Torres del Paine, I went on the Pinguinos tour (translation: penguins) and did some shorter hiking in a national reserve nearby, which was complimented by some unknown flirting with the park ranger. Yeah, I didn’t realize what I was doing until my taxi had pulled up to take me back to my hostel and he was giving me his e-mail address and MSN messenger name. Oops!
After two days in Punta Arenas, I hopped a bus to Puerto Natales, 3 hours north. Puerto Natales is the touristy town on the Fjord of Last Hope and the gateway to the Torres del Paine Park, so to speak. Torres del Paine is supposed to be up there with one of the 10 best hikes in the world, and I’ll believe it. I only had time to do the one day bus trip into the park, but I desperately want to go back some day and spend at least 4 or 5 days hiking in the park. (I know what you’re wondering, but don’t worry, I haven’t completely turned nature girl while here in Chile. I’m still mostly a city-mouse.) The Park is absolutely gorgeous with lagoons and waterfalls and mountains rising up out of the water and into the clouds. The weather in Patagonia is even more changeable than Martha’s Vineyard, and I used to think that was saying something. Every day I was alternately rained on, freezing, and sweating at least once. All this creates very uncertain weather and cloud cover conditions, however, which some find disappointing because of the difficulty in planning anything, but I felt just added a lot to the almost mystical feel of the park.
The Park was definitely my favorite part of the trip, but my boat of the glaciers definitely came in a close second. I took a tour on a boat (oh, how I had missed the feel of ocean under foot, hehe) to see two large glaciers near Puerto Natales. We sailed right up next to one, and the other I was able to walk to. The second was particularly beautiful, with several pieces breaking off and floating into the lake surrounding it. There was, again, some unknowing flirting with the tour guides (I have to start realizing when this is going on), that I was this time unaware of until one of them started touching the neck of my sweater while complimenting me on my Spanish-speaking abilities. I feel like my subconscious must get lonely when I’m traveling alone, even while conscious Caitlin is having a fantastic time. Either that or I just have that nature girl vibe that really reels in the guys. Oh, how crunchy I am. Hehe.
My last night in Puerto Natales was spent in a lovely hostel that I finally got a bed in after two nights in the hostel from hell. (It was next to not one, but two discoteques. Late night karaoke, anyone?) When traveling alone it’s virtually impossible to actually be alone, since the traveling culture really does seem to be one of living together and sharing, and true to form, I met some really cool people all over my travels. Among the many things I learned from them: working papers in Chile are really not a necessity, so if I ever wanted to come back and make some money, I’d be set. (Just kidding, Mom.) In all honesty, though, I did meet amazing people doing amazing things. It made me hope that this is not, by far, my last international adventure. I ended my trip to the “end of the world” relaxing, chatting, and reading in my hostel, and flew back home the next day for a week of beach-ing and goodbyes. My Chile trip ended fantastically, and I am so excited to come home and see all the people I care about!