|The wonderful weather on the drive to Torres del Paine.|
There’s not much to report from the next couple of days, which we mostly spent traveling from El Calafate in Argentina to the Torres del Paine national park in Chile. To get to Torres del Paine, we had to go through Puerto Natales, the third of three towns we visited on the trip and by far our least favorite.
The town’s vibe was decidedly unfriendly. The other backpackers were plenty nice, but the actual inhabitants never seemed to smile. The town was rundown and sketchy after dark. Interestingly, it seemed to be up to each individual restaurant whether to allow smoking. In some, it was expressly allowed; in others, it was prohibited. Happily, there were pisco sours on all the menus, though we couldn't escape the really bad music that seemed to be playing everywhere we went in Chile (even the customs agents at the border were watching pop music videos on TV while working).
Compared to Puerto Natales, El Calafate appeared upbeat, nice and alive — but very touristy. The shopping area on the main street looked like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco with its log cabin-style shops. There were always cab drivers hanging around the bus stop, offering to take you to the glacier and the restaurants seemed very pricey (and with English menus, usually not a good sign). There was even a store named “El Turista”!
Which leaves El Chalten as our favorite town by far. Small, still being built, with plenty of open space and a very rustic, mountain-y feel. It’s the one town to which I could imagine returning, even just to spend a relaxing week being outdoors and drinking good beer.
The other unfortunate fact about Puerto Natales is that it’s two hours by bus from Torres del Paine, which meant we had a six-hour bus ride across the border, then a night in Puerto Natales and another bumpy ride to the park the next day. We had hoped to spend only about 15 hours in Puerto Natales, but we had to delay our departure to rent a new pack for me. But by the next afternoon, we were on our way to Torres del Paine.