19th.-22nd. February, Torre del Paine, Rio Gallegos
Today we drove to the Torre del Paine National Park in Chile which is apparently visited by 100,000 tourists every year. However soon after passing the park entrance, where we were greeted by a jackal and some guanachos, we were confronted by smoke from a forest fire. Only afterwards did we appreciate the full extent of the fire which made the Swiss newspapers. A week after the outbreak of the fire 14000 Hektar of forest had been destroyed and although 700 firemen and soldiers had been fighting it, it was still out of control. We were actually many miles from the fire and that part of the park had been closed to tourists. Nevertheless our views of the famous peaks were considerably impaired and the three most well-known peaks similar to the Drei Zinnen in the Dolomites could hardly be seen at all. Fortunately our hotel was suituated on Lago Grey on the opposite side of the park and was not affected by the smoke. During the drive through the park there good views of the Cuernos de Paine from the Salto Grange where we made a short halt.
A walk along the banks of Lago Grey was planned for the next day but I wanted to walk to the Mirador Nordenskjöld for better views of the mountains. It turned out that I had time for both walks meeting the others at Lago Grey in the afternoon. Later there was despite the amount of cloud a very atmospheric sunset to be enjoyed from the dining room of the lodge.
After leaving Chile there was another 8 hour drive across Argentina via Esperanza to Rio Galegos the most Southerly town on the Atlantic mainland coast of South America. Again there were guanachos some flamingos to be seen on the way. The next day we drove for the last time over bumpy roads for two and a half hours to the very South-easternmost tip of the Argentinian mainland. First we could view a penguin colony, which was not such a huge one compared with those in some parts of the country, but there were some hundreds of birds on the beach some distance away and lots nesting between low bushes which one could go right up to. A nearby sheep farm had been founded by an Irish family around 1860. Their descendants still live there and run the farm to produce top quality wool and meat from the same breed of animal. We saw them load 270 sheep into a lorry for market and there was of course a shearing demonstration. Surprisingly they use hand shears which give better top quality wool, although most places use electric ones, including Benetton who have several farms here. The lunch of grilled lamb in the old farmhouse was excellent. We were surrounded by some of the original furniture and it is very like some of the descriptions in Bruce Chatwin’s book. In the evening we flew to Ushuaia, having gone direct to the airport at Rio Gallegos.