I set off on a five-day trek to see Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, in the company of two perfect strangers… and everyone else on the crowded trails. I had heard of the pristine beauty of Torres del Paine, and the amazing view at the end, but the real reason I was on this trek was my determination to make my South American adventure a real adventure, not just about beach hopping and bar hopping.
I threw up in the washroom of the administration office, and began the 32-kilometer stretch to Glacier Grey.
So, after a few hours on an ancient bus, I hopped off at the trailhead, threw up in the washroom of the administration office, and began the 32-kilometer stretch to Glacier Grey with nothing but a backpack full of granola bars, instant coffee, a kettle, and a different flavor of rice for each night. And a camera, of course!
I spent the first night at a campsite close by the beautiful Glacier Grey, where we were forced to set up our tent in pitch darkness. Then I reluctantly started day two. One of my trekking buddies was an optimist and the other a pessimist. I think this was in my favor. I always had Mr. Optimist to put the right spin on things at a marvelous viewpoint, despite our aching backs. Just as important, Ms. Pessimist was there when all I wanted to do was bitch about the curry-flavored rice that tasted of molding socks. The perfect balance.
One of my trekking buddies was an optimist (left) and the other a pessimist (middle). I think this was in my favor (right).
On our second day the rain was powerful, and we passed several tents drowning in pools of water while their occupants sat on logs nearby, sipping coffee and looking miserable. We got to Campo Italia in record time, not wanting to spend another night setting up camp in the dark. Campo Italia was crowded, noisy, and fun. We stayed there for two days, to have a rest and then spend day three doing the short walk to the nearby cliff. I was told prior to our trek that this was a gorgeous viewpoint, but the rain and clouds didn’t allow us to see much. The pessimist saw nothing; she stayed in the tent all day with coffee and her iPod.
At this point in our trek, after climbing up a cliff in the rain, I started to discover something: I was really enjoying myself, in ways I hadn’t whilst sunning on beaches and dancing in clubs. This felt like a real adventure, something I had smelled yet never tasted on half-hearted day-hikes in the past. Despite the bulky, heavy backpack and the lack of real food, I felt amazing. When I voiced this to Mr. Optimist he simply laughed, patted me on the back and exclaimed, “Good for you, kiddo!” A man of few words, but they were all the right ones. I felt even more amazing.
We got to bed early to get up for the sunrise on the top of a mountain.
The fourth day took us to Refugio Chileno campground, where we pitched our tents and made paella rice, which tasted no better than the curry. We got to bed early to get up for the sunrise on the top of a mountain, which promised a spectacular view of Mirador Las Torres. We made it up just in time, Mr. Optimist skipping up the mountain with the greatest of ease, while Miss Pessimist could barely breathe through her grumbling. I just kept moving, ignoring them both. What we saw at the end was a sunrise unlike anything I had ever seen.
What we saw at the end was a sunrise unlike anything I had ever seen.
The three skyscraper-like mountains sat atop a crystal lake, and as all of the surrounding mountains began to light up with the early morning, the three towers glowed as if the new sun itself was shining out of them. I felt as if they were mirroring not the beginning of the day, but the beginning of the world.
The three towers glowed as if they were mirroring not the beginning of the day, but the beginning of the world.
That sunrise was better than a screen saver. It was better than the feeling of shucking off that heavy backpack for the last time. It was even better than the entire pizza I ate when we got back to town. The only thing that sunrise didn’t beat was the feeling I got from the entire five-day hike through Torres del Paine. I was an adventurer, no longer “prissy,” or an “indoor girl.” I felt as if the single accomplishment of finishing that amazing trek had changed my vision of myself. And today, 355 days later, I feel I still have what it takes to be an adventurer.
Leslie Kreffer is a Canadian living in Queensland, Australia. Before Aussie life, she spent time in South America, first teaching English in a prison in Argentina, then having countless other adventures. In future, she plans to continue traveling and have a blast doing it.