I already liked Carola, our Chilean guide well enough but our second day in Torres del Paine made me think Carola was was one of the coolest people I’ve met. Sure, she’s smart, feisty, independent, adventurous, and totally gorgeous to boot. How many young female hiking guides do you know who rock climbs and treks around wearing beautiful scarves and ornate earrings? But what sealed the deal for me was when she talked about the lack of response on the part of the Chilean government over the wild fire in the park. We were taking a short break from our hike under a huge rock formation, looking out to a sweeping view of the valley below. She was calm when she spoke but there was steel in her voice. I thought “here is a young woman who is passionate about something, who cares about nature, who loves her country.” This was Monday, January 9, 2012. We couldn’t do our scheduled hike to the French Valley because of that terrible fire, which was started by an Israeli tourist two weeks prior. Even in English newspapers thousands of miles away there were articles about how the Chilean government sent just a handful of firefighters in the first few days of the fire when the neighboring countries of Argentina and Uruguay contributed several hundred. The papers noted that the Chilean president’s approval ratings have dipped down to an all-time low.
If I’d planned this trip on my own, I would have been in trouble with this unexpected turn of events. But I had Carola and our other female hiking guide Sandra, and they knew where to take us. We had a nice hike (~8 or 9km) with some amazing views and a whole herd of guanacos. Carola told us that she usually doesn’t see so many of them in one place and thought it must have something to do with the fire, and that perhaps they moved over to this area for safety. However they got there, they didn’t seem too concerned with our being right next to them. At times we got so close that I could practically reach over and touch them, but of course I didn’t. They looked like they could really give you a seriously painful kick. But apparently they’re tasty, or at least that’s what the guys said a few days later in Punta Arenas where guanaco stew was on the menu…
After the hike we went to see a waterfall. It was not Iguazu or the Niagara Falls, but it was strong and large enough to create a mist field that got us wet and a bit chilly.
My favorite part of the day was trying to sneak up on flamingos around Lago Amarga (bitter lake). The lake gets its name from the high salt content in the water and there were small groups of brilliantly pink flamingos by the shore. We weren’t trying to scare them away but rather get close enough to see them and maybe take a few photos. But our attempts at stealthiness were thwarted each time. If you spooked just one of those fragile birds, within seconds the entire flock took to the sky.
It was during our second trip towards the shore that brought us our comic relief of the day. We were quietly getting closer to the birds when a portion of the salt crusted shores of the lake gave way to the heaviness of us humans. Poor Antoine sank knee deep in mud, not once or twice but at least a dozen times in quick succession. He kept sinking and sinking with each step! Being good friends that we are (and Antoine being a great sport), we took photographs and videos of the entire ordeal and had giant belly laughs watching and re-watching it with everyone.
We returned to our camp site for an afternoon of relaxation. Lucy says we went “glamping” instead of camping, since it was more glamorous than not. I don’t think I can disagree with her assessment. I had my yoga practice in a cozy domed structure with a nice wooden floor, followed by a hot shower, and a glass of red wine (thanks to Joy and Andrew). As the sun set on our second day in Torres del Paine, there were more Pisco Sours, Chilean wine, and another three-course dinner (yummy pumpkin soup comes to mind). Carola introduced me to her favorite Chilean, Argentinian, and Brazilian musicians, and we listened and grooved until the stars began to show up. I brought out my sleeping bag and I joined those sitting outside who refused to let this day end. I hopped into the sleeping bag to shield myself from the cold winds and said, “I’m not ready to go to sleep yet!” I really wasn’t ready.
Thinking about it now I realize that I was so blissfully happy that night and in Patagonia because I was really present. I didn’t think about the past and I wasn’t worried about planning for the future. I was fully present to take in and appreciate everything around me, mind, body, and soul. Well, that’s my lesson for the day (and everyday). To be present.