Saturday, December 31, 2011

Torres del Paine: A Real Tragedy

We arrived at TDP after an hour and a half bus ride to the park lookin at beautiful scenes and local wildlife. Got our entrance tickets ($30) and took the bus to the third and last stop called Administration to start the hike up the Q (so at the bottom of the tail of the Q)I had lost my water bottle under the bus and a girl at the station gave me a plastic one thank goodness. Inside the building they had info about the local flora and fauna of TDP and a bathroom. Outside there were cold and fierce winds blowing us around, not the best weather to start hiking out in but also normal for Patagonian summer. We also learned that a fire had started the night before and Glacier Grey was closed, but since that would be the last part of our trek we might be ok. We figured out which way to start and were told to keep an eye on the smoke and good luck..

Stopped at a rest stop on the way

We saw many guanacos on the way in
Don't do it! (sign in bathroom before entering park)

at Administracion about to set out


The start

This day was going to be a long one, the campsite we originally wanted to get to (Italiano) was closed due to a toilet explosion which left poo everywhere so we had 3 other options... there was a campsite 2 hours in (but that would be silly to hike for 2 hours and camp! and would throw us off a day) go to pay campsite and pay a ridiculous amount of money to set up the tent there or push ourselves to a site 2 hours more from Italiano. We said we'd play it by ear. But the wind was so strong and was pushing us head on it was taking longer to walk anywhere! It was especially difficult because we were mostly walking in fields. Thank goodness the scenery was so stunning! Although it was being kind of ruined by the smoke from the fire in the background.

1st campsite we got to 2 hours in

With the wind pushing at us relentlessly we decided to get to the closer, paid campsite because we knew we wouldn't be able to make it to the free, farther away campsite that day. As we got closer we started to climb up and down some hills. We climbed up one and saw an amazing lake, sooo blue, unfortunately the smoke from the fire was hiding half of the mountain in the background.

As we were nearing the campsite an Australian family passed us and the dad told us that they were closing the park and evacuating people out! I kinda had a feeling this would happen...

When we made it to the paid campsite, Paine Grande, we saw how close the fire was. People were lining up to get evacuated by the catamaran.

So we lined up to get out of the park, rumor had it that it was closing
Getting closer! soon it would be only 1 Kilometer away

 Ash was starting to fall on us and it was getting a bit hard to breath, but not to bad. It was also getting really cold!

This is them closing the gate when the catamaran became full, of course right in front of us.

We had an hour wait for the catamaran to come back and by this time we were really cold since we had stopped hiking and were standing around. So we did the best thing we could do, eat our food.

spraying the area around the hotel in hopes to get the vegetation wet

yeeaah...good luck w those doing much

smoke is really close now! catamaran arrives again

This is how much the smoke advanced by the time we got on the boat. They managed to get everyone on this boat
The hotel staff had to get on our boat as well, this guy stopped before getting on the boat holding the flag of Magallanes and Antartica Chilena Region (or their regional flag) to his face and crying, while the fire destroyed one of the most visited places in Chile
View from the boat as we pulled away. That's actually the sun shining, not the fire.
Picture I took from the bus as we drove out of the park

So 12 hours after we left the hostel in the morning, thinking we would be back in 9 days, we arrived back and of course had no beds. We ended up in another hostel across the plaza owned by a very nice Chilean who guides at the park. At this point we didn't know how much of the park the fire would hit and thought maybe we could get back in a couple days when it died down. The hostel owner, Shakana, said he would take our entry tickets with him the next day and get them stamped and signed for us so we would be able to enter again without paying again (we weren't sure if they would make us pay again but we figured they would).

The next day we went back to Erratic Rock to see if we could stay on a couch for cheaper since we hadn't budgeted for this thinking we would be camping, at least we had all the camp food though. We were hearing reports that the fire was spreading but the park was still open and the back part was hikeable so we made plans to return for a 4 day hike since we had come all the way down here. Unfortunately the fire had spread more due to the winds and later that night they finally closed the park and were evacuating everyone. I had some PC friends hiking at the time and we were waiting for them to come back, around 12 am they still hadn't and we figured they'd be back the next morning when more buses were going out. We also got to take their beds in the hostel.

One of the guides who works at this hostel actually was near where the fire had started. He saw a group of people camping illegally by a river and later saw the smoke. He went up and tried to do what he could to put it out. He was out there for 4 or 5 hours he said before anyone (park ppl) even showed up. Many of the local people here are saying that it's just as much the Chilean gov fault as the people who started the campfire. They say that they have no orginization or plans for something like this. This is the third big fire to start in that area and still nothing is done to protect the park, no pumps put in or more trained people. The guide was saying that they should be prepared for this because people are stupid and will do stupid things and they have to bet on this happening.

So we've been hanging out here at the hostel just listening to reports and hanging out with everyone. The fire burnt the buildings by the catamaran the night we got evacuated and we heard that it was heading down the tail, the part we had just walked up and had burnt that campsite we passed, carretas. At the moment more than 11,000 hectares have been burnt. Such a shame, the park had a fire in 2005 that was started by a Czech tourist camping in an unauthorized area meant for grazing when his camp stove caught fire and burned over 13,000 hectares of the park. This area in Chile isn't meant to have forest fires and the trees are slow growing so you can still see the effects from this fire (burnt trees).
The buses out are all packed and we're leaving after New Years day to go to El Chalten in Argentina and do some camping finally!
I heard on the news today that they had a confession from one person out of a group they detained. A 23 year old Israeli.

I think it's all an example of the same ol same ol, money taking precedence over everything. I've heard that the park didn't regulate how many people are in there at one time or have proper trained park guards. It was just there as a money maker for the government. I mean, they didn't even close the park right away!! I'm glad I at least got in there to see it. I hope this is a lesson learned for a lot of people.

Back in Puerto Natales, locals protesting about the gov'nts reaction and what will happen now. This is the beginning of the tourist season and they were banking on it for their livelyhood, no they want to know 'now what?.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Lora, Thank you for giving us an update, it is a horrible tragedy, so sad,.... marianna