Hanging out in Puerto Natales and Planning Torres del Paine
After El Chalten, where Fitz Roy was, I took an evening bus to El Calafate to spend a night there then head out the next morning to Puerto Natales. Most people stay in El Calafate for a few days to do the glacier trek but since I've already seen glaciers before I didn't want to pay for the tour, which is about $150 USD. So I just stayed one night and then left early the next morning to Puerto Natales, the city right outside of Torres del Paine.
Torres del Paine is the most popular area of Patagonia, which means also the most touristy. Since October of 2016, they changed the rules of camping and visiting the park. Before you could camp anywhere and didn't need a reservations to visit the park. Now, because of what has been happening the past few years, they changed the system and you have to make reservations for every night you are camping there in advance. You can't just show up and camp. Therefore it has been an absolute nightmare for a lot of people. I definitely understand why they had to do it but the booking system is not functioning the way they wanted. For example, people have gone to the camp sites and it would be 1/2 full because people would book in advance to avoid not having a reservation but their plans would change so they won't show up. This is how a lot of people do it. They might not be worried about wasting the money but more worried about getting actual reservations, which is a lot harder.
I also had this worry and didn't know how I was going to be able to actually camp or trek the park because if I wanted to the the O, or the whole park, instead of the W, I would need 4 more reservations because I only had 2 out of the 6 nights. Therefore, when I got to Puerto Natales, I was still toying with both ideas, either the W or the O. But the worker at the hostel told me to just visit the offices of the companies that own the camp sites and see if I'm able to book anything. Just my luck, I was able to book every other night without a problem! So within an hour, my hesitation of doing the entire O circuit, was decided for me because I was able to get all of my necessary reservations to camp 6 nights in the park.
I think I really lucked out because a girl went today, a day after me, and she wasn't able to book anything because everything was sold out. I might have taken the last ones or my timing was just right. Either way, I'm doing the O! So if you don't know the difference between the different circuits, I'm here to explain. So there are 3 different circuits you could do in the park - W, O, Q. The W if the most touristic area of the park because that's where all the main attractions and hikes are but that also means the most busy and filled with tourists. If you did it the traditional way, it would take you 4 - 5 days to camp but some people might do day treks and just commute in and out of the park each day. The O, which is the one I'm doing, includes the W and also the back side of the park. This is definitely the less populated area, more serine, and the true atmosphere of trekking and hiking. This takes on average 8 days and 7 nights but I'm aiming to do it in 7 days and 6 nights, which is totally doable. Then the Q is the O with an extra leg or day trek. This averages about 8 - 9 days to complete.
I am starting my 7 days, 6 nights trek on January 30th and finishing on February 5th. I've never done anything this long or my by myself so this will be a huge eye opener for me as to how capable I am of doing something this demanding, physically and mentally. It will definitely prove how strong of a person I am and how more capable I am of these extremes than I thought otherwises. It's going to be brutal because of the weight of my backpack and the weather; it will be lonely because I'm going off on my own; it will be draining, physically and mentally; but above all, it will be so worth it!
Therefore, the few days I'm in Puerto Natales, I've been just planning and mapping out my schedule and the things I need to pack for the week in the park. I bought everything I needed today and tomorrow I'll go out and rent all of my gear. Again, I am so nervous for this trek but beyond beyond excited for what I'm going to experience and see.