I've set 2 alarms for today so we're well-covered (my internal alarm wakes me at 5.15 anyway) and we set off ASAP after 8am towards the park. There's a small distraction on the way called the Cueva del Milodon. It sits within an area that a prehistoric-ethno park (or something). The cave itself is so named because of the remains of a large pre-historic creature were discovered there, amongst other things. The creature is named a Milodon and looks rather like an enormous rat - at least, I'm glad to say, they're not around now, even if they were vegetarian.
The cave is vast and it's clear to see why it was favoured by both thee creatures and prehistoric man. The entrance is wide and can be seen from right at the back of the cave, so any enemies approaching would be spotted pretty quickly.
There are a few other caves in the complex, but we skip those in favour of heading to the Park asap, especially as the tour groups are beginning to tread on our tail!
Weather-wise, we were lucky yesterday - today the peaks are brushed with clouds and there are only a few blue patches visible in the sky. We press on quickly to make the most of the view while we can - we've already been warned that the weather can change rapidly. At the park entrance, we stop to pay our entry fee (5,000) and Fran picks up some tips on a possible route to follow.
Not far down the road, we encounter our first wildlife ... hundreds of guanacos: a tan and white coloured animal of the llama family, they seem quite slow-moving and unperturbed by the car as we stop for a few photos. We pass several lakes, some a clear blue colour and others completely iced over. The landscape is an eerily beautiful mixture of dry pampas, bushes, lakes and ragged peaks ... and we almost have it all to ourselves because there's hardly another car in sight.
A marked stopping place, or mirador, gives us a great view of the Cuernos and the surrounding peaks across a glacial lake. The peaks are brightened by several impressive blue glaciers hanging high up amongst the crags. The splash of colour illuminates and gives the feeling that the peas are living and breathing and have been for thousands of years. As we get out of the car, we are warily approached by 3 or 4 foxes. They're obviously used to visitors as a source of food but, of course, we don't feed them - if everyone did they would stop hunting and in winter, when visitor numbers are so low, they might starve to death.
Our tourist route takes us to the Salta Grande (large falls) after a 15 min walk from the car park. They're hardly the biggest waterfall ever seen, but the sound of the powerful rush of water penetrates the otherwise still and silent park air. We decide to skip the Salta Chico, having not been impressed by her big sister, and drive along the side of Lake Pehoe towards Posada Rio Serrano passing a few flamingos on the way whose bright pink feathers contracts effectively with the blue/green landscape.
At Posada Rio Serrano, we attempt to find out about horse-riding, but are not successful ... there's so few tourists this time of year that even the visitor centre remains under lock and key and the ranger there lets me use here toilet because the visitors toilet is frozen.
Continuing towards Lago Grey, we stop in the car park for a quick picnic lunch before hitting the trail over a river and through a small wood to ... the beach! It's not the kind of beach you'd do any sunbathing on, though ... its quite pebbly and besides, the water is full of ice. As the shallow waves hit the shore, the pieces of ice in the water tinkle like wind chimes. Beyond the shoreline, large blue icebergs sit in the lake, their shapes formed by wind and water. The clarity of the blue is quite breathtaking and surprising. The icebergs had long since detached themselves from the Grey Glacier, just about visible in the distance, and floated towards the shoreline. A small walk around a promontory and there are more icebergs in the water, about a dozen in all, and more can be seen floating down towards the bay, which provides a natural mooring point and where they eventually melt into the icy lake.
The peaks of the Cuernos (horns) and Torres (towers) are, by now, barely visible as they are covered in cloud ... we were lucky to get a view this morning. The cloud looms ominously overhead and a few spots of rain fall just as we're heading out of the park towards Puerto Natales.
Once back in town and after a speedy return from the park that left me rather edgy, we returned the car, stocked up on food for our journey, touched base with the internet and enjoyed a great pizza at ... (corner of main square).