In Santiago, we of course had to visit a winery so Matt could hone his connoisseur skills.  He chose “Concha y Toro”, which apparently is rated in the top 10 brands of wine in the world (who knew?).  The tour wasn’t all that interesting; they showed us a few grapes and took us to a cellar.  Matt then proceeded to drink all three of his generous sized “tester” glasses of wine, plus my three…  

After another day of meandering around Santiago, we took off for Punta Arenas, Chile – the gateway to the famed Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. 

Once we arrived in our refugio (basically a hostel located in a log cabined façade building, named as such in my opinion to charge double the price of normal hostels), we took off for the “Towers” hike.  Looking at the map, the hardest section of the treks distance was labeled as 5 and the contours ranged from 500 to 1500.  I figured 1000 feet over 5 miles shouldn’t be that steep – the metric system didn’t register in my mind until I saw the outrageous slopes of the mountain trail.  The trek started off in beautiful weather – 70’s and mildly sunny and blue skies freckled with only a few clouds.  That lasted about an hour.  Then it became blatantly clear to us why the guide books advise against going to the park in the southern hemisphere summer.  That perfect 70 degree weather dropped to probably the 50’s, the sunny sky turned a dismal grey and started spitting out rain mixed with hail, and worse yet, the infamous 100 mph winds picked up.  We made it to the nearest camp (most likely still 2 miles from where the weather turned) to hopefully wait it out and continue our journey.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.  We started our trek back, and since you are reading this, we obviously made it back safely – certainly not without incident though.  I can’t even tell you the number of times I assumed a near fetal position to keep from getting blown off the mountain.  Since the wind (and rain) was at our backs, the back of my jeans (yes, jeans – we came very ill prepared in regard to hiking gear and apparel – we were wearing running shoes and carrying a laptop backpack instead of having the proper hiking boots and fancy hiking backpack with the long water straw) was a vastly different color than the dry front of my pants.  But alas, it was an experience and luckily our one and only set of warm clothes managed to dry by the fire that night.

The next day, we apparently had forgotten the incident of the previous afternoon because we set out again, this time on a 15 mile round trip hike in the same beautiful 70 degree, sunny weather this time to see the “Horns”.  I am happy to report that the weather maintained its good front and the only difficulty was suffering from being out of shape – but I’ll just attribute that to the “fat butt disease” (The Office anyone?) of a desk-job. 

We set up our flights from Punta Arenas to Santiago and Santiago to Auckland with about an 8 hour layover in Santiago so that we could maximize our time spent in the Admirals First-Class Lounge (the joys of coach travel with elite status) enjoying the freebies.  That extra time was needed as our first flight was delayed by almost 5 hours, so sadly a majority of Matt’s birthday was spent with the “regular travelers” in the domestic terminal. 

We got to the Santiago airport on February 24 and thus got our passport exit stamp from Chile on the 24.  We didn’t enter New Zealand until February 26 (taking into account the 15 hour time difference from Santiago – 17 from EST), as a result, according to our passports, we spent an entire day in limbo.

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