Following a two hour journey through a featureless semi-arid landscape that appears to sustain only the occasional flog of sheep, small groups of guanacos and from time to time a couple of nandus, I am arriving in Puerto Natales.
Located on the shores of the Ultima Esperanza Fjord with a view of the snow caped mountains at the Southern end of the Torres del Paine National Park, Puerto Natales has a far more picturesque setting than Punta Arenas and I find a certain resemblance to the landscapes in Northern Norway.
Shouldering my bag I am passing the End of the World Bar with the resident canine displaying a characteristic hindlimb lameness, which is highly suggestive of a cranial cruciate ligament rupture – not an uncommon presentation in this part of the world as I will soon find out.
Following the recommendation of a Chilean colleague who I briefly met in Lima, I am aiming for “The Erratic Rock” a well established gathering place for trekkers, mountaineers and long haul travellers.
Run by Bill, a US American from Oregon who after many years of travelling himself finally ended up here, The Erratic Rock is not aiming to provide high end hospitality but instead a home away from home for adventurous travellers who appreciate Bill’s local knowledge and the communal atmosphere which can otherwise only be found at remote mountain huts.
Sure enough, entering the building I am nearly stepping on Caspar the white, bi-colour eyed resident cat, who is not particularly cudly, but who is adding to the homely environment in the reception area.
Automatically I am taking off my boots and once my luggage has been stored in my room which I am sharing with a couple of French motorbikers, I am settling next to Caspar on one of the downstairs sofas. Bill is relieved to hear that I am a vet, as my bed is located next to a West facing window, so that the cat is likely to claim it when the sun is reaching that side of the house in the afternoon.
I soon realise that this is the perfect place for me as a base for the next couple of weeks, partially because of the extremely helpful conversations I have with Bill, partially because of the unbeatable combination of a constantly running filter coffee machine, a clean shower, a steady flow of fellow hikers arriving and leaving , a warm communal kitchen with an old aga cooker and – crucially – because of a decent internet connection.
With a warm cup of coffee in my hand , Caspar purring quietly on the sofa next to me, I am listening to the stories of Bill’s colourful life and prepare myself for an adventure that has taken many years to finally materialise……