Posted by: robinson2000 | July 1, 2011

Finishing off Chile

27th – 29th June

With the almighty peaks of Torres Del Paine behind me, I ventured further south a short distance to Punta Arenas. I arrived late in the afternoon to find an ugly depressed looking city with not much life to it. Granted, it was a public holiday but the town felt cold and intimidating. I opted to walk to the hostel that I had picked from the guide-book and instantly regretted it, as I made my way up the deserted ice-covered streets. It took me 30 minutes to cover the distance to Hostel Independencia and I quickly hurried up the driveway noticing that most of the street was lined with strip joints. After several knocks at the door I was finally greeted in by the friendly Chilean owner who called me a crazy Englishmen for being in town at this time of year. The hostel was dirt cheap and actually quite nice inside as we sat at the kitchen table and discussed the weather.

After depositing my belongings into the empty dorm and breaking the key off in the lock, I wandered out into the cold in search of some life. The temperature had dropped to sub-zero since the sun went down making the icy pavements treacherous. My aim was to find a trip to the Isla Magdalena, a small island 30km away that houses a 60,000 strong colony of Magellanic penguins. I eventually stumbled across a tour agency just away from the main plaza and spoke to a cross-eyed Chilean man who told with a smile on his face that the penguins had migrated north to places such as Peru and Brazil for the winter. Sensing my disappointment, he then tried selling me a similar trip to visit a small colony of King Penguins on Tierra del Fuego, but it cost nearly £100.

Giving up on the penguin idea, I spent the next day exploring the limited sights of Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas faces the Straits of Magellan and was once a shipping hub until the Panama Canal was opened in 1914. Since then the city’s fortunes have slumped but it remains a pleasant place frequented mainly by sailors who visit the many strip joints around the city. It also has a couple of descent museums, the first being a naval history museum that featured tails of epic voyages around Cape Horn and Antarctic expeditions. The highlight of the museum was an hour-long film made in 1929 by Irving Johnson, who filmed footage on board The Peking during one of its many voyages around Cape Horn carrying nitrate. The film showed images of crewmen scaling the 50 metre tall masts in 100 mph winds and other shots of looking down on deck as massive waves swept across the ship. It was incredible to watch and said that rounding the horn gave a man a craved status of “Real Seaman”, and the unquestionable right to be listened to everywhere with respect and awe. The perfect complement to this was a visit to an impressive cemetery that charted the shipping disasters through the huge mausoleums, divided by avenues of huge trees. To end off the day, I paid a quick visit to the Natural History Museum and saw some stuffed Magellanic penguins, along with many other species of stuffed wildlife that can be found in the wilds.

Realising I had exhausted Punta Arenas sights, I headed to the bus terminal and bought an expensive ticket for a bus to Ushuaia, Argentina, leaving the following morning. The bus journey was quite relaxing as we headed a few hours eastwards before taking a short ferry ride to the Island of Tierra del Fuego. Tierra del Fuego is split 50/50 between Chile and Argentina so after a few hours we had to cross the border. It took 12 hours eventually to arrive at Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, where I hurried off the bus through the snow and into the Antarctica Hostel. Chile finished on a bit of a low point in Punta Arenas, but the rest of the country was fantastic and only just missed out on being my favourite country in South America, second to Bolivia. The range of terrain is astonishing on this thin ribbon of land and its landscape embraces everything from glacial wildernesses, moonscapes, lakes, volcanoes, beaches and salt flats.

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  1. […] by first riding the famous Staten Island Ferry, then shopping on Pier 17, which is where the Peking (link) is docked. West of Pier 17 is Wall Street where I saw the Federal Reserve Building and Federal Hall […]

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