So to start with, I thought I’d allow everyone to catch up on what happened during my first week on the other side of the planet…. I went on holiday! 😀 Even better, I went on holiday *the day I arrived in Chile*, because apparently 16 hours of plane travel just to get here didn’t feel like enough. It resulted in me being in Santiago for a whopping 7 hours before travelling again and being awake for more or less 44 hours, but it was worth it. Even if I did go with the ever-suffering Dave Jones. (I’m only kidding, of course. He was wonderful enough to look up, organise, and [currently] pay for the whole thing while I was back in the UK, running around in circles going “ARRGGHHH!” in the lead-up to leaving).
We headed down to what is generally advertised as the Southern-most city in Chile – Punta Arenas, in Southern Patagonia – with one main aim… to see PENGUINS! And just decided to fit other stuff in around that to make the trip worthwhile 😉 So our first day there, we just spent walking around the city having a nose. And this is the point where I should have read my Lonely Planet guide before heading out, as I would have known in advance about the massive great hole in the ozone layer that far South that resulted in me resembling a clown running a temperature despite the cooler temperatures (factor 50 suncream was rapidly bought the next day).
That evening, we hopped on the 2-hour ferry to Isla Magdalena to visit our furry little friends. We were not to be disappointed… Before the boat had even moored up, all you could see was this little island covered in the 100,000 penguins that reside there, honking away and generally doing funny penguin-y things. Turns out, if you ever want to make Dave go all gooey with a daft smile on his face, just throw a penguin at him. A very happy hour was spent there before getting the ferry back. The return journey was apparently slightly more eventful, as whilst we were innocently sitting downstairs, all of a sudden it just smelt strongly like smoke… With no-one saying anything, we thought nothing of it. It was only when we landed back at Punta Arenas did the guide on the boat say in English “We hope you had a good trip. And sorry about the [laughs] fire!” … Apology accepted, I guess!
On the Sunday, we hired a car and drove Eastwards to the Pali Aike national park – a volcanic park involving a drive that took us about 3 hours. Turns out that signposts in Chile are HORRIFIC and near to completely useless at times, so at one point we only realised that we’d over-shot our road when we hit the border control going into Argentina… Oops… And we only became aware that we were at the border control at all because we spotted some ñandus (which I’ve just discovered is the local name for the Rhea bird – the things Wikipedia teaches you!) and wanted to take some pictures. That could certainly have been an interesting day if we hadn’t stopped! So eventually we rock up to the park entrance, looked after by one guy sitting in a tiny, dusty office. Now given that his place was literally in the middle of nowhere he must have been ecstatic to see us, being one of only about 6 cars to have arrived all day (it was about 3pm by this point). So he very helpfully showed us a map, told us about driving and walking routes, and as we turned to get back into the car, thrust another flyer in our hands as an afterthought warning us about the dangers of the local puma population. Cheers for that. But after a long drive through nothing but flat plains, the park made a nice change of scenery with its old lava flows, lakes and craters. Plenty of new wildlife too, including guanacos (a type of llama), Patagonian foxes, eagles, and of course more ñandus! So we had a lovely little hike in between all of these features, feeling nicely tired and extremely dusty by the time we went to make our way back to Punta Arenas.
Monday was spent having a lazy morning followed by deciding to drive up to the next nearest town of Puerto Natales– the entrance way to the Torres del Paine national park. The park itself will have to be a dedicated trip when I actually have some money saved up… The town is exactly what it says on the tin – merely a gateway to something better. Consisting of mostly hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafés, and variations on such themes, we thought we’d just managed to achieve the world’s longest drive for lunch! (partly also due to us running low on petrol when we set out. We drove 45 minutes out of town without knowing where the next petrol station may be and knowing it was at least 2.5 hours or so to Puerto Natales, before Dave chickened out and turned round to go back to Punta Arenas to fill up! We then discovered that there was a station 6km from where we turned around… Oh well, better safe than sorry!). But the sun came out, and by the time we’d eaten, had coffee (I had a “Chilean Coffee” in this gorgeous little coffee shop called Patagonia Dulce, which was essentially a liqueur coffee with pisco in it), and had a mooch around the whole town, we’d easily killed a few hours.
Tuesday, we headed further South from Punta Arenas to visit two ‘monument’s – Fuerte Bulnas (Fort Bulnas) and Puerto Hambre (Port Hunger). A very pretty drive down on a long coastal road, but distinctly underwhelming attractions at the end point! The fort was something that was apparently only occupied for 6 years in 1843 and then abandoned to create a settlement in Punta Arenas instead due to it not being “possible to gather a large and stable population” there (thanks, Wiki!) – and upon arrival, we could believe it! Bearing in mind that it’s currently the height of summer in Chile, it was pouring with rain, icy cold, and with a strong wind, making it appear to be one of the most miserable places you could possibly spend 6 years…. Imagine what winter must have been like!
However, by the time we had walked down to the view point of Punta Santa Ana, the clouds had blown over and the sun was cracking the flags to reveal a gorgeous view over the ocean, a snow-topped mountain in the distance, and all surrounded by beautiful UK-esque countryside.
Similarly at Puerto Hambre, the attraction itself was a non-starter (Dave says in the car looking around him at the scenary: “Oh this looks nice, let’s stop to have a look. Oh wait, we have to. This is it.”) – quite literally all that is left is a pile of about 8 bricks that are allegedly the remains of a church, and some sort of monument. Founded in 1584, it had a population of about 300 settlers. However, by the time an English navigator called Thomas Cavendish landed in 1587, the town was in ruins and there was one survivor – the rest having either starved or frozen to death. Once again, the surrounding scenery was stunning in the sun and was worth the trip just for that in my opinion. 🙂
That evening, we headed back to Santiago, with me ready to not get on a plane again for a loooooong time (although I’m flying up to the Paranal observatory this weekend, so it will only be a 10 day gap…). It may be a while before I can afford to do more travelling around Chile, but Santiago still holds plenty of novelty for me in the meantime! 🙂
Hasta la proxima,