Baby it’s cold down here

As we stepped off the plane in Punta Arenas last Thursday, we were greeted with a definite chill in the air.  Maybe not as cold as Canada, but definitely the coldest weather we have experienced so far. Daytime temperatures were in the mid-teens if the sun was out, probably closer to ten when it was cloudy. At night, it dipped below zero.  Is anybody feeling sorry for us yet?  I didn’t think so.

As we pulled up to our hostel, La Estancia, the peeling paint and faded sign did not exactly exude warmth and comfort.  On the inside, more peeling paint, worn out carpets and creaking floor boards gave us a sinking feeling.  But all this changed when we met Alejandro, or Alex, the hostel owner.  He warmly greeted us and made us feel so welcome. He helped us get oriented and even made all the arrangements for our tour to a penguin colony the next day (more about that in a separate posting).

Our spotless room was very large with three comfortable single beds (we pushed two together to make a king sized bed – luxury), all covered in thick blankets and down duvets.  We had a TV with English channels (unheard of to date) in our room in addition to WiFi. The towels were extra large and extra thick, another rare indulgence. Each room had newly installed heaters and the common areas were also heated; a must in this climate, but not a very common sight in Chile.  We had access to the kitchen, including a fridge.  To top it off, they served unlimited, extra large mugs of real, filtered coffee with breakfast.  We couldn’t remember the last time we had real coffee in a hostel.  Instant Nescafé is the South American favourite. All this to say, you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.  All of a sudden, this old, worn out 1920′s era house felt warm and cozy like a comfy old pair of slippers.  It served as an excellent base from which to explore the area.

Punta Arenas is the largest city south of the 46th parallel south with a population greater than 154,000. The city is vibrant and modern.  In the summer (which is now) the city can get dangerously windy to the point where city officials put up ropes in the downtown area to assist with unique wind currents created by the buildings.  It was rather calm during the few days we were there with a mix of sun and cloud each day. When it was cloudy, it felt a lot like a day in late October in Ottawa….brrrrrr. Unlike Ottawa, we are enjoying very long days – it doesn’t get dark until about 10:45 at night and dawn begins around 4:30 in the morning.  It’s deceiving and a little disorienting at times.

We spent some time exploring the city, wandering around the harbour and malecon as well as the Plaza des Armas. The cemetery in Punta Arenas resembled the one we visited in Guayaquil, Ecuador and is similarly called the White City.  It was impressive.

Perfectly trimmed European Cypress trees stood like sentries in the city cemetery.

Tombs in the municipal cemetery which was founded in 1894.

These European Cypress trees were perfectly manicured,
even though they were not always perfectly straight.

We were surprised to see flowers such as lupins and roses growing
abundantly everywhere around town – on the side of the road,
in people’s gardens as well as here in the cemetery. 

This old dock had seen better days but it made a
great perch for hundreds of seagulls.

Boats docked in the port.

A nautical monument in honor of the past.

As I walked along the old beams of this dock for a short distance
over the deepening sea,  
the strong wind sent ripples
along the surface of the water below making me a little

dizzy and wobbly, but I kept going and I didn’t fall in! 

Originally we had planned to stay in Punta Arenas for just a day to visit the penguin colony and then head north to Puerto Natales from where we would organize ourselves for our camping trip in Torres del Paine National Park.  Unfortunately, a forest fire has been burning in the park since just after Christmas. This has caused quite a raucous here in Chile since we are now in high season and that park attracts millions of tourist dollars at this time of year.  An Isreali tourist is being blamed (and charged) for starting the fire, an action he is vehemently denying.  This is serious stuff – the tourist has been detained and if found guilty will go to jail and be ordered to pay a fine.  Right now, part of the park has been re-opened but the fire continues to burn and fire fighters are still working day and night trying to put it out. We think it is still a precarious situation since any change in wind direction or strength could put the rest of the park, and tourists, in danger again.

So, we’ve decided to hold off on visiting the park, and go to Ushuaia, Argentina instead.  We will then circle back to Torress del Paine in a couple of weeks if the fire situation is resolved. At least we have the luxury of time on our side.

 

 

Category: Chile, South America
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