February 4, 2012 – Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas, our first stop in Chile, is at the extreme southern portion of the country and is located on the mainland (northwest) side of the Strait of Magellan. Using the same map I showed yesterday, you can see its position relative to the rest of this most unusual part of the world. Even though it is not far as the crow flies from Ushuaia, it took all night, since the only route is out into the edge of the Pacific, and then back in the Strait.
The weather continues to change rapidly, going from bright and sunny to cold and blustery as it has been since we left Antarctica. High winds and choppy seas, even in the somewhat protected inland waterways. Punta Arenas seems a little larger and more prosperous than its neighbor in Argentina – there is a considerable amount of new construction and very active commercial and residential development. Both of these last two towns have reminded us of small communities in Alaska – particularly along the inside passage.
According to one of the guides, approximately 40% of the population is of Russian and eastern European descent – I didn’t get a chance to explore that further, but I found it unusual enough that I want to find out how it came about, and we saw evidence of it on the mausoleum names. As a side note, what is the deal with tours of cemeteries? I think the guides have taken us to every graveyard south of Florida on this trip. Maybe it is because they are free and quick, as opposed to museums which are expensive and time consuming.
The cemetery was a quick stop on our tour which the main purpose of which was a visit to see Magellanic Penguins. We traveled by bus about 90 minutes north of Punta Arenas, (our guide’s name was Vladimir by the way – isn’t that Russian?) mostly on an unpaved ranch road to Otway Sound. The land we traveled over looked so much like West Texas, if it wasn’t for the Llamas I would have thought we were headed to Lubbock. At the end of our journey to the Sound, we left the bus and trekked for better than a mile across wooden plank pathway to reach the Penguins.
Most of you know that Sally is the animal lover, not me, so I want to propose the Penguin trip as the newest test of one’s marriage. If you can take your spouse for a long bus ride, followed by a mile long walk in 60 mile per hour wind driven rain & sleet to look at funny looking little black and white birds standing on the beach, take some pictures, and then reverse the whole process, with a smile on your face, then your marriage has promise my friend.
Near the end of tour, about 4 blocks from the ship, we left the group, preferring to walk back through the middle of town. The weather turned on us, as it tends to do rapidly in this part of the world, and by the time we got to the tender to return to the ship, we were walking like penguins ourselves.
Back on ship, the Captain announced that this bad weather was the edge of a large, strong storm in the Pacific and we would be staying in port overnight, and alternating our itinerary, to avoid the storm. I vote for that.