We had a morning briefing about Patagonia, even though we’d technically already been in Patagonia. Northern Patagonia is Patagonia Lite. Sure it may get rainy, it may be overcast (not in our experience), but Southern Patagonia? Punta Arenas? Now we’re getting real.
We flew down from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, on the Strait of Magellan. It is the last bit of landmass until things get broken up into islands and islets, sort of like an Oreo cookie, dissolving into milk. (I know, that analogy made me hungry, too)
It’s difficult to not get poetic about the sweeping landscape here. Sweeping indeed, as the week before we arrived, Punta Arenas had 69 mile-an-hour winds. There are ropes along the sidewalk, so pedestrians have something to hold onto if the winds unexpectedly kick up during the day.
Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who worked for the Spanish government during his circumnavigation, passed through the waters in 1520. The area was, and still is, more important in its abstract, than in the concrete. This is the gateway to the Antarctic, and Punta Arenas is the capital of the province that includes Antarctica. Many other expeditions will leave from Ushuaia, on the island of Tierra del Fuego, or from Christchurch, New Zealand, but this is the biggest supply point one can find if Antarctica is your destination.
We arrived in the afternoon, and as we landed, I couldn’t help but wax poetic as we landed:
The land is small pieces, land out flat against the water, and we descend when all I see is water. Small white caps twist upward as if the wave turned to steam mid-movement, a churl of white twisting toward the sky, towards me.
A boat leaves a snail’s trail across the strait. White industrial buildings on a promontory waiting, watching like bored, full seagulls. Three spinning windmills and only one road, hugging this coast. Military installations on the seaside portion of the runway. Two fighter jets, pointy and anxious.
The runway churned up like linoleum tiles. A lone bulldozer picking amongst the pieces like a child hunting for a favorite piece of fruit in a bowl.
From the airport, we immediately went to a boat yard. A strange boat yard. A man from Chiloé Island built (and continues to build) full-size replicas of famous boats, including the Nao Victoria, Magellan’s boat.
And the HMS Beagle, Darwin’s boat. And! A replica of Ernest Shackleton’s rescue dinghy from the traumatic Endurance expedition.
This was all done by hand by this guy and his brother, both builders from Chiloé. They are known for their woodworking skills.
Just off shore, dolphins cavorted. How can I explain my luck? I stood with my toes in the Strait of Magellan, watching dolphins crest the water again and again? I wish I had something poetic to say about the moment, but I have nothing. The experience filled me to the brim. I couldn’t have felt more if I tried.
We settled into the hotel, and then headed out for dinner, again with Erich and Jan, but also Julianna.
We met in the bar first, and had a beer. This was another region known for beer, so I had to sample the local wares. We went to La Luna, and had another waiter whom I pitied. I apologized profusely as our table changed our minds again and again.
I had another lovely beer, which seemed appropriate for our location, as well as a steak and potatoes. Chile was fish and rice, and Argentina was beef and potatoes. That’s just how it rolled.
We had another great evening of chatting, again I got to get my history buff on as Erich and I discussed yet more American history. I loved it. We waddled back to the hotel, another brief sleep before we had a long bus ride to–Torres del Paine, the awesomest national park yet.