Monday, 26 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 3 - Punta Arenas, Patagonia

We got up early on Tuesday 12th - hideously early, like 5am or something – to catch an 8.30am flight to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. You may have seen Punta Arenas in the news recently; it’s the Chilean city those passengers were taken after their Antarctic cruise ship sank and is Chile’s most southern city; although as city’s go it’s on the small side.

When we were booking the trip we found that flying to Punta Arenas from Santiago can be pricey if you try to book from outside of Chile and at the time we were looking LAN Chile were charging close to $700 for the 3½ hour flight. $700!!!! Can you believe that? Extortionate considering we’d paid less, $680, for 12hours of flying from New York to Santiago, however the good news is that you can sneak around the prices by emailing a nice Chilean travel agency, like
Cocha, and having them book flights on your behalf, as we did and ended up saving ourselves almost $400 on the prices quoted on Kayak. Bargain, well, relatively.

Anyway back to the hols recap, we arrived in Punta Arenas, or Sandy Point if you were to call it by its English name – Spanish is infinitely better, right - around lunchtime and immediately noted we were a good 20years younger than your average Patagonian tourist, many of whom were in Punta Arenas courtesy of the Norwegian Dream cruise ship. It was also a good 10 or 20degrees warmer than the brass monkeys temperatures I’d layered up for. It was breezy though and it turned out you do need to carry about hats and stuff, since it can quickly turn foul.

After a lunch of pulpi con arroz at
Sotitos we sauntered over to the travel agency, Tourismo Pali Aike, to pick up the vouchers for our tours of Torres Del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins National Parks from Alejandra, the travel agent I’d worked with to arrange our time in Patagonia. After giving us all the necessary bits and pieces for our tours Alejandra whipped out a city map and highlighted the location of our hotel in relation to the local bus station where we’d be catching a 5pm bus to Puerto Natales the following afternoon. Alejandra then asked us if we would like her to highlight the sights of Punta Arenas on the map, to which we eagerly nodded our thanks, thrilled to get some local insight. She beamed, seemingly excited to show off her home city, and carefully circled a look out point and two museums.

We had to laugh when, after such initial enthusiasm, Alejandra paused, frowned at the map, sighed in resignation and, shrugging apologetically, told us that 2 museums and a look out point was all there was to see in Punta Arenas.

In our opinion she sold it short; Sandy Point is a cute little city...

Left, from top to bottom: Statue of Ferdinand Magellan in the town square, named after ol' Ferdinand who discovered the straits in 1520. Local custom has it that those who rub the foot of the statue will return to Punta Arenas; the historic and sumptuous Sara Braun mansion, also in the square, half of which has been converted into the Hotel Nogueira - named for Sara's husband Jose, where we later stayed for one night on our return from roughing it in Puerto Natales.

In the cellar of the hotel is a bar, La Taberna, where we enjoyed a vaina, the cocktail shown on the left in the middle, a Chilean drink made from sherry, chocolate liqueur, cognac, powdered sugar and an egg yolk.

It's a lot like drinking trifle!!

It's actually not bad as a dessert, but a bit on the sweet side and it certainly doesn't go well with cheese empanaditas. You can't really drink more than one....except we did. When our waiter came over and said something to us in Spanish which included the English word happy, I nodded and said yes we were happy, not realising that he wasn't asking us if we were content, but asking if we wanted another Vaina as it was happy hour - 2 for the price of 1. Duh!! Well who knew that the English word for 'happy' would also be used in the Spanish phrase for happy hour (hora happy? I'm not sure I didn't quite catch it). I later realised this when I checked the menu after we received our second Vaina, not by understanding our waiter after the fact. My Spanish is not THAT good. In fact my Spanish is terrible as I demonstrated when instead of telling the waiter 'no entiendo' - I don't understand - I said 'no encantado', I'm not singing!! Generally I got a lot of funny looks from the Patagonians when I tried to speak Spanish.

Unfortunately we couldn't face a second, overly sweet, Vaina so we surreptitiously poured our drinks into our empty aqua sin gas bottles and snuck them out in my handbag, intending to throw it away outside rather than leave it and risk offending our waiter, except by the time we walked the 15minutes back to our hotel by the straits a Vaina seemed like a good idea, so we drank it, as demonstrated by Melissa in the bottom left photo. We're a couple of classy birds. The main photo shows the view of Punta Arenas from the lookout point with the Norwegian Dream cruise ship in the background.

Speaking of classy birds, we got up early the next morning to visit the Otway Sound penguins, about an hours drive out of Punta Arenas. Apparently the best time to visit penguins is in the afternoon when they've come back from fishing which is when most of the tours go, however we couldn't do that as we had to catch a 5pm bus to Puerto Natales, so while we didn't see quite as many penguins, we did have them all to ourselves. So cute!!

Although these two, running amok in the grass were our favourites. I know, grass!!! Weird right? I never knew penguins inhabited grassy areas, but these particular ones, Magellenic penguins, live in small caves in a field by the edge of the Seno Otway. This pair were clearly up to no good, waddling around as fast as their little penguin feet would take them while the other penguins were out catching fish. They looked so mischievous I'm sure if they were human they'd no doubt have an ASBO or two :-)

Next and final Chile recap, Torres Del Paine and Bernardo O'Higgins National Parks.


Emmy said...

Hi friend! It is so good to be back thank you for your support, it is so good to read your blog again ;)

Amel said...

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA...This is SO MUCH FUN to read, Fish! ;-D

THANKS for being my tour guide again he he he...;-D LOVE the pics!

Kitty said...

how cool that there were penguins?!
so far a neat mix of city and nature.

I'll have to come back and read the details.
great having you back, Fish!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Emmy, glad to have you back. Fish

Hi Amel, a pleasure as always. Glad you've enjoyed reading the posts

Hi Kitty, yup, there are penguins. Patagonia is pretty close to Antartica so I guess it's cold enough for them, although I was surprised it wasn't colder. Our guide told us they go to Brazil after Patagonia, which is something I never expected to hear - penguins in Brazil.

Anonymous said...

Sounds wonderful!