[Patagonia VII] January 11, 2012: Strait of Magellan

My final morning at Ecocamp. I had been using my cell phone as an alarm clock, but it was running low on battery, so I woke up numerous times before my alarm in order to check that the phone hadn’t died in the night. I finally got up about half an hour before the alarm. While I hadn’t had any sore muscles from the hike yesterday, they had decided to make up for lost time and all be sore today. The ankle seemed better, so perhaps it was a fair trade-off. It was freezing inside my dome, so I dressed as though the icy hounds of hell were after me, and then trotted across the wooden path to the bathroom, to go brush my face. It was actually warmer outside, in the cold morning sunlight, than inside the dome.

Early morning mountains.

I headed down to breakfast, and found my way back to warmth through several cups of Darjeeling Himalaya tea. My bags were already packed, so after breakfast, I returned to the bar dome to finish reading the plant-genus etymologies in that excellent field guide, as I waited for the arrival of the van.

Mid-morning bird.

I am exceedingly glad I was able to stay at Ecocamp. Even with the weird comment from the camp administrator, it was a wonderful experience: the proximity to good hikes, the lovely location of the camp (even when I couldn’t walk far, I was surrounded by beauty), and the novelty and coziness of staying in an eco-friendly hobbit house. I’d love to go back to Ecocamp again, preferably with a family member or two in tow. I would also like to spend more time in Patagonia in general; with only 2-3 nights in any single area, I felt as though it was a good start, but that there were many other things I could do with more time in each place.

Lupine, near the front office.

At 10:30am, the van arrived, and I climbed in, along with the American mother and daughter, as well as a guide from the camp going to meet his family. Whereas I had often fallen asleep in previous van-rides, I stayed awake for the entirety of this one; I was determined to fill my eyeballs with as much of Patagonia as possible before leaving.

Guanacos, glimpsed on the edge of Torres del Paine.

Our van stopped in Puerto Natales for lunch. Since it was still bitterly cold out, this was a nice respite. We sat near the fireplace, and cradled delicious bread rolls in our hands to warm up, before consuming the bread with veggie paste. The meal was a bowl of legume soup (hot soup! Perfect idea), some crispy chicken, potatoes, and a strange, rice-pudding-like dessert. Then, we went back to the van to continue to Punta Arenas. The direct Ecocamp transfer was so much more relaxing than the three-van swap would have been.

While I had seen some lovely plants and animals in Patagonia, the one thing I had hoped to see was a fox. Patagonia has two different species of fox, but I had encountered neither. A guest at the Ecocamp had seen one at the Mirador Las Torres, a day before I hiked it, but I’d had no such luck and figured I’d just have to come back. As I gazed out the window of the speeding van, I saw something moving on a hillside out of the corner of my eye, which looked almost like a large badger. I tracked the movement and discovered that it was a sleek fox, trotting along the hillside! Within moments, we had passed by, but I got a few seconds’ clear view.

As if it wasn’t enough that Patagonia had granted my fox-wish at the last moment, I spotted a second fox about fifteen minutes later, this time running through the tall grass near the road. I also think I saw an owl. The road frequently ran beside fields, which were separated from the traffic by fences with wooden posts. These posts were often occupied by perched raptors. (I took a falconry course in October, in which I learned that raptors commonly perch near fields and actively scan the grass for tasty morsels; it’s a more energy-efficient method of hunting than flying around.) I loved seeing the raptors in repose — such incredible creatures. But one of the fence-perchers looked a little too round and owlish to be a regular ol’ hawk/falcon.

Around 5pm, we arrived at Punta Arenas. The transfer van dropped the ladies at the airport, and then headed into the city proper to drop me at the door of my hostel. I was staying in a dormitory room at Hostel La Estancia: a larger hostel, but still clean and pleasant. I dropped my things, figured out the next morning’s airport transportation, and had a quick dinner. It was sadly too late to go see penguins, but I still had some hours of daylight to go look around the city.

Stormy sky and bright houses.
Many cities use these raised wire trash-baskets. This was the first time I'd seen them used as a mode of self-expression, though.

Punta Arenas is much larger than Puerto Natales, and feels less friendly (although it’s still quite safe). It also happens to be located right on the edge of the Strait of Magellan, so my first stop was to go investigate that. With the grey stormy day, the strait didn’t look too impressive; I told Magellan to pick a strait in Hawaii or the Bahamas. But I could see the blue mass of Tierra del Fuego on the other side, and sometimes patches of light would appear in the clouds.

Magellan, looking very serious.

Decorative explanatory sign.

While Punta Arenas is perfectly nice, I’m glad I ended up with two nights in Puerto Natales and only one night here. Whereas I think Puerto Natales is now my second-favorite Chilean city (behind Valpo), I will be glad to migrate away from Punta Arenas and back to Valpo. It seems as though it’s a good starting point for tours, but, for me, not for daily life.

Back at the hostel, I had a wonderfully defrosting cup of cinnamon ceylon tea. The hostel owners’ energetic young son decided he required my attention. I assisted him in his bounding from chairs and juggling of pillows. He also instructed me to bound onto the chair as well, which I did with great delicacy. Finally, it was his bedtime. I finished my tea, and soon headed to bed myself.

4 thoughts on “[Patagonia VII] January 11, 2012: Strait of Magellan

  1. I dressed as though the icy hounds of hell were after me.

    And were they, did you find out?

    Not all owlish things are owls.

    Your family members would like to travel with you, too. How about a girls’ trip with two sisters, a baby and a mother/grandmother, starting in Guatemala and heading through Peru and then to Chile and then to Iceland? Will you pay for it?

    1. Yes, they were. They lodged themselves in my throat, so that I made barking icy-hound noises for days after. I think they’re gone now.

      ALL owlish things are owls. Don’t be silly. Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJrupqPqKYo

      Let’s do a girls’ trip, por seguro. Let’s also bring KT and Granny. Of course I’ll be paying. I hope you don’t mind if we sleep in public parks a lot. I say it will give us a better view of the stars.

  2. So I’m invited?! I LOVE sleeping in parks, and under bridges, and just off of freeway ramps. So does Granny.
    What a perfect, foxy send-off for you! I don’t care about owls so much, though. Sorry.
    So that’s why you always see raptors on fence posts? I always thought they were just posing, but really they’re hard at work, huh?

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