Friday, 11 November 2016

53° South – Days 55 to 58

In three flights we have travelled 6000km, from 12° south of the equator to 53°S, which is about 11% of the way round the earth.

The first 3000km took us to our first overnight at Santiago in Chile where we stayed with Jessica in an Airbnb room in an apartment on the edge of the city and we saw the weather change from desert (it never rains in Lima) to a very warm 34°C green city well into Spring and with trees brightly covered with blossom. Jessica was an absolute star, a real bubbly character who takes her Airbnb seriously. She arranged to change her teaching shift so she could be home at 3:00pm when we arrived, cooked us a tasty pasta dish, opened a bottle of wine and then showed us the muffins and biscuits she had got for our breakfast the following morning.

Spring is in the air in Santiago
The Plaza de Armas, Santiago
Feeling rather tired from our early start we forced ourselves out and caught a collectivo taxi into the city centre (leant the small change by Jessica) and walked round the Plaza de Armas and on to the Presidential Palace where Jackie was approached by three teenage local girls who were conducting a survey and wanted to ask some questions in English. 

The Presidential Palace, Santiago
We had a nice walk round in the hot afternoon sunshine but weren’t overwhelmed by the city, the thing that struck us both was how much litter there was around, with many black bags of rubbish stacked high waiting to be collected and lots of it had escaped blowing litter everywhere. Not sure if it’s always like that, but it didn’t give a good impression.

Jackie gets approached by three teenagers conducting a survey in English
The impressive Santiage cathedral
The next day we were off again to the airport in the Uber taxi Jessica had arranged for us and we think we got a bargain fare at 8000 Chilean Pesos (about £10), less than half of the transfer company from the airport.  We were heading to Punta Arenas via Puerto Montt where we didn’t get out of the plane, only allowing off some passengers, letting more on and refuelling, but they did leave the doors open while this was going on and the temperature difference was really noticeable. On went the jumpers and, in some cases big coats as well!

The southern tip of South America
Another 2 hour flight and we were finally at Punta Arenas where there was a bit of sunshine, but also a very strong really cold wind. ‘Welcome to Punta Arenas’ said the airport shuttle driver as we stepped outside the terminal and braced ourselves into the wind. On the drive it started to rain, heavily, but did pass over and out came the sun again, but still with that cold wind. They do say the weather can change dramatically hourly and it was certainly living up to that.

Magellans statue in Plaza de Armas, Punta Arenas
Our Airbnb host wasn’t in when we got there, he did tell us he wouldn’t be there until 17:30 and it was only 16:30, so we walked round to a local café and had a warming hot chocolate and the biggest slice of chocolate cake we’ve seen. Hernaldo turned up at 18:00 and let us in to a massively warm house, it was like a sauna! He speaks reasonably good English is a bloke on his own and the house is definitely a blokes house. Couldn’t find a potato peeler, the most prominent items in the cutlery drawer were a pizza cutter and a corkscrew. In the drawer underneath was a set of BBQ tools – what else would you expect! He is a nice guy though and, although not the cleanest of houses is not bad and is relatively central to get around the smallish town.

Touching the foot of this statue seemed to be the thing to do, so we followed suit, not knowing why!
The second half of our BBQ dinner!
We went out to eat, feeling we should try some Chilean fare, pasta and a sandwich in Santiago not really counting, so we got talked into a BBQ, not outside as we would know it, but a huge amount of meat on a hot plate, with a potato, a tomato and half a chilli! Despite our best efforts, we brought half of it home, so that was dinner for the next night sorted! All we added was a couple of potatoes and a bottle of wine, which is cheap and good here, hurrah! It was crazy, I really could have made that much meat last us a week!

A viewpoint in Punta Arenas, facing due south
After spending virtually all day yesterday planning our trip here we had a day out today walking round town. It’s a strange place, fronting onto the Strait of Magellan and has a sort of frontier town feel about it. There are a lot of people driving round in big 4x4 trucks, everyone wraps up warm (of course) and people seem a bit rushed, not the sort to stand and chat, although we did drop into the tourist information office and got a lot of information from the chatty lady in there.

Signposts to various world cities...
Hernando Magellan is well remembered here, there is a statue of him in the centre of the Plaza de Armas and a museum largely dedicated to him, but also Ernest Shackleton is remembered here, it being where he organised the rescue of his men stranded on Elephant Island and successfully brought them back here alive and well, almost 100 years ago. There are two reproduction wooden ships at the other end of town that we haven’t visited yet, one is Magellans and the other Shackletons. The lady in the tourist information was in awe of Shackleton and his men and how they survived on such a small ship, so maybe we have to try and find time to visit them when we return back here in December.

And there's London, 13,387km away
Tomorrow we head off on a 12 hour bus journey to Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Why? It’s a good point and, at the moment we’re hard pressed to answer it. We originally thought we’d like to cross the Beagle Strait on a ferry, back into Chile, stay in Puerto Williams and then catch the 30 hour ferry back to Punta Arenas along the Beagle Channel and out into the Southern Ocean, but it appears the ferry is fully booked until February! Too many tourists like us.

This cemetery has been voted in the best top ten in the world apparently
So we’ll probably either catch a very long bus or fly to El Calafate instead, we haven’t decided yet. ‘Why do you want to go there’ people have asked us, it’s very touristy, very expensive and there’s nothing to do there! Well, maybe we just need the tick of having been to the southernmost city and maybe we just want to look out over the Beagle Channel (Charles Darwin was here!) at the foot of Tierra del Fuego island and gaze out towards Cape Horn and Antarctica, I don’t know, we’ll find out! So far the ‘very expensive’ bit has proved itself if cost of accommodation is anything to go by, but we’ve booked 3 nights there to give it a good go.

Some of the splendid family tombs in the cemetery
The Sara Braun Palace
Anyway, that’s all for now, I’m sitting here in a ‘T’ shirt looking out at sunshine, but if I step out there I’ll have to wrap up! However, on the bright side, it doesn’t get dark here until 10:00pm. For interest, we’re as far south of the equator here as Lincoln in the UK is north of the equator, but it does feel a lot more wild and windy than benign Lincoln! 

The Braun Menendez Museum containing the Magellan museum

One of the rooms in the Braun Menendez Museum, left largely as it was

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