Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas – Days 70 to 77

Have a look at our Youtube video of our trip to see the penguins: Youtube penguin island

The penguins on the Isla Magalena
We crossed the border from Argentina back into Chile at a tiny checkpoint in the middle of nowhere and had to get all our luggage off to be scanned and checked to make sure we weren’t taking any animal products or seeds into the country, arriving at our hostel, El Sendero in Puerto Natales at about 9:30pm after getting a taxi at the bus station. 

We saw this Argentine flag on entering El Calafate on the way to Puerto Natales. It just looks like the colours of the flag have run into the sky
Breakfast at El Sendero, Puerto Natales
It’s quite a nice but rustic hostel with plenty of space in the common rooms and an owner, Juan who is a bit of a character, renting out gear for Torres del Paine trips and running 3 busses to take people there and back – and he makes sure you use his bus and rental gear! His breakfast was a bit of a sugar experience, two types of cake, a piece of fruit, a yoghurt with cereal in the corner, fruit juice and tea or coffee.

A walk in Puerto Natales. 'I see no ships!'
We weren’t going to Torres del Paine on this occasion as we’ve booked a night in a tent in the El Chileno refuge in the park at great expense for the night of 2nd December, since it was fully booked until then. The idea was that we will go in on the bus on the morning of 2nd, walk up to the Mirador to see the view of the Torres, then walk back to El Chileno, stay the night and then walk out the following day. We have therefore booked into the El Sendero hostel for the 1st and 3rd of December and, in the meantime will return to Punta Arenas for 5 days just to pass the time until our booking.

Art in Puerto Natales?
Sunny by with a cold wind and she does suffer with achy ears in the wind!
We met some interesting people in our 3 nights in Puerto Natales, a ‘50 something’ couple who intend spending 2 years travelling from here in the very south, right up through South and Central America, through the USA and finish in Canada, mainly staying in their tent to keep costs down (they are more adventurous than us!), a couple from Brazil who went into raptures about how good their country is, gave us their contact details and said they would plan our trip for us if we go, and another couple who went backpacking in Torres del Paine park for 5 days without booking anything, something that now you are not supposed to do. From this year all overnights must be booked and you won’t be allowed in without proof of booking. However, no-one checked them and they got in and found the campsites half empty. 

We went for a walk along the front and these two dogs followed us. They ran down this pier and chased the flock of birds
In case I don't get a photo of real guanacos!
We checked online and they are all reported as full, so we can only do our 1 night, we just don’t have the nerve to wing it as they did. It seems they haven’t got the booking system properly sorted yet, but we still don’t want to chance it. Our 1 night will allow us to see the main view, so hopefully the weather will be OK.

A perfect day in Puerto Natales - as long as you have a coat on!
Jackie copying the athlete sculpture, 'tribute to the wind' or something!
We returned to our Airbnb room in Punta Arenas, run by Hernaldo for 5 nights on 26th November but, to date, we haven’t seen him! The house has been full of people we don’t know, all Spanish speaking, but we think they are probably family, one moving in a load of furniture, another gardening and washing and someone else we have seen before who lodges in one of the rooms. 

Have to include a photo of a pussy cat every so often
The NAO Victoria replica
We also had fellow Airbnb guests this time stopping in the other upstairs room. They were a mother, son and daughter from Santiago on a 5 day holiday and we managed to hold a conversation with our limited Spanish. On their third night they had to move to a house a few doors down as the son had only booked 2 nights instead of the 3 he thought he’d booked, however no-one else turned up that night so we don’t know what happened. We got talking about our stay in Santiago next week and Felipe, the son told us to use Uber taxis as they are much cheaper. When I told him we can’t as our UK phone won’t connect here he went out and got a local SIM card for us, fitted it in our phone and connected us to Uber all for no cost. They left with hugs and ‘you are like friends to us’ parting words, such nice people. However, we still don’t know how to use the Uber app, so not sure if we’ll use it or not.

Jackie trying out a hammock on the Victoria
Whilst here we’ve had some good days out. We visited the private exhibition of the full scale replicas of the Beagle, that carried Captain Fitz Roy and Charles Darwin on his voyages of discovery, the NAO Victoria that carried Ferdinand Magellan on the first round the world voyage (actually he didn’t make it round the world as he died, but the ship made it), the ‘James Caird’ lifeboat that, in 1916 Shackleton modified using parts from the ice bound, doomed Endurance in order to escape from Elephant Island and make his epic journey through mountainous seas to mount a rescue for his crew stranded on the island some months later, plus the ship ‘Ancud’ that was used by Chileans to claim Patagonia for Chile and build Fort Bulnes in 1840’s. 

On the Victoria
The NAO Victoria from the Beagle
We later visited the Sara Braun palace, a beautiful building overlooking the Plaza de Armas, built in the mid 19th century and now a national architectural monument. Shackleton visited there in 1916 to summon assistance for the successful Chilean rescue of the crew on Elephant Island and the building and adjoining hotel now has a ‘Shackleton Bar’ with paintings depicting the crushing by ice and sinking of the Endurance in Antarctica, the escape in the James Caird and subsequent rescue.

The Beagle replica
Yesterday’s trip was the highlight of our time here and that was a visit to a penguin colony on Isla Magalena, a small island 30km off the coast of Punta Arenas, containing between 56,000 and 58,000 couples of the rare Magellanic Penguins. After visiting lots of agencies round town we picked the ‘Comapa’ company that offer trips three times a week on an old ferry that takes just over 200 people at a time. We visited their office to find they were sold out for Tuesday, the only day we could make, but the girl did say that they sell 200 tickets from this office, but there are usually 20 more available on a first come first served basis at the port from 2:00pm onwards (the boat sails at 4pm). After visiting the tourist information office the lady there phoned the port to find they still had 40 tickets available from there, and she should know as her son, Edward, is one of the guides on the boat. 

Shackletons 'James Caird'
We arrived just before 2:00pm, got our tickets, waited for the 4:00pm sailing. Jackie met Edward, who was expecting us, his mum had phoned him to say two English people would be turning up. He even offered to run us back to the house afterwards, but we had to wait until he had finished helping all the old people off! We declined and caught a collectivo back. But how sweet is that?

Jackie on board the Ancud
The island is about a mile in diameter and has a fenced off path round the outside where close viewing of these inquisitive penguins can be done. They are completely unafraid of humans and some of them come close to view us, we wonder whether we’re a human zoo for the penguins to observe! Even with a boat load of 200 people turning up there is plenty of room and doesn’t feel crowded or a problem to the penguins and it was an absolute delight. Though we were first off and kept ahead of the crowd! They are fabulous creatures living in holes in the ground, some with new born chicks and always fun to watch. 
Jackie propped against the strong wind waiting for the bus
We had an hour on the island, which passed very quickly, but we were both quite glad to get back on the boat as it was so cold and windy! The two hour trip out and two hours back again was relatively uneventful, we did spend a lot of time looking out to sea, hoping to see dolphins and whales, which apparently do visit quite regularly at this time of year, but sadly we didn’t see any, swimming penguins, many sea birds including huge Skua and three sealions, but no cetaceans. It was still a great 5 hour trip and we can absolutely recommend it. Have a look at our ‘Youtube’ video of the trip

Inside the Sara Braun Palace
Today is our last day here, as tomorrow we head back to Puerto Natales and El Sendero for our trip to Torres del Paine. Before we go we have to walk into town to use the free wifi at the bus station to post this blog and Youtube video as the wifi here at Hernaldo’s isn’t working. It’s been pretty intermittent over the last few days, starting when the wind picked (we could hardly stand up in it!) but has been non-existent for the last couple of days. Still, at least it’s mostly sunny, just a little bit of rain, but such a cold, strong wind! Let’s hope the weathers OK for our trip into Torres del Paine!

A painting showing the crushing of the Endurance in the Shackleton Bar
We had an evening meal out too, I had warned him of this impending expense but King Crab (looks like big spider crabs to me) is just not something we get at home, so having surveyed all the menus we took our choice. A big serving of King Crab for two to share, beautifully presented and simply eaten with hot bread, homemade mayonnaise and spicy salsa, and a crisp bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc. I was on a charm offensive and managed to get extra bread and dips before talking to the American guy on the next table. He appeared to have had the same crab we did for a starter followed by a huge portion of lamb. He offered us some of his red wine after we’d finished as he couldn’t drink it all, and then offered some of his lamb as it really wasn’t as good as he’d hoped. He was probably right, it wasn’t as good as it should have been here, but compared to lamb on the average British BBQ it was pretty good! I had a lovely evening, and may have woken with a slightly dull head, but that was soon blown away the next morning!
Our King Crab meal
Painting showing Shackleton leaving his crew on Elephant Island to go to get help
The Sara Braun Palace
How does this work? We saw this pool table in the Sara Braun Palace, but we've seen others like is as well. There are no pockets for the balls to drop down. Perhaps it isn't a pool table at all
On the boat to penguin island!
The island in sight
Penguins everywhere!

This little guy creeps along behind Jackie while her back is turned
Mum with two babies peeking over her back
Another mum keeping her baby warm
Multi-tiered living!
An intimate moment between penguins
A bit out of sequence this one, but this is Jackie filling in the immigration forms before getting on the bus at El Chalten in Argentina, for crossing the border into Chile


  1. Bless those gorgeous penguins- I want one! X

  2. Looks so lovely. Penguins are cute! Xx