Punta Arenas to Ushuaia: An exercise in patience

Days: 346-348 (6 June 2015 – 8 June 2015)

Total distance travelled: 73,422.86 kilometres (45,604.26 miles)

After a long and enjoyable day at Torres del Paine, we abandoned our plans to depart Puerto Natales well before the sunrise (we were still only thinking of around 7am), instead holding the thought that it might in fact be a scenic journey.

It’s very possible that it was, a fact seemingly confirmed by the odd glimpse of snow fields as we completed the journey of roughly 250 kilometres.

However, those glimpses were indeed few, as it was a constant battle against foggy windows that eventually saw our efforts abandoned.

As such, the highlight of the journey was my discovery that the local newspapers name was El Pinguino (The Penguin)!

A brief break in the foggy windows

A brief break in the foggy windows

We had company for the journey in the form of Omar and Johannes, an American and German respectively with whom we’d shared both the Eden, our vessel from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, as well as our hostel during our time there.

They’d made a booking in Punta Arenas, we hadn’t…

Our arrival was somewhat fitting for winter in Chile’s most southern city, plenty of cold and plenty of rain.

As such we opted to follow our companions to their hostel, which was not only full, but in our opinions, ridiculously overpriced.

Instead we had a name from our book which although looking like quite a walk given the conditions, promised to be far more reasonably priced.

After a rather damp stroll, we got to a place that in truth didn’t look much, but in a case of looks being rather deceiving, the place was certainly cheap (half the price of where we’d just come), very cosy with a gas kitchen stove that heated both floors of the property, and a very friendly manager/owner.

We grabbed a room (the per person rate was the same for a dorm or matrimonial), got our bearings, then ventured out to solve our usual post journey lunch situation.

This we sorted at the local seafood market, the first (and only) place we found in town that was bustling on this cold and wet Saturday afternoon.

So what does one have in Punta Arenas? Well I went for the fish option whilst Sarah, she had a regional specialty, King Crab!

A gooey, cheesy stew, chock full of King Crab

A gooey, cheesy stew, chock full of King Crab

We’d planned on just the one night in town, however being winter, the lowest of low seasons in this neck of the woods, the service we desired (across the border to the Argentinean city of Ushuaia) simply wasn’t running until Monday, so an extra night it would be.

This did relieve the pressure a little (we didn’t have to try and squeeze in sightseeing as well on this horrid afternoon), so aside from a quick trip to the supermarket for supplies, namely sufficient wine to get us through the afternoon and evening, it was back to our pad to confirm another night would be fine.

Our dreary southern Saturday

Our dreary, southern Saturday

It certainly wasn’t any less of an incentive (to staying in for the afternoon) that the UEFA Champions League final was reaching its climax downstairs…

The night, it did feel a little cool, but when we woke to clear skies and sunshine (okay, so probably not entirely correct given how late the Sun rises this time of year), we could certainly understand why it had felt so cold.

A quick breakfast was had, before we layered up to take advantage of this tremendous weather!

Looking a little like the frontier town that it is...

Looking a little like the frontier town that it is…

Pretty quickly I learned not to take the streets in too much of a hurry however, with the formerly wet roads now more akin to ice-rinks, our relatively grip free shoes more use as skates on the slippery surface!

It was cold, fucking cold, but making a normally easy, but currently perilous ascent proved a good plan, as the views now afforded over Punta Arenas proving something else.

Punta Arenas in all of its sunny, winter glory (Click on image to enlarge)

Punta Arenas in all of its sunny, winter glory (Click on image to enlarge)

The difference a day had made was incredible, a reminder of despite the odd setback, we’ve been ridiculously lucky in general with the weather for our close to twelve months now on the road!

We didn’t have any sights in mind other than the local cemetery, so it was to here that we now strolled, popping our head into a couple of local churches along the way where Sunday services were now in full swing.

The first was packed, a standing room only affair.

The second in stark contrast was an empty affair, the lack of bodies leaving the vast space feeling empty and cold (which it literally was).

The empty spaces of the Santuario Ma Auxiliadora saw the faithful go to interesting lengths to feel the warmth of their god...

The empty spaces of the Santuario Ma Auxiliadora saw the faithful go to interesting lengths to feel the warmth of their god…

Ultimately, our journey to the Cementerio Municipal de Punta Arenas proved an easy affair (not that we were expecting otherwise), and by now the sun was sufficiently high that as we entered, we could see the steam rising from the previously frozen pines as their needles began their slow thaw.

It was a beautiful place, possibly the most immaculately kept graveyard we’d visited during our trip, also compact enough that it was never going to need a ton of time either.

Wandering through history with the grounds of the Cementerio Municipal de Punta Arenas

Wandering through history with the grounds of the Cementerio Municipal de Punta Arenas

It was a catalog of the regions history, home to many Chilean families, with names rather lacking in Spanish ancestry.

Surnames such as Bell, King, Greenfields, Harrison and MacLeod hinted at the strong migrant past Chilean Patagonia has, whilst the most interesting monument of all actually housed no remains.

In an otherwise unassuming area sat a memorial erected by the local German community, a monument to their fellow countrymen lost close to the nearby Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) during the First World War.

A monument to Admiral Graf Spee and his crew of the Scharnhorst (left) & The lofty heights reached by the midday Sun (right)

A monument to Admiral Graf Spee and his crew of the Scharnhorst (left) & The lofty heights reached by the midday Sun (right)

Our wanderings eventually took us away from this peaceful yet somber place, and instead we drifted closer to the sea and its frigid winds.

We strolled the waterfront for a time, marveling at the Sun low on the horizon, the loftiest height it was to reach for the whole day, relishing the snowy backdrop that the hills provided, and other times savouring the large collection of Cormorants as they loitered on and near an ancient, rotting pier.

A beautiful last taste of Chile

A beautiful last taste of Chile

The following morning (again a sunny affair) our bus departed, the Straits of Magellan were crossed courtesy of a vehicle ferry and there we were on Tierra del Fuego, a name that for so long has inspired a sense of adventure in me every time it was spotted.

The border crossings presented no difficulty (we were prepared with Argentinean Reciprocity Fee already paid and our forms printed).

Crossing the famous Straits of Magellan

Crossing the famous Straits of Magellan

A name for the adventurous imagination...

A name for the adventurous imagination…

Eventually, after a full day of travel (and an additional days wait in Punta Arenas) we found ourselves in a cold, snow covered Ushuaia.

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

 

Notes:

* Our bus from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas cost $6,000.00 pesos per person.

* We baulked at the expensive hostels closer to the Plaza de Armas (in Punta Arenas) and made the worthwhile trek out to Hostal Independencia where it was $7,000.00 pesos per person a night in either a dorm, twin or matrimonial!

* For Australians to enter Argentina, it is first necessary for an online reciprocity fee to be paid of $100.00 US and for the issued form to then be printed and in your possession for each border crossing (valid for only 1 year).

* Our bus from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia cost us $30,000.00 pesos each, for the full day journey.

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9 Responses to Punta Arenas to Ushuaia: An exercise in patience

  1. LaVagabonde says:

    It truly seems like the end of the Earth. Tierra del Fuego. Straits of Magellan. Land of every adventurer’s dreams.

  2. Vyjay Rao says:

    Nice narrative, was with you every step, on the cold and wet streets of the place. Your perseverance was indeed rewarded by sunshine the next day. But all around it must have been an experience that would remain etched in your memories.

  3. Kevin Wagar says:

    I can’t wait to get here some day! I love how it’s the last jumping off point for the bottom of the world. That King Crab stew looks unbelievable too!

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, it felt even more frontier like with the low season, the weather and the lack of people. Not too dissimilar to the north of Canada or Alaska!

  4. Mar Pages says:

    I’ve been craving crab for the past week, the King Crab stew made it so much worse! Chile looks far off from everything else, quaint and peaceful- so lovely.

  5. Shaun says:

    Hello Chris!

    Just a quick question, which bus company did you use? I understand its the low-season in Punta Arenas and Ushuaia and the usual bus services don’t operate (Bus-Sur etc.), so I was wondering what bus did you take.

    Thank you so very much!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Shaun,

      That is a really good question, and I can’t honestly recall.

      There were two or three departure times, and we simply walked up to the bus terminal and took the earliest available (at that time of year, it was still well and truly dark).

      In the meantime, I’ll try and dig through my notes and see if I can find anything about which operator it was!

      Cheers

      Chris

      • Shaun says:

        Hey Chris

        Thanks for the speedy reply! Well I’m guessing if there are multiple departure times available then travelling by bus is still an option. Good to hear, as I was thinking I might have to go by ferry to Puerto Willams instead.

        Thank you!

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