Corrugated City

Thursday 7 May 2009

Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.

Well, I have been a really bad blogger of late. A mix of work and feeling like I just couldn't be bothered have meant I haven't posted for a long time. The latter feeling hasn't really gone away, to be honest, but as I've got nothing else to do at the present moment...

A couple of weeks ago I went down to Punta Arenas with a friend so we could go visit Torres del Paine National Park. This was my first trip down to Patagonia, having been no further than Chiloe before, and it was very last minute.

We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon in pouring rain. It was cold. I remarked, quite cheerfully, that 'it's just like England'. When it got dark, soon after, the remark changed to, 'My god, it's just like England. Gah!' My first impressions were not great.

Next day, however, there was a bit of sunshine and we went for a walk around town and to the awesome cemetery. Punta Arenas was settled by British, French, German and Italians. But it was the Croatians who really left their mark. Croatian business names abound and the cemetery is full of Croatian tombs.

From the cemetery there are fantastic views out across the Magellan Straights over to Tierra del Fuego.

Santo Popular, Indiecito

After the cemetery, we wandered to the town centre with the inevitable Plaza de Armas. This was when I realised that Punta Arenas is actually a pretty beautiful town. The architecture all around the plaza is gorgeous, all reflecting the European influence in the town's history. Some of the wrought iron work reminded me of Buenos Aires and the complete lack of graffiti made a refreshing change from the rest of Chile. Punta Arenas is also a very safe place to wander around at pretty much anytime of the day or night. If it weren't for the driving rain, wind and snow, it might be a pretty cool place to live...

I thought this place had been shut down by the US government.

On the Plaza

One of the architects who designed the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires also designed the theatre in Punta Arenas. Not quite so special, really.

If you touch the indio's foot, you'll be returning to Punta Arenas. Dan was very excited.

Punta Arena's most spectacular attraction: A pole.

Our lovely host, Crissa.

Rainbow Part I

Rainbow Part II

That afternoon we set off for Puerto Natales, the gateway town to Torres del Paine. The yellow pampas for the entire 3 hour bus ride get old quite quickly but the sky, which you feel as though you can actually touch it's so close, is a constant wonder. Also, back in 1978, Chile and Argentina came this close to war. The Chilean military laid mine fields and massed most of its forces, waiting for an Argentine attack that was only averted by the Pope getting involved. Argentina decided to attack the Falklands instead in 1982 to drum up nationalistic pride, but that didn't end very well for them.

Anyway, Argentina didn't invade Patagonia by force. It found a more insidious way of conquering Chile: through technology. I received the following text message whilst still deep inside Chilean territory.

Puerto Natales has a reputation of being nothing more than a jumping-off point to Torres del Paine but I quite liked the place. The views across the water are spectacular, there are some decent restaurants (in particular the incredibly good pizza place on the corner of the Plaza) and there's a very laid back feel to everything. Still, we left early the next morning.

On the way to the park, the yellow pampas slowly gave way to greenery and towering mountains. Guanacos and sheep intermingled and we passed a lake full of flamingoes. Out of nowhere, the Torres del Paine revealed themselves. The bus driver slammed his brakes on and suggested everyone get out and take a photo as we probably wouldn't see them again; bad weather was on its way. Oh.

The hostel workers said the same thing. So we set off immediately on the trek up to the viewing point. It's about a 4 hour hike up and 2 or so back down. We started off in sunshine. It didn't last. The wind picked up, it started to rain and I was forced to put my 400 peso hi-vis plastic mac on. It turned out to be the best 400 I ever spent as it kept me dry-ish until we hit the...snow on the last 45 minutes. That soaked through all my clothes and left me shivering until we arrived back at the hostel in the dark.

Lovely sunshine:

But, at the top, the view that greeted us was this:

Apparently, on a nice day it looks like this (from

The painfully inevitable graffiti (that's all there is but still...)

Still, it was worth the hike. The views when the sun was out at the start were pretty cool and I needed the exercise. I'd fueled up by eating several lambs (best in South America but still not as good as NZ or Welsh lamb), pizza, crisps, chocolate milk and biscuits. I'd assumed we'd be doing at least 3 days hiking. We did just the one.

Next day, we decided to head back to Puerto Natales as the weather forecast was poor for the next few days. The early morning views of two of the three Torres was spectacular from the hostel, but it soon disappeared.

The following day, we set off on a boat tour to see a couple of glaciers. Dan was obsessed with the things for some reason and was very excited. Personally, I just see them as extremely slow moving rivers. However, the boat trip was very cool, the scenery was amazing and at the end of the day, I got to eat another couple of lambs.

Serrano Glacier

Balmaceda Glacier (just 20 years ago it reached all the way to the water)

Back in Punta Arenas later that night we headed out for Australs with Crissa. And then the next day we wandered around town a bit more, saw the sights and did what any self-respecting person does on a cold, wintry Sunday; cake and coffee.

And then we flew home. Patagonia, when the sun comes out, is stunningly beautiful. When it's cold, wet and windy it's like England on a December afternoon. Not so great. But not so bad when you're drinking in a warm pub.

Next stop: La Carretera Austral.


Mike said...

Definitely awesome pics...great scenery...When you said "I thought this place had been shut down by the US government". Were you referring to the store Adu Gosch or something else? How would the US Gov have any power to do this there? Just curious.

Matt said...

I'm pretty sure that it was a torture jail in Iraq, they must have just moved it to the south of Chile where no one would notice.

Mike said...

ROTFLMAO...thank you

Patagoniax said...

That is pretty funny, about the Abu Gosch supermarket being shut down the US. Or maybe it's not really funny, and in fact revealing. "Abu" is Arabic for "father of." Maybe "Abu" has some sort of nefarious association in the minds of some Westerners?

Matt said...

Erm, read the comment above.