Published: May 8th 2012April 20th 2012
Awesome marker in Punta Arenas with Cape Town on it
Ah, civilization sans fleas and hordes of tourists. I was finally back in Patagonia. Punta Arenas, unlike any other city in Chilean Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego, is a highly industrialized place. The airport even has two baggage claim carousels! Also, this time of year there are barely any tourists. Understandably so, as it is starting to get closer to cold. Located on the Strait of Magellan, statues of the famous Hernando de Magellan litter the city like graffiti even though this Portuguese man didn't care much for this wind-plagued strait. This is also the place where you can buy a ferry ticket to Puerto Williams and get your laundry done, which was my main goal. But first I had to rid myself of my bug infested clothes and do a deep clean of my skin in the next hostel. That done, laundry was deposited with the kind Teresa and Luis at the Hospedaje Costanera (I highly recommend them!). Since it is the low season here, I had an entire 5-bed dorm with shared bathroom all to myself at the low price of 8.000 CLP per night for my first night (~17 USD). Schweet!
The next day called for errands and an apartment hunt. I first had to buy my ferry ticket. Feeling ambitious, I walked the 5 km to what I thought was the office of the Transbordador Austral Broom. Oh, was I wrong. Seeing the locked building I believed to be the office, I was feeling quite a bit less ambitious and took a taxi home. Luis, with the kindness of his heart and the keen eye for a business opportunity, offered to drive me to the real office for a bit less than the taxi to ensure that I got it right this time. I smoothly rid myself of what is an exorbitant amount of money for a student, in exchange for a seat on the 30 hour ferry ride to Puerto Williams, the place past the end of the world. This finally completed, I could move on to the apartment hunt.
When I return from my travels, I am moving to the beautiful state of Colorado later this year. So, in an effort to avoid being homeless, I spent the afternoon sifting through several websites online to find something bed-bug and cockroach free for my roommate Kelsey and I. I also went coffee shop hopping as this activity requires internet. Working at a hostel, I was spoiled with near constant internet access unless the whole city lost the connection. However, much of Patagonia is not connected, except for Punta Arenas, the glorious port city of the south! Tossing back herbal teas in the Puerto Montt cafe and later rich hot chocolate in the Chocolatta, I managed to create a grand list of prospective candidates that will be scrutinized by my aunt.
Upon the return of my day in the city, I was greeted with more guests at the hostel. There was an Argentine cycling from northern Argentina to Tierra del Fuego, the Brazilian who took off from his job for a month to explore the rest of the continent, and the Canadian Belinda who, unsuccessfully, tried to quit her job and was instead given an extended leave for her travels. After lots of tea drinking and chatting, mostly me rambling on endlessly about my personal life, Belinda and I concocted a plan to eat sushi like socialites and explore the city the next day before I left on my 6 PM ferry.
With an herbal tea hangover, dragging myself out of bed that morning proved to be a challenging task. I had stayed up pretty late for my taste. Anything after midnight is so hardcore for me. Don't judge, because I managed to get through an American college without waking up in an unknown stranger's house or a hospital having my stomach pumped. I credit this success to my love for a full night's sleep. Nevertheless, after a late breakfast and an advisory warning about the freezing cold from a Brazilian who lives in Sao Paolo, Belinda and I hit the road. Since Belinda lives in ski resort Canada and I have spent 3 winters in Cleveland, OH, it felt more like bikini weather outside. Yet, fully dressed, we walked up a pretty awesome road dedicated to Chilean independence and patriotism. Of course, Mr Magellan made quite a few appearances even though he is no Chileno. The end goal was a lookout point over the colorful city. The houses of Punta Arenas are painted in creative hues of greens, yellows, blues, reds, oranges, pinks, peaches, and salmons.
Next to the lookout point, otherwise known as a "mirador" in Spanish, was a hut that had three of those cliche poles indicating the direction that other cities are located in. Normally I just think those things are silly, but, like most other people, if I see my homeland on there, I go nuts. And there she was, my darling Cape Town to the East. The sign was even formed in the shape of Table Mountain! I went berserk at this point and just had to have a picture with the pole. Soon we were starving and unlikely to consume our sushi like graceful and educated socialites.
Since I know absolutely nothing about sushi and Belinda comes from British Columbia, Canada, I asked her to create the schmorgasbord. You wonder why a Candian is an expert on sushi, yes? Well, as I learned from my fishy friend, much of British Columbia is inhabited with east Asian folk. Apparently you can get a roll of sushi for around $5! Mmmmmmm. Well, Belinda ordered an avocado roll, a salmon roll, a tempura roll, and something called gyoso, which is a kind of dumpling. Everything was finger-liking good, except the gyoso - the dough still seemed to be raw. Along with our meal I indulged in the rare beer in honor of my friend Alison's cake day. Thank you for being born Ali, even if it is only so that I am allowed to drink beer.
Once full, the next task was obtaining a cell phone for Belinda and Q-tips (earbuds) for me. Unfortunately we commenced our search halfway through the sacred siesta hour. So, most shops were closed or had very few sales people. Also, I had no idea how to say Q-tip in Spanish. We had no success with the phone thus far with stores being closed, not offering pre-paid phones, or just having no staff at the counters. In our second pharmacy there seemed to be somewhat more attentive staff. With a ramble of Spanish, I discovered that the Q-tips, otherwise known as "varitas" to the natives, were hidden among the baby items...made no sense to me, but ok.
After a large round that included buying postcards, we eventually had success at an understaffed, or just inattentive, electronics store for the much desired cellular phone. I even bought a 9.000 CLP MP3 player! I had left my iPod at home, because 1. I didn't want it to disappear and make me grumpy, and 2. I felt that I should be open and receptive to the people around me, thus not being plugged into music. But spending over 3 months without music was absolute torture as the hostel I worked in only played chill and house tunes - that tends to get boring after about the first 30 minutes. Purchases in hand we walked down an exercise trail next to the beach to deposit our goodies at the hostel and to have Luis deposit me at the ferry. With only minutes to spare, I bid my goodbyes from Teresa, Luis, and Belinda, but with an excitement to travel through the famed Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel.