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Published: January 29th 2020
(taken on an iPhone!)
R: So this blog is going to be a bit of a slow burner. I also forgot to mention - I found a Hindu temple in Punta Arenas - who knew? The next day started with a 6am start. Kevin from Canada, who I had sat with last night was conspicuously absent - he had swapped his steak for a crab lasagne last night with someone else who had ordered wrongly - turns out it was poison! So not a good start for the group as we were down one already. We were supposed to be heading out to an island where there was a penguin colony to see. However, the weather was against us (apparently). Although it seemed quite calm in Punta Arenas, apparently there was plenty of wind over at the island and the boats would not leave. So we lingered over breakfast (those who know me well will know that no-one gets the best from me at 6am - particularly strangers) which was cake, sliced meat and cheese with copious coffee from a machine. Alf eventually arrived and announced we were off to a Andean Condor colony instead. Some people were pretty devastated - whereas I thought this
was a neat add-on to my trip, some people seemed to have come only for the penguins.
We got put on a bus and headed out. The landscape is very "open" here with huge expanses of green open space, grazing cattle, occasional farm buildings and general nothing ness. There are quite a lot of navy related things, being in quite a strategic position. We exited the highway and onto a dirt road which I am amazed the bus made it down. Meanwhile, I had got chatting to a girl from the US who was a ski instructor and learnt her life story without sharing any of mine. We arrived at a ranch, not too dissimilar from our infamous trip to Salta years ago, a bit smarter but with less charisma. There were huge skewers of meat dotted about the place that were unexplained and it had a great looking wine bar in it as well so I was getting my hopes up. Stocked up on tea, coffee and biscuits, we were given a talk about the condors. They have a 3.3m wingspan and are found all over this part of south America. The males have an ugly buldge on
the top of their beaks, while the females do not. The guides told us the place we were going was a "Condor hotel" where none are resident but many come to socialise for a few days.
We headed over by bus. The guide had provided us with binoculars to see the condors, so after a short hike up to a good spot, we set about watching them. Some sat on ledges that were stained with droppings, others swirled about in the air above us. The guide set up a telescope so we could have a good zoom in on them. I took a bunch of pictures with my zoom lens and DSLR which I had carried to south America just for the penguins
condors but it didn't escape my notice that people were getting some awesome photos by holding their iPhone up to the telescope. So I did that as well and got a much better photo of a condor - which I am only slightly ashamed of.
Bearing in mind it was still Day 1 - people were polite but you could tell that they wanted to get back on the bus. It was quite cold, though
sunny and Condors are only so interesting. The whole area was filled with Calafate bushes which are really quite pretty, yellow flowered and with pink berries. I would later buy some in the form of gin, but I will come back to this some other time. I was really just enjoying being outside at this point and was loving the alien environment to go for a walk in. You could see mountains, lakes and the coast and it was great.
We headed back to the ranch, handed over our binoculars, and didn't get any meat or red wine. Instead we headed back to town. Alf and Steve (driver) encouraged us to pick up supplies before we headed into the wilderness. We were using the same truck all week, so Steve drove us out to an industrial estate, which had a mall and two hypermarkets in it. After another lunch consisting of Churrasco (meat), bread, hot sauce, and this time avocado, we set about buying supplies. The first hypermarket was similar to the non-food section of an Asda, and the second supermarket was like a Lidl and Aldi stuck together. Neither had much I wanted, except Peruvian giant corn (which
I love). Back in town, I found a better supermarket and stocked up on Austral beers, crisps, fruit, red wine - you know, the essentials. However, like an idiot, I forgot my bag, so I had to carry them all 10 mins home, with the beer bottles stashed in the clear banana bag I had picked up. By the time I got home, I hadn't dropped any, but I had no strength left in my hands whatsoever. I considered this a win.
I went for a bit more of a stroll before dinner - deciding I had done enough small talk for a while. It was slightly raining now, so less fun than yesterday. The museum I had tried to visit before was still closed. I met some of the others for drinks and dinner and we ended up in a bar playing S**thead for sometime, accompanied by Pisco Sours - my first ones of the trip. Sergio from Switzerland was very keen to join me as well and they were cheaper than the beers (about 4 USD) - also a win! We headed to a different bar hoping to get some food but failed, so had another beer,
then finally settled on a pretty good pizza place - where I had a Pisco Sour. Oh dear, these people are going to start getting ideas about me!
Just as we were finishing the meal, the street outside suddenly erupted with red flashing lights and within a few seconds, groups of teenagers ran past, quickly persued by the military police in riot gear. The restaurant owner was outside in a flash pulling the metal shutters down over the windows and locking the door - they had decided to close and only allowed people out when they were ready to leave. A sign of how edgy the town is at the moment. When we did, there was a smell of burning everywhere. It was now raining, and most of us wanted to go back to the hotel. But Janet, the Aussie, wanted to go and see what was going on. We took a bit of a long route home and it appeared that someone had pulled all the large rubbish bins into the centre of the road intersections and set them alight. Bored looking firefighters were moving around the town slowly extinguishing them, but leaving the rubbish in the centre
of the road for people to drive around. This was as much as we saw of the riots - they were on a much smaller scale to the ones in Santiago.
We headed back. Tomorrow was another early start on our way to Torres del Paine National Park.
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