Friday, February 17, 2006

Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego to Punta Arenas

Shrine to the Virgin Mary on the ferry

11:30 p.m.

"Hostal Calafate", Punta Arenas, Chile

For me and the motorcycle, the ferry from Porvenir to Punta Arenas cost 7,700 Pesos, over $15. It was about a 2-1/2 hour crossing. Not many vehicles boarded, but I was surprised by the hundreds of foot passengers. At 7:00 p.m., we set out under completely overcast skies, sailing on glassy calm water. It was eerie, too still.

Crossing the Magellan Straits to Punta Arenas

Farewell to Tierra del Fuego

The water surface, fabric-like

I was approached by a man and his son. Galvarino and Rodrigo Adasme are from Santiago. They are proud owners of BMW motorcycles and, together, restore older models. Rodrigo has a pretty good command of English, which made conversing considerably easier.

It's funny, I will often be listening to someone speaking Spanish, and feel things are going pretty well, I'm understanding it. Then I'll trip over a word I don't understand, and lose it all.

While we were talking, people crowded to the port-side railing. We were passing a couple of whales. By the time they re-surfaced and I got a look, they were a few hundred yards off. Still, I could see, and hear, the blast of water from their blow holes.

The Chilean Armada, including an ice breaker (on the left) in Punta Arenas harbor

Approaching Punta Arenas, a crew member came for me, saying something about the motorcycle. I started to take a picture of Galvarino and Rodrigo, but he said we had to hurry.

Working our way down the decks, the passengers were all crowding near the exits, ready to leave. The cars on the vehicle deck were lined up, engines running. My bike was in the way, still strapped down. I clambered down the ladders and quickly unsecured the bike just as the bow ramp was dropped. Getting off the ship and out of the rush of vehicles, I took some time to re-organize my things, and pack them better.

Galvarino and Rodrigo followed and offered to lead me to their hotel in Punta Arenas. If I liked it, I could stay, otherwise the hotel staff could probably help me find another.

Indeed, theirs was too expensive ($150, I think, but they didn't have any rooms left.) The receptionist called several other locations on my behalf. She found one (this hotel) nearby for $50.

Max told me, when in Punta Arenas, "you must go to 'Sitito' for centolla (king crab)", but the receptionist said "it's very touristic and expensive. There's a better restaurant." and she said her favorite is "Damiana Elena". We all (not the receptionist) agreed to meet there for dinner in 45 minutes.

Having a closer look at "Hostal Calafate", it was clear you are paying for the location, a half-block off the main plaza. The building is well-worn and amenities minimal. I wasn't going to spend any more energy on hotels though. A positive feature: they provide free parking in a locked yard behind the hotel.

At about 10:00, I met Galvarino, Marta and Rodrigo at the restaurant. I tried to buy a bottle of wine for the table, but Galvarino suggested we try the Misiones de Rengo 2004 Syrah Reserve. It was more reasonably-priced than the "Casillero del Diablo" I was going to buy.

We talked about Parque Pumalin. Rodrigo explained that much opposition to the project was based upon the fear that rich foreigners were buying up Chile's glaciers to control the fresh water supply! I don't doubt that this could indeed motivate some individuals, though I cannot believe that is the case with the Tompkins.

I was disappointed that there was no centolla on the menu. I assumed that all the fine restaurants here would offer it! The food was good, though not exceptional. It left me wondering if I had made the right decision to miss out on "Sitito". In the end, Galvarino insisted on paying for dinner. I couldn't even contribute. "You are our guest in Chile!" And once again,  I find the journey highlighted with the kindness of strangers.

Galvarino, Marta and Rodrigo at "Damiana Elena" restaurant in Punta Arenas. Notice Galvarino's drawn wallet. He insisted I was their guest in Chile.

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