Saturday, February 18, 2006

Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales

Sunset at Puerto Natales, Chile

“Hostal Natales”, Puerto Natales, Chile

Wind blowing, rattling the plastic skylight panels. It’s midnight. The search for a room was relatively easy in this town. After only a couple other stops, I came upon this hostel. This is a great spot, though for many I'm sure the $20 price is too dear. I was put in a room with four bunks, but assured I'd be the only inhabitant. A large private bath. Lots of modern computers (though expensive: they charged me 1,000 Pesos per hour to hook up my laptop, in lieu of the normal 2,000-Peso rate for use of their terminals.)

I only traveled from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales today, but given the continual 30+ mph crosswind, the 150-mile ride was sufficiently-tiring. My neck muscles were fatiguing, as I struggled to keep my head and helmet from flopping all around. (It's interesting; you can drive the motorcycle into a 60 mph headwind and the aerodynamics will deliver a remarkably smooth ride. But when that wind is coming from the sides, it's an entirely different experience!) Arrived here with less than two liters of gas to spare.


Rested well last night, ear plugs effectively eliminating the noise from the boulevard below. Up at 8:00, a light breakfast, then turned to the internet. As it would be a short riding day, I felt I could spend a few hours on the blog.

Connected to the hotel, is a large internet café. High speed connections are available in this city. I was able to post via "Picasa" again, and ended up going back over all the photos published through “Blogger” and re-posting them (this resulted in better images in the blog.) But it's a time-consuming process.

(What is it about internet cafés and air freshener? Periodically, the people who run these places walk around, spritzing the air with freshener. It makes me gag!)

I ended up spending five hours here. As I was reaching the point where I’d have to break it off, I received an e-mail from Nina: they were in Punta Arenas, and would be at the main square at 3:00. I tried to tie everything up and get down there. It was 3:10 when I began circling the square, but I never found them. After about five passes, it was time to move on. (In the process, I found a good little internet café and coffee shop: “Coffeenet” just off the square. But too late!)

The wind outside Punta Arenas is amazing! And with it, comes rapidly-changing weather. Rain was bearing down from the west and I raced to outrun it. I had hoped to visit the Pinguineira Otway, just north of Punta Arenas, but with black skies, the rain had already laid claim to that area. I rode on. It was cold, but up ahead (always up ahead, just out of reach) the edge of the storm, and promise of sunlight.

If the road had adhered to a northerly track, I would be away from this threat and out in that sunlight, but it seemed to tease me, turning west into the approaching rain, then veering north away from it, then back into the rain again. Anticipating that I was soon to be drenched, added another layer of protection: my Gore-Tex rain jacket and pants. They also helped to block the cold wind. At this point there weren't any more layers to put on! (I could barely move as it is.)

Across one particularly barren stretch of plain appropriately stands a "Monument to the Wind"! A series of towers, mounted with swirling abstract metal sculptures. Approaching Puerto Natales, with its more mountainous terrain, the wind subsided.

In Patagonia (as in Newfoundland), the weather changes rapidly. Everyone jokes about it. "If you don't like the weather now, wait thirty minutes."


On advice from the hostel (not hostile) staff, I went out to dinner at the "Concepto Indigo” restaurant. I told them I wanted to try centolla, the king crab for which this region is famous.

A comfortable, rustic dining room with windows looking out on the channel, hot sun glaring through the glass, then disappearing behind clouds. Cream of pumpkin soup, then “Chupa de Centolla”, a casserole-like dish made with king crab. Very good! Accompanied by an excellent Mexican-style salsa and "Kunstmann" beer. At nearly $24, however, the meal was expensive.

After dinner, I walked along the waterfront, where a large ferry was still unloading, apparently an hours-long process. Tractor trailers were rolling off and directly into a fenced customs compound. This one small area of the town was bustling with activity. Everywhere else it was pretty mellow.

This ferry is a major supply line between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales, traveling the inside passages of Chile's southern coast

Wandering "uptown" later, I passed a group of backpackers apparently having some trouble with an ATM. I asked if anyone wanted to exchange currencies. One couple agreed to trade, and I gave them 20,000 Chilean Pesos for about 120 Argentinean Pesos. This will leave me pretty tight on Chilean currency. (I held back enough for the entry into Torres del Paine tomorrow.)

I had asked someone where I could find some coffee, and was directed to “El Living” on the square, where they advertise “real coffee” and vegetarian food. A very comfortable little spot. I've found at independent coffee shops, it's a good bet you’ll hear Bob Marley's music.

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