11.21.2012 - 11.21.2012 40 °F
We wake up to a cloudy, chilly day, the first we've had since arriving at Cerro Guido. The walk to the restaurant for breakfast is brutal and windy; the hills just above the guest house have a layer of snow and Torres del Paine isn't even visible because of the clouds and precipitation. This must be what it is like for many of the visitors who come to the park hoping for good hiking and good views, but end up with frigid weather and zero visibility.
Looking out at the snow pinging against the windows, we can't help but be appreciative of the great weather we've had during our stay in Patagonia. During the week ahead the weather will drop down to the low-40s with clouds and snow; the week before our stay was all rain. For us to have had sunny, mild weather every day is a miracle.
We start our long drive south toward Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, making our way through periods of heavy snow, rain and sunshine. We stop briefly in Puerto Natales for gas and coffee before heading back onto the road. Just north of Punta Arenas, we make a detour west toward Otway Sound, where a colony of Magellanic penguins set up their nests and waddle through the grassy fields to the ocean, much to the delight of the visiting tourists.
We drive for what feels like forever along a winding gravel road until we reach the entrance of the colony. Following wood boardwalks through the fields, we crane our necks trying to spot a penguin walking among the burrows or making its way along the penguin-trampled paths toward the beach, but for a long time we don't see a thing. This could be a grassland back in Ohio, for all we know.
The boardwalk turns toward the beach, and then we suddenly see a pair of penguins about 10 feet away, slowly walking over tufts of long grass and across a shallow crick toward the ocean. They give us a quick glance but continue their clumsy waddle without giving us a second thought. We walk alongside them as we take pictures of their stroll toward the water, then see that the beach at the end of the boardwalk is full of penguins—sleeping on the rocks, standing just where the waves touch the shore, swimming out in deeper water.
We watch these funny little creatures for awhile, but another bout of snow and wind sets in and we crouch behind the peekaboo wall trying to keep warm. Though we'd like to watch the penguins a little longer and continue to walk the rest of the boardwalk loop, it is simply too cold and wet to be outside in this weather. We rush back to the car and drive toward the main highway to Punta Arenas. Just a few minutes after returning to the car, the weather clears again and sunny skies reappear. Typical Patagonia, I suppose.
At about 4, we locate our hotel in the center of town near the Plaza de Armas. Hotel Plaza is a historic hotel located on the upper floors of a block of shops. Our room is basic but affordable, which is fine since we are only staying one night. We drop off our bags and head back out into the cold to find a late lunch/early dinner. As we walk, it starts to snow even though there really aren't any clouds in the sky and the sun is shining; after a few minutes it stops, then starts again a little later. While we had thought that the weather at Torres del Paine is notoriously volatile, the weather here in Punta Arenas seems to be just as unpredictable, if not more so.
We stop at a diner-style restaurant, where I have a steak, tomato, avocado and mayo sandwich, and Matt has a steak and fries. Exhausted from the long drive from Cerro Guido, we return to our hotel after dinner to relax for the remainder of the night.
The poet John Masefield once said, “Off Cape Horn there are but two kinds of weather, neither one of them a pleasant kind.” Having been caught rain and snow multiple times today, I know what he means.