11.22.2012 - 11.22.2012 52 °F
We wake up to a bright sunny, morning—realizing that it's only 5 a.m. The longer days of the austral summer are in full effect here at the end of South America.
We have a continental breakfast and check out of our room at 9, hoping to do a little sightseeing before our 5 p.m. flight. By the time we load up our car, the weather turns cloudy and cold again just as we would expect from the Patagonia weather.
Punta Arenas is a windy, colorful frontier town. It's nestled against the Strait of Magellan at this southern tip of the world, and I'm reminded of tales my dad used to tell me when I was a little girl about the treacherous weather of the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn--how countless ships and sailors were lost in storms before the Panama Canal was built. I grew up somewhat afraid of this area, having envisioned for years sleet-streaked wind and black, merciless waves. The funny thing is, this is not an exaggeration. Though there are plenty of times when we have had glimpses of the sun while here in Punta Arenas, we also have suffered the cold rain and staggering winds. To have been a sailor in the 16th or 17th centuries, navigating this inhospitable environment would have been terrifying.
It is a tradition that visitors to Punta Arenas rub the toe of a statue in the main square, so we walk a few blocks to the plaza where the statue is located. The monument is actually in celebration of Magellan and has a majestic bronze statue of him on the very top; the good luck statue, however, is one of the native peoples of the Strait of Magellan seated along the side. The toe has been rubbed so many times that it is a bright gold in color, and we give it a little touch ourselves before exploring the nearby artisans' tables stacked high with bright sweaters, alpaca hats, and other products.
We drive just outside the town center along the coast in search of an 18th century shipwreck pushed up on the beach. The Lord Lonsdale allegedly had run aground in the Strait of Magellan, and the hull, ribs and bowsprit are now a major photo opportunity for photographers and tourists alike. We find the ship fairly easily as it is quite visible from the road. Though signs tell us not to, we climb down a steep slope onto the beach just below where the Lord Lonsdale lies on her belly in the surf.
A lot of the ship is gone, and what is left is rusting and graffitied, but it is a beautiful slice of history that serves as an example of how treacherous the Strait of Magellan was for sailors and tradesmen. Chains hang down from her bow and are buried beneath the rocks of the beach, and the bowsprit remains fully intact. We wander around the beach below the wreck, taking pictures and marveling at how beautiful yet eerie the remains of the ship are.
After visiting the wreck, we visit some of the other sights in town to kill time before our flight. We climb up to the Cerro La Cruz lookout, which gives us amazing views of the entire city, the Strait of Magellan, and the Tierra del Fuego in the distance. We then walk through the municipal cemetery, admiring the different kinds of burial plots (from ornate family mausoleums to small, simple plots with a sort of glass lock boxes in which families put pictures of the deceased, flowers, toys, etc) and the beautiful landscaping.
We head to the airport a little early after run out of things to do in Punta Arenas. We arrive a little before 1, expecting a 5:30 flight, but we find out at check-in that our flight was pushed up to 3:40—which thankfully means that we don't have to spend four hours sitting in uncomfortable airport seats.
The three-hour flight feels much longer than it actually is. By the time we touch down in Santiago and catch a shuttle to the Hilton Garden, we are exhausted and hungry. We have dinner at the Hilton's restaurant, where I order a gnocchi dish and Matt has lamb, shrimp and vegetables. We spend the rest of the evening relaxing to prepare for a full-day tour of wine country.
This is our last night in a hotel; we fly home late tomorrow night. I can't believe how quickly our vacation is coming to an end, yet it does feel like we've been gone for a very long time. A trip through wine country is just what we need as a relaxing end to what has been a whirlwind vacation.