Monday, November 5, 2012

Punta Arenas, Chile – Here we come

Our friends, Mariano and Marcela are coming with us. They told us they have not been to the area in over 10 years and for us their company is much appreciated. Sunday, our phone rings early. It is 5:30 in the morning and this is our wake-up call from Marcela. It is a 12 hour drive to Punta Arenas, depending on traffic and border crossing so the early start is a must. The long drive was uneventful and broken only with stopping for gas and walking Winston, collecting the rental car in Rio Gallegos to bring the transmission back into the country, a picnic stop to eat our sandwich lunch and the border crossing. It seems as though with each stop the wind is growing in intensity. This Patagonian wind just never ceases to amaze us and driving past the wind-tossed waters of the Magellan Straits, it whips around the car and Tom drives with two hands firmly holding the wheel. We had booked a hotel online but on arrival we were told they had no knowledge of our booking and the hotel is full. The receptionist started calling some other hotels and was able to find a bed and breakfast that was pet-friendly. I braved the wind and walked Winston while Tom got us settled into our room. We took the suggestion of the owner of the B&B and went to a restaurant called La Luna for dinner. Seafood with heavy emphasis on shellfish is the specialty of the area and with that in mind, we dined on fresh scallops and cracked crab. Monday morning we headed for the port. Punta Arenas lies along the north western side of the Strait of Magellan between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on what is known as the Brunswick Peninsula. It is the gateway for boat transport through the Magellan Straits and for cruise ships and research vessels on their way to or from Antarctica. Founded in 1849 by Colonel José de los Santos Mardones, the city flourished as a port of call until the Panama Canal opened in 1941. Now it is the service center of a large sheep-raising area, responsible for processing and exporting hides, wool, and frozen lamb worldwide. The nearby Tierra del Fuego oil fields, the attractions of the free port, and the maintenance of military compounds have all contributed to the city’s modern growth. Mardones Pier, where our agent was located is in the northern end of the port and let me tell you, by now the wind had reached a zenith as it whipped around us and tossed the sea with large waves. So, it was with some disappointment but no surprise when we were told that the ship had not been unloaded and would not, until the winds subsided and the cranes could operate. We were told to return the next day when, they thought, the storm would have abated and maybe they could unload the boat. With the rest of the day free, we decided to explore the city. Our first stop was Zona Franca “the Free Zone” where you can buy all the duty free goods your heart could desire. After much browsing and price comparing of electronics, we settled in the large grocery store and bought hard to find macadamia nuts, maple syrup, Swiss chocolate, wine and for Mariano a couple of bottles of Scotch. After a quick hamburger lunch, Marcela and Mariano went to the mall and Tom and I walked Winston along the costanera and relaxed in our room. Dinner that night was at Restaurant Puerto Viejo. If you are ever in Punta Arenas, this is the restaurant to eat at. The restaurant is beautiful, the service impeccable and the food, well it was to die for. After sharing an appetizer of Salmon Carpaccio, I had Crab Chupa. Chupa is served in a bowl and is reminiscent of bisque but even richer with cream, huge pieces of crab and garnished with even more cracked crab legs and claws! Mariano ordered the same dish and neither of us could finish the serving. Tom just had simple cold cracked crab that looked fantastic and must have weighted a kilo and Marcela ordered a combination plate of a whole heirloom tomato stuffed with calamari and a piece of grilled salmon garnished with calamari rings. Everything about this restaurant was excellent, a true not to be missed. Also, our friends had bought us gifts at the mall. This area of Chile is famous for the stone Lapis Lazuli and of course the Magellan Penguin colonies. So, they had got me a beautiful penguin pendant and necklace made from lapis and Tom a penguin key ring made from the same vibrant blue stone. Returning to the B&B, we said goodnight and goodbye to Marcela and Mariano. Tomorrow they leave to return to Rada Tilly and work. We will miss not just their fantastic company but also the help they provide us. The good news is the wind has finally died down to a more manageable level so hopefully the cranes can get back to work. After giving Winston his night walk, we talk about our good fortune in having Marino and Marcela’s friendship and hope we can get the transmission come morning.

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