Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Punta Arenas (November 30th - December 8th, 2013)

After our breathtaking hike in Torres de Paine, we still had more than a week until our planned return to Europe. We had booked a flight for the 8th of December that would take us from Punta Arenas to Santiago de Chile, and from there we were to continue onwards. We read about a national park and some other places we could visit near Punta Arenas, and thought that we would have no problems spending the last days of our trip in the area. Thus, we took a bus to Punta Arenas already on November 30th.

It took us a while to reserve a room for the night: the majority of the places were booked out. This was a bit surprising, since we hadn't had many problems booking a room anywhere else in South America. When we inquired about the reasons, we were told that many Argentinians go to Punta Arenas on weekends throughout the year because of the large duty free zone there, and it was just a couple of weeks till Christmas, so there were even more shoppers in town.

After we had settled in at the hostel, we headed to the tourist information office: we wanted some more info on the places we had read about. Additionally, we needed to find a new place for the next night, as our hostel was already booked out for then. The lady at the office was very nice: she reserved a room for us, told us how to get around town and to the nearby hills, and to go and see some penguins. She explained that whale watching in the area is very expensive and also that it would probably not be worth going to the Pali Aike National Park, because it's quite far and perhaps not worth the effort. Thus, of our many ideas about what to do in the area, only a few still seemed doable. We realized that spending more than a week in Punta Arenas is not so sensible after all. However, we still managed to do a couple of things in the area.

A statue of Bernardo O'Higgins, one of the founding fathers of Chile, in Punta Arenas

A view to the sea from Punta Arenas

We decided to first visit the Seno Otway penguin reserve. In the morning, a bus picked us up at the hostel and took us to the reserve, where we were told that we can walk around for about 90 minutes. It was very windy and cold, and I really wished I had taken more clothes with me. Radek was very kind and lent me his wind jacket, which helped a lot, but I still felt rather cold after some time walking. It was completely worth it, though: the penguins were amazingly cute! About ten thousand Magellanic penguins gather in the Seno Otway Sound each summer to breed, and we saw several hundred of them. There were especially many at the beach, but we also saw some further inland, walking from their nests towards the beach or back. A couple of daring ones even got quite close to us!

Walking to the beach

There were many penguins at the shore, ready to dive in and have a meal

These guys are heading back to their nests

Absolutely adorable!

Once back in Punta Arenas, we gathered our things and moved to the hostel we had booked through the tourist info office. Eduardo, the guy running the Hospedaje Independencia, was perhaps a bit chaotic, but made us feel very welcome, and we later learned that he can also cook a wonderful breakfast. In fact, it may just have been the best breakfast we had in South American hostels/hotels. After this delicious meal, we hurried to the office of the bus company with which we were planning to travel to Ushuaia. The bus was two hours late, but eventually we were on our way to the largest town on Tierro del Fuego.

Some days later, we returned to Punta Arenas. The weather was not particularly nice, so we decided to forgo the walk in the nearby hills and visited the tax free zone (Zona Franca) instead. We spent about a half a day there and ended up buying just some sweet popcorn. Then it was already time to pack all our things and get ready for the long way back home.

A few more of our photos of Magellanic penguins can be seen here.

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