Friday, February 10, 2012

Suit up! First dip into the Chilean Patagonia

After two days in Ushuaia I had to say goodbye to Argentina again and take a bus to the Chilean side of Patagonia. The island Tierra del Fuego is actually quite small and when you start going up from the southern tip  you will cross between Chile and Argentina a couple times at least. Personally I hadn’t planned to spend a lot of time in Patagonia, a few weeks, which may sound like a fair amount of time but frankly doesn’t give you a chance to see nearly half of everything there is in the beautiful southern South America.

Knowing there aren’t that many buses up from Ushuaia I booked mine a week before. It was an 11 hour day trip (no night buses – come on!!?) to the “next town”, Punta Arenas in Chile. Right after we passed the mountains surrounding Ushuaia the landscape turned rather flat and dry, farmland. You could see the same landscape continued for miles, houses were far in between. There were lots of sheep, some horses – and to my delight some random guanacos on the side of the road and even ostriches. First we crossed the border and later the Magellan Strait on a ferry and the dolphins escorted us from the Tierra del Fuego to the mainland!

Punta Arenas is a rather boring town at the shore of the Magellan Strait. I arrived just in time for dinner and headed towards a recommended restaurant and had the best steak I’ve ever had perhaps – the meat was so tender, yum! And with a nice glass of Chilean red wine you can’t go wrong! The hostel was a bit worn down but the bed & the linen was one of the most comfortable ones. And the middle aged owner couple was really helpful and they booked me a trip to see the penguins the next day – that’s what I came to do there!

So the next morning I got some rest for a change as my penguin excursion wasn’t until in the afternoon. So I could have some of “admin time” (that’s when I respond to emails, look at my travel plan, book hostels or transfers, write my blog, organize photos, try not to look at my soaring budget etc) and take a walk in the city.

You can go see penguin on the mainland but I was recommended to make a little excursion to an island in the Magellan Strait, Isla Magdalena. The island is basically a rather large but fairly bare island with a lighthouse and a small passage lined by thin ropes in one part of the island – the rest is penguin territory. The boat set out from the Punta Arenas port with about 50 passengers. Almost right after we left the port whales appeared on close to the boat, blowing out some steam in groups of about three whales. The boat circled for a while to give us a look.

After two hours we finally arrived to Isla Magdalena. You could see the penguins everywhere, some even waddling to welcome us. You could notice right there that they weren’t shy at all. As we walked through the winding passage up to the lighthouse we were surrounded by the penguins. There are over 60000 couples on the island. At this time the babies had hatched and already quite big, losing their baby fur. You could see parents feeding the children, walking around, the adults arguing with each others,  kids crying for the mommies’ attention and all the activities you would expect.

The penguins came quite close, one of them really tried to get in touch with me even! It was a fun experience - I found the curious creatures to be quite human-like. It wasn't like we (people) went there to observe penguins, it felt more like we were observing each others. Definitely one of the most interesting animal encounters of my life!

So if you're in Southern Chile, head to Punta Arenas for a visit to Isla Magdalena (25.-35.000 Chilean pesos) - there really isn't much else you could there anyway! Well, maybe charge your batteries for another cool Patagonian hike in the next town north, the home of the Torres del Paine....

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