We decided that we wanted to see the southern most parts of Chile and Argentina in the summer. We quickly learned that summer in Patagonia is pretty much an oxymoron! We have never been so cold… in summer. It is incredibly windy and can be very stormy in the mountains. We are now sort of used to hiking in 60 km. per hour winds, and worry about being blown off the trail only when it gusts above 90 or so!
This is a beautiful area of the world. Where else could you see glaciers, giant blue green milky glacial lakes, icebergs, incredible snow capped mountains, soaring granite spires like Cerro Fitz Roy, condors, foxes, armadillos, penguins, llamas, guanacos and rheas? It’s an amazing place to see, and that one that you have to take on its own terms.
Punta Arenas..home of penguins and the 2nd most beautiful cemetery on the planet
Our first stop in S. Patagonia was Punta Arenas.
It’s on the Straits of Magellan – you can look across the straits to Tierra del Fuego. The first thing we were told was that in the past week the highest recorded wind gust was 150 km per hour and that when the wind is strong the city puts up ropes in the street for residents to hold onto so they don’t get blown over.. or away! It was cold and windy but not so bad with long johns, fleece and good wind-proof jackets.
This southernmost Chilean city is surprisingly prosperous and economically healthy. Punta Arenas looks a lot more prosperous than many US cities, with wide sidewalks, many interesting sculptures, neat buildings, and healthy parks.
One of the most amazing features of the city is their cemetery! Someone told us it is the 2nd most beautiful cemetery in the world. We wonder what survey that came from! The day we were there, there was a funeral for a motorcyclist who had been killed in a crash with a car, and there were 400 motorcyclists lining the street in front of the cemetery revving their engines in honor of the guy as his funeral procession came in. A very noisy funeral!
Also near the town is an island which is home to the largest Magellanic penguin colony in the world. Reputedly there are 63,000 pairs. It was a ‘dark and stormy day’ and we rode over choppy waters in a completely enclosed boat to the island. There were 3 particularly remarkable things about the penguins: 1) They’re amazingly cute! No surprise there. 2) They let humans get within a foot of them, and they appeared to completely ignore us as they carried on all their penguin behaviors. 3) They howl almost like coyotes. Sometimes one will tip his head back and start a howl. Another may come along and start howling too, in chorus or just look at the first in a quizzical way. We saw choruses of up to 8 singing in unison. The best video we got is here. A somewhat better one, by someone else, is here.
Penguin photos are below. Click on one to see a slide show.
Puerto Natales – jumping off point for Torres del Paines National Park
Puerto Natales is a small town which is heavily dependent on tourism and the town from which we started our Torres del Paines trip with our guide. It is perched on the shore of a lake with mountains in the distance, making it look a little like a town in Switzerland. We strolled along the promenade, looking out over a lake with black neck swans swimming in it. It is a very artistic city, and some of our favorite sculptures were of two people leaping in the air – they conveyed a sense of freedom, joy, and athleticism.