Friday, 31 March 2017

Fear and Despondency in Punta Arenas

Hello and greetings! Many apologies for not writing in such a long time. The truth of it is that on our way back from the Weddell Sea I really didn’t have anything particularly exciting to say- there were just a lot of grey and glowering waves- and then after our sojourn in Punta Arenas it felt like I had too much to say! So I kept putting it off as a bad job. I feel shame. I’m like Cersei Lannister- apart from, you know, the weird stuff.
The only excitement on our way into Punta Arenas- a huge flock of seabirds shadowed us!

I had a fantastic time in Punta Arenas. I took delivery of a huge cargo of chocolate and many books. The purser is now charged with rationing me to a bar a week lest my Christmas podge re-appear. And I had letters from my lovely other half and from a friend of my parents which was amazing! I sat and opened my mail whilst drinking a coffee and gazed out over the Atlantic. I felt so cool; it hurt. Martha Gelhorn totally did stuff like this!
Once chocolate supplies were assured however, my main priority was going for a swim. As I’m not quite stoical enough to go for a dip in the Southern Atlantic, I booked into a hotel. I donned my bikini and shot into the pool and wallowed for hours. Apparently my presence dismayed the other pool users; they promptly fled the scene after I began swimming laps and created my own little bow wave that washed them into the shallow part of the pool. I then spread further fear and despondency in the hotel by wandering back up to my room clad in my towel and bikini. Judging from the looks of dismay that I received, I’ve suddenly realised that behaviour that is charming and amusing when you are 5, lacks a certain something when you’re 32.

I ate out almost every evening in Punta- including in a French restaurant which was very agreeable. I had pate and hare in the Magellan style if you’re interested. Followed by a trio of chocolate pudding-y goodness. The waiter had clearly taken my measure by this point because afterwards he brought me out a coffee with a little chocolatey thing sat next to it. Pisco sours then ensued. This is an utterly lethal beverage containing egg whites, syrup, Pisco, bitters and lemon juice. After a number of months of drinking only on special occasions, it hit me like hand grenade. Wow. Apparently I insisted on making friends with every single dog in Punta Arenas. There are a lot of dogs in Punta. It took me hours to get back to my hotel.

I was not defeated by this minor hiccup however and the next day I sallied forth- blinking fitfully at the bright sunshine- to book a trip to Torres del Paine. This is a rather lovely national park that sits in the Patagonian part of Chile. The Paine massif- an outcropping of the Andes mountains- looms over the park which is heaving with the kind of flora and fauna that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Approaching the national park
 Confused by Chile’s draconian laws about bringing in fruit or nuts? This unique environment is the reason why. Amongst the very exciting beasts that bound through the park are pumas, guanacos, rheas, condors and grey foxes! There’s a cave where prehistoric human remains have been found and there are three granite towers named Cleopatra’s Needles by a woman who gloried in the unlikely name of Lady Florence Dixie. What more could you possibly want in a park?
Bird of prey (any help guys?)

The guanaco

Cleopatra's Needles/ Torres del Paine

 I had imagined that it was too far to get to from Punta Arenas- but we found a tour company that were doing day trips. It did mean getting up at 5am to catch the minibus but it was well worth it.
My 5am face. I NEED that coffee

 We were exceedingly lucky; the weather is fairly unpredictable in Torres del Paine and we had a whole day of glorious sunshine. The joke goes “So, you don’t like the weather in Torres? Wait a minute.” Ho ho ho. Something of a dad-joke there. Our guide, Francesco, told us that the previous week he had taken a group to the park, waved at a wall of roiling clouds and said, “Well, the mountains are behind those clouds there. I can show you a picture if you'd like?” Our day was beauteous however and provided me with many an opportunity to take intrepid explorer photos. Such things are not to be sneezed at. I was enraged to see my buddy’s photos though. The little devil was taking photos on an i-phone and they looked far better than what I was taking on my cool, multi-lens camera. Only after stringing me along for several hours did he disclose that an I-phone lets you edit photos as you go along. Ah...
I'm an explorer! Just like Lady Florence Dixie!

We returned back to the ship at 10pm and exhausted by my dissipation; I crawled into bed. And that was it; the next day we were off! Back out to sea again. We’re in good company though; there are two science cruises aboard and most importantly, Boaty McBoat Face (the autosub) sails with us!

Cleopatra's Needles/ Torres del Paine

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