Tent Arbitrage and Tuxedos
Trip Start Sep 07, 2005
124Trip End Aug 18, 2006
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Another stroll up and down the drag revealed a paucity of good but affordable lodging options (here a pattern, particularly in Chile, develops)
Our mission in Puenta Arenas was twofold: (1) visit Isla Magdalena, a nearby colony of penguins, and (2) make our way to the Franca Zona, or free trade zone, where we hoped to find a cheap tent and other sundry camping equipment we'd need for our upcoming trek in Torres del Paine National Park. After a slow start the day following our arrival, we hopped into a local minibus that deposited us on the front stoop of the zona franca. As far as we could tell, there weren't many wonderful deals to be had, but we felt we had all the time in the world and so resolved to scour each and every establishment
What struck us most in Punta Arenas, aside from its dual lodging and shopping coups, was the intensity of its Austral sun. Apparently the excessive amounts of hair spray the Bratt Pack used in the 1980s is now catching up to the world at its northern and southern extremes in town like Punta Arenas. Even through fairly thick clouds, the sun in and around the city is noticeably more intense than in other cities we have traveled
What the city itself had slathered on too thick was campaign rhetoric. As far as we could tell every available signpost, fence, and billboard had been covered and recovered by one of the many forms of propaganda that are just ubiquitous in Chile around the time of a presidential election. We had noticed a few posters and slogans in a few other parts of the country, but with the election close at hand the party loyalists were really kicking it into high gear. It seem that for the first time in Chilean history a female candidate stands a very good chance of taking the presidency. Most campaign posters feature the candidate for senator, governor, or whatever, usually a man, flanked by a nice and polite looking woman, usually his wife, who is invariably peering over his right shoulder. Not to be outdone by the competition, the leading lady of the Chilean political scene is featured in front as her dutiful husband stands at her back. This tableau struck a cord with us, and in a few weeks we will see if it did the same with the Chilean electorate ( we have decided to make use of the handy postscript, in which we announce here that as of Dec
The next stop on our whirlwind tour of Chile, and the primary motivation for our diversion from Puerto Natales, was the Isla del Magadellena, or island of Magellenic penguins. Several decent sized penguin colonies dot the Patagonian landscape and draw tourists to both Chile and Argentina but Isla del Magedellena is the mother of all penguin colonies. Where other major sites boast anywhere from 5-10 thousand bird pairs, the Isla del Magedellena plays host to some 60,000 couples. Actually, the island we went to visit is only the summer home for this massive number of magellenic penguins who apparently spend the colder months vacationing off the coast of Southern Brazil (these penguins travel the farthest of any non-flying bird in any given season, up to 4000 kms). As we soon learned, the migration habits of these strange birds were among then least salient characteristics.
Like the penguins featured in the recent documentary March of the Penguins (we'd recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it), these penguins pair for a season and tag-team the incubation of the egg and the raising of the chick. The parents often endure prolonged periods of fasting while egg or chick sitting when its counterpart is out retrieving food, and retrieve they can - these penguins can swim almost as fast a common dolphin! However, unlike the king penguins featured in the film, these Magellenic penguins are more fortunate in that the conditions they experience aren't nearly as harsh, which allows them to burrow into the ground on the island to make a warm nest for the pair and their offspring
With these two tasks accomplished, we returned to Puenta Arenas for more shopping (this time for food for the trek) and a hearty dinner before leaving the next morning. We wandered into a local supermarket and purchased large quantities of faux-Ramen noodles (why we didn't spring for the standard classic is beyond me), a box of un-sweetened oatmeal, several chocolate bars, some soup packets, and a number of rice mixtures. Truly choice vittles. Ugh.
We also picked up some pasta we hoped to make in the kitchen of our hostel host, who generously agreed when asked and then went so far as to prepare it, serve us, and then throw in a little meat he had prepared for us on the side. As he did, he explained in decent English that he had grown up in Puenta Arenas but had been working as a lawyer in the courts in Santiago for several years. Apparently, however (as, perhaps, in the states and maybe everywhere), a healthy salary contributed to ennui, which contributed to drug and alcohol experimentation, which led to a full out cocaine and drink addiction. He said that he had come to Puenta Arenas to get away from that lifestyle and explained that he wasn't yet working as a lawyer again - he wasn't ready to head back into the lifestyle and the same crowds he knew back when. We found it interesting how so much seems different, yet so much sounds remarkably similar.
That night, we packed up our new belongings, shuffled around some unnecessary ones, played with our new tent, and geared up for our hike, which we contemplated beginning the next day, depending on whether we could get everything arranged and ready - including us - on time. And so the next morning, we boarded a bus back to Puerto Natales to begin the big outdoor adventure.