Monday, November 26, 2007

Chilly in Chile

We´ve been working our down the coast of Chile for the past few days. We began with a beautiful trip across the mountains from Argentina to arrive at the lake-side town of Puerto Varas. We went on a full-day trip to Chiloe island and we blessed with beautifully clear skies all day. Chiloe Island was at one stage the most important point along the westerly South American coast as it was the control point of the Magellan Strait, which was the only available trade route across from the Atlantic across to the Pacific and vice versa. Also one of the last Spanish strong-holds as independance was gained by the mainland towns. But after the creation of the Panama canal Chiloe has become a quiet sleepy place with painted wooden houses in very Germanic styles inherited from its early settlers. We took a boat trip out along the coast to visit the penguin colonies where there were also sea-lions and loads of different bird varieties. My favourite though were the cows taking a stroll along the beach. Along the way we stopped to have some oysters fresh out of the sea, I´m not exactly an oyster expert but other in group told me these were the best they´d ever tasted. In the evening we had an amazing dinner cooked in a traditional under ground pit of huge amounts of mussels, clams, pork, chicken, potatoes and onion bread. A really enjoyable day but unfortunately due to full moon, very low tides meant we couldn´t get onto the ferry home ´till about mid-night.

Next day we took a flight further south to the town of Punta Arenas. You may have heard of it in the news as it´s the town where the passengers from the Explorer ship were finally airlifted to. If you haven´t heard the GAP Explorer ship, which set out from Ushuaia on a 19-day Antartica trip, hit an iceberg and sank. Luckily all passengers and crew were all evacuated successful though they did spend about 6 hours in life-boats in ice-filled waters. The boat is actually owned by GAP the company I´m travelling with. It´s terrible news for the company but great that the evacuation was handled well and everyone safe.

The highlight of Punta Arenas is a trip to the Otway Penguin colony. You can actually walk along designated areas of the penguin colony and nesting group so you can get really close and the penguins don´t seem bothered as they waddle by. I´ve some funny video footage which I´ll hopefully get to show those interested when I get home. Definately a bite in the wind down this far south so we´re preparing ourselves for our journey further south.

From there we have travelled further north slightly to the town of Puerto Natales, which is starting point for trips into the Torres del Paine National Park. Taking it easy today catching up on mail and doing some shopping before we head of on 5 days of hiking/camping in the park! The weather can get really harsh here, particularly the icy winds so we´re all wondering about the camping at night certainly. So we´re all sort though our best warm thermals, fleeces and jackets as we have a limited weight that can be carried on the trip. The park is supposed to be stunning though so definately hoping for some clear days. Better go get myself ready and hopefully have some great photos to share in a few days.