Camping with penguins and Easter Island, November/December 2011

Intermezzo - Between Antarctica and Easter Island

Since I returned to Chile a bit earlier than expected, I got a couple of days to fill.

As I had already spent a couple of day in Punta Arenas itself, it seemed like a good idea to widen the range of possible destinations a bit and rented a car.

But first, I did what I had done six years ago - see some penguins.

There is an island, named Magdalena Island, close to Punta Arenas and it is inhabited by Magellanic Penguins. I had been there after coming back from the South Pole, so it seemed even more fitting to go there again after returning from Antarctica to see penguins.

The Magellanic Penguins were a strong contrast to the Emperor Penguins. They are a lot smaller and they don't breed on snow or form large groups, but breed in holes in the ground. When you come to the island, it looks at first more like the island might be rabbit infested - it's full of burrows.

Magellanic Penguin burrows at Magdalena Island Magellanic Penguin burrows at Magdalena Island Magellanic Penguin burrows at Magdalena Island

Each of the holes houses the nest of a pair of penguins. Not quite a proper bird nest, but also not just an empty hole in the ground. The penguins bring some kelp and other seaweed to decorate and cushion the place a bit.

Magellanic Penguin with kelp Magellanic Penguin with kelp

Access to the island is naturally severely limited. There is one path leading from the docking site up to a lighthouse. (In 2006 you could still climb that and have a view from the top, but it's in disrepair now and wasn't accessible.) You get about one hour on the island and you need to stay on the path (and any penguins crossing the path have right of way).

Path amongst penguins Path amongst penguins

There is also a large number of seagulls breeding on the island - it's a sort of multi-level bird-park, with the seagulls on top and the penguins below - but the main focus of attention is of course on the penguins.

Magellanic Penguin and seagulls Magellanic Penguin Magellanic Penguin Magellanic Penguin, increasing their number

When I was there last time, I got there on a mid-sized ferry, but it was still early in the season, so the large tours hadn't started yet (they would start the following weekend), so this was operated on smaller boats.

The advantage of being on smaller boats was that the tour included a detour to Marta Island, which has a colony of sea lions. While landing is not allowed on that island, the boat goes close enough for a good view.

Sea lions, Marta Island Sea lions, Marta Island Sea lions, Marta Island

In the afternoon I went to the Magellan Forest reserve again for a bit more walking. A bit of an uphill walk (it's used as a skiing area in the winter) and very windy at the top, but some nice views and also odd looking forests on the way. It would probably be nicely spooky to walk there after sunset...

Punta Arenas South of Punta Arenas Interesting forest
Interesting forest Interesting forest Interesting forest

The next day took me to an odd attraction.

When I was on the boat to the penguin island, there were also 21 Australian travel agents. They had been invited (probably by the Chilean ministry of tourism) and were on a tour through Chile (in the hope that they would sell more trips to Chile when they were back in Australia). And they talked about an attraction in Punta Arenas that was 'totally undersold'.

I had seen it on the way to the airport (it's hard not to notice), but hadn't seen any further info about it. There weren't any fliers at the hotels or any other noticeable advertising.

It was a full size replica of a sailing ship, located at the outskirts of Punta Arenas, somewhere between two junkyards. When I saw it from the road, I assumed that it was a prop for some movie that was constructed there. It didn't occur to me that it might be accessible.

It's not accessible from the main road, you need to drive down a parallel road and then the main indication that it's open to the public is a piece of paper pinned to a gate.

Entry road to ship replica

Undersold indeed...

Though that will probably already have changed. The ship had just been opened to the public in the previous month, so everything was still brand new and it was early in the tourist season. I assume that it will be much more noticeable as a tourist attraction now that the main tourist season has started.

The ship is a replica of the Nao Victoria, one of the ships with which Magellan had reached Patagonia.

They had attempted to build the ship according to the original plan, at least as far as it was sensible. (They did, for example, use modern nuts and bolts to fasten the beams of the frame instead of using traditional methods. Partly because doing it otherwise 'would be silly' and partly to comply with modern safety regulations.)

Not surprisingly, given that it was early in the season and the place was not widely advertised, I was the only visitor for a while (though others arrived when I left about an hour later).

Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria

The person behind the project (an Italian living in Chile) showed me around and explained interesting features and answered questions and then left me alone on the ship.

It is an incredible feeling to be on such a ship and have free run of it. It's like going to a museum, having a personal tour by the director and then being left alone to explore on your own.

Even better, there weren't any barriers to keep you from moving around. So you could sit down at the captain's table, operate the rudder or move the cannons.

I assume that some of the interior will be cordoned off soon, but currently it's a great adventure playground for grown-ups. (Yes, it's supposed to be educational and a historic memorial. It still feels like the ultimate Playmobil ship.) They should rent it out every 19th of September and have pirate parties there. (Yes, it's not a pirate ship. Yes, it's no way to treat a museum piece. Yes, having the ship full of geeks being drunk on wine and rum might not be a good idea. But it would be just the right thing to do...)

Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria
Nao Victoria Nao Victoria Nao Victoria

While building a replica of the Nao Victoria was probably tough to finance, organise and complete, there were already other projects in motion. They had already built (as a small side project) a replica of the James Caird, the small boat that Shackleton used to travel 1500 kilometers from Elephant Island to South Georgia. I knew it was just a lifeboat and quite small, but standing next to it made me realize how small, especially for six people. (The connection of Shackleton with Punta Arenas is due to the fact that he started from there to rescue his stranded party from Elephant Island.)

James Caird replica, Punta Arenas James Caird replica, Punta Arenas

But the next big project (for which they are already bending the beams for the frame of the ship) is the Goleta Ancud, which was sent by the Chilean government in 1843 to claim Patagonia as part of Chile.

I also asked about the HMS Beagle, since that is another famous ship historically connected to Patagonia. While there are no specific plans at the moment (and that's also true literally - while access to the Nao Victoria plans was relatively open, it seems that Britain still handles access to the original building plans very restrictively), it was under consideration, but it would probably be built, if it came to that, in Puerto Montt, since that would be better fitting historically.

Since I had been in Patagonia so far only north of Punta Arenas, I decided to drive south, to Fuerte Bulnes and beyond.

On the way I spotted a few dolphins, probably Peale's Dolphins, near the coast, so I stopped, watched and took a few pictures.

Dolphins, south of Punta Arenas Dolphins, south of Punta Arenas

At Fuerte Bulnes it was once again noticeable that this was still pre-season. When I arrived there, the only other car was just leaving the parking area and I had the whole place to myself.

Fuerte Bulnes Fuerte Bulnes Fuerte Bulnes Fuerte Bulnes, Goleta Ancud
Fuerte Bulnes Fuerte Bulnes Fuerte Bulnes Fuerte Bulnes

Historically, the place is a bit of a stupidity.

The Goleta Ancud was sent south to establish a Chilean presence in the area and claim the territory for Chile. So they landed there and built a fort. At a place that was extremely windy, provided no shelter, wasn't suitable as a port, didn't have any streams or other sources of drinkable water nearby and was placed on top of a hill.

It took them a couple of years to realize (well, probably they noticed earlier, but it took three years until they were willing to admit it) that this wasn't a good place and relocated to Punta Arenas. They kept it going as a military outpost for a couple more years and then decided to call it quits.

Fuerte Bulnes was burnt down and rebuilt about a century later as a historical monument.

It might not be a good place for a settlement, but it's a great landscape for a walk and view.

Coast near Fuerte Bulnes Coast near Fuerte Bulnes Coast near Fuerte Bulnes
Coast near Fuerte Bulnes Coast near Fuerte Bulnes Coast near Fuerte Bulnes
Coast near Fuerte Bulnes Coast near Fuerte Bulnes Coast near Fuerte Bulnes

Something that seemed strange to me where some yellowish spheres on a lot of the trees. These are parasitic fungi (called 'Pan de Indio'), but they looked a bit like alien brains controlling the trees. :-)

Weird tree mushrooms Weird tree mushrooms

While a nearby sign declares this to be the end of the American continent, this is about as appropriate as calling, for example, Miami Beach (or any other ocean beach) an end of the American Continent.

End of the American continent End of the American continent

Even if you discount the islands and thus Cape Horn as the southern end of the continent and only look at the mainland, it's still about 35 kilometers to Cape Froward (it's really named this way - it's not a typo for forward). And while this can only be reached by a hike, the hostel at Faro San Isidro is 20 kilometers south and still pretty much on the American continent.

Since I had nothing better to do, I decided to drive south until the end of the road. At least that would give me a reason to turn around and head back to Punta Arenas.

So one last look at Fuerte Bulners, into the car and down the road.

Fuerte Bulners Car near Fuerte Bulners Road near Fuerte Bulners

Taking care not to run over any animals crossing the street...

Geese crossing street

The landscape itself was nice, but some of the inhabited places looked quite strange. One seemed to have been some kind of amusement park or kid's attraction, with some decaying whale and penguin sculptures (and, as far as I could tell, there was a rusty Tyrannosaurus Rex lying on the ground nearby). Seemed a bit far away from everywhere else to have a fun park here - the whole place looked somewhat sinister.

South of Fuerte Bulners Former amusement park?

I had planned to go to the end of the road, but it turned from gravel road to potholed gravel road and to half of the beach.

Southern Road
Yes, the thing in the middle of the picture is officially a road.

There were probably another eight kilometers to go before the road ended, but this was looking increasingly desolate, so I just continued for a couple of hundred meters until I found some suitable point to turn the car around and drove back.

Here's an overview of the trips around Punta Arenas before and after Antarctica.

Tours in Patagonia

Being back in the hotel in Punta Arenas, there were loud noises outside the hotel and the view from my room was this:

Soccer fans

It can be slightly irritating if you are in a foreign country and see something like that at you have no idea on whether this is some local custom, a civil war is breaking out or some football fans are celebrating. It turned out that a Chilean team had just reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana (which it subsequently won, making this the first win of the title). So it was just people celebrating.

Then it was time to leave Punta Arenas and fly north.

At the airport was a familiar view - the Ilyushin IL 76 that had brought me to Antarctica and back.

Ilyushin IL 76

The flight to Santiago was great - a window seat, clear skies and impressive views of mountains, glaciers and lakes.

Aerial view of South Chile mountains Aerial view of South Chile mountains Aerial view of South Chile glacier
Aerial view of South Chile glacier Aerial view of South Chile glacier streams Aerial view of South Chile mountains

I had a free day in Santiago. Nothing special to do there, so I mostly walked around randomly and also took the funicular up to Cerro San Cristobal and walked down from there.

Cerro San Cristobal funicular Cerro San Cristobal funicular Information dog
Santiago Skyline Santiago Skyline Santiago Skyline

I was a bit surprised to see large groups of kids in unicoloured t-shirts walking around, but it seems there was some sort or religious ceremony going on below the large statue there.

Some religion going on Virgen de la Immaculada Concepcion Statue, Santiago

I found a modified pedestrian crossing sign more interesting...

Zebra crossing modification

I also paid a visit to Cerro Santa Lucia park, but that's pretty much all that's to tell about the day in Santiago. It's a city I like, but zigzagging down the streets isn't something that's worth writing about.

 Cerro Santa Lucia, Santiago

After all, the destination was Easter Island and Santiago was just a stop on the way.

Visiting Easter Island.

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