Tuesday, December 9, 2008

November 22, 2008 – Punta Arenas and beyond.

The skidding touch down jolted me awake. Peggy was there next to me, wide-eyed if not bright-eyed, and certainly not bushy-tailed – rather butt-bruised after days of sitting.

We’d been traveling for 13 hours, that on top of the flights and airports between Anchorage and Miami. And it had all been eastward travel, six time zones east of home to here, Punta Arenas.

Our plan was ambitious: catch a taxi to town, check into a hostel, find out where the grocery store, bus, and outdoor store were; then eat, shop for food, maps and fuel, buy bus tickets, pack, sleep, eat, and catch a bus at 9 AM for Puerto Natales, 3 hours north; then hitch-hike 70 miles further on to Torres del Paine National Park.

All with my very limited Spanish vocabulary: my two most-used phrases being, “Hablas usted Engles?” and “No comprendo Espanol.”

It felt like we were in an adventure race, a race with no other teams, trying only to beat the clock. We were happy that is was so near the Austral summer solstice, and this far south: it got light by five AM and stayed light until nearly ten at night. The late spring light was like a form of amphetamine, getting us up, keeping us moving.

The three hour bus ride was far better than I expected. Peggy soon caught sight of one, then many, rheas (called nandu here) – very cool South American ostrich-like bird -- then flocks of flamingos, the giant plover-like lapwing, and beautiful white-necked, Magellan geese and black-faced ibis.

Twenty-four hours after landing in Punta Arenas, we were in Puerto Natales, the famous Patagonian wind whipping up the blue waters into waves with black-necked swans bobbing like corks.

We hurried out of town, hoping we’d catch a ride with someone who spoke English and was headed all the way to Torres del Paine.

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