Friday, December 7, 2007

Chili in Chilly Chile

Enough of the horrible puns already!

With that out of my system, we´re in Puerto Natales, Chile, marking the first time that either of us has been more than 5 feet into Chile (see El Bolsón entries below if you´re confused). Yesterday, we said good-bye to Argentina, as we made our way to Punta Arenas, Chile. It was a pretty long day on the bus, but we managed to figure out the amount of pesos we´d need nearly exactly, so we don´t have any useless money in our wallets for the time being.

When we came back from dinner on Wednesday night, we had a message saying that our bus, which was supposed to come at 6 AM, had been changed to the even more unpleasant hour of 5:30. Sweet. As there are no actual buses from Ushuaia to Pta. Arenas on Thursdays, we had to take a mini-bus to the small town of Rio Grande, and then change to a real bus. So, we got up really really early, at some time I never care to even think of again, and waited for our minibus, which naturally, was 20 minutes late. At least it gave us time to leisurely finish our coffee before hitting the road. We both slept until the bus stopped in the town of Tolhuin (calling it a town is generous) at a local eatery.

While Erin found a restroom, I looked up, only to realize I was standing about 15 feet from a toucan. Seriously. A real, live toucan. Since I was still half-asleep, I was jolted out of my reverie by the shrieking of a large parrot on the other side of the room. It turns out that they have a small aviary, with 2 toucans, 2 large blue and green parrots, and several other bright species of jungle birds, in addition to a couple of birds more local to Tierra del Fuego, that look somewhat like pheasants, but without the longer feathers. They would have made a good meal.

Erin came out and got to see the wildlife as well, and then we headed toward Rio Grande. We arrived an hour before our next bus left, so I went to find a supermarket to spend the remainder of our pesos on lunch for the bus. Rio Grande is the only city on Tierra del Fuego of any size other than Ushuaia. In the 1970s, the government offered heavy incentives for people to move down to Rio Grande and work in the sheep-raising industry, and as a result, the population swelled to nearly 100,000. However, in the 90´s, the incentives were removed, and the town is fairly sad looking today, as many people have moved off. The fact that I haven´t seen the sun in a week didn´t help the overall depressingly gray atmosphere.

So, food in hand, we headed toward the Chile border. We crossed without a problem, despite being hassled by a Chilean border guard who insisted on speaking Spanish faster than the guy on the old Micro Machine commercials. Each time I´d ask him to repeat, making it very clear that I couldn´t understand him, he simply spoke faster and mumbled more. We eventually figured out that he thought we hadn´t each filled out an entry form, when in fact, I had handed him both of our forms. What a dweeb.

Our passports heavier due to the extra ink from a new stamp, we sat on the bus for most of the rest of the afternoon. I had some confusion as to what time it was, because everything I had read said that Chile was an hour behind Argentina, but it turns out that Chile observes daylight savings time, while Argentina doesn´t, so that makes them the same time for 6 months of the year. This proved to be inconvenient, because I had wanted to buy bus tickets for this morning, but the place had closed by the time I realized my mistake. Oops.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We did see a ton of flamingos in lakes on our drive, which was unexpected. I had always thought they were tropical, but apparently they live down here in large numbers. At one point, we had to stop for a herd of literally a couple of thousand sheep to get out of the middle of the road. Our driver proceeded ever so slowly, sometimes honking to move the sheep. It probably caused a 5 minute delay total, and was quite a sight.

Our night was spent in a hostel in Punta Arenas, which is the largest town in this part of Chile by far. We took a nap after arriving, and slept a bit longer than we wanted to. It´s easy to do that when the sun is still shining bright late into the evening and night. We walked into the middle of the town, which was fairly pleasant, and had dinner at a solid place called La Luna. It had quite a bit of character, and included a map on the wall on which you could place a pin for your location. The LA area, as well as Raleigh, was already occupied by lots of pins, so we passed. I had a steak, and Erin had a Chilean Sea Bass (just Sea Bass down here), and prices seem to be even cheaper than in Argentina, although we´ve heard that´s not generally true. Regardless, the food was good and cheap, and we had a private room for less than 20 bucks, so I´m certainly not complaining.

An odd thing about Chile is that 500 Chilean Pesos make 1 American dollar, so I felt like a multimillionaire walking up to an ATM and withdrawing over 100,000 pesos.

We really haven´t seen the sun for about a week. It seems like it´s always gray and drizzly. Hopefully the weather is just preparing to be bright and sunny for our upcoming time in Torres del Paine National Park, where we will likely be camping for a few days, since the simple "rustic" lodging is quite expensive, and not in a "you get what you pay for" kind of way. We´ll decide that later today though.

That´s about it. We´ll post more later most likely, but if not, we´ll be offline for the next 5 days or so, while we hike in the National Park. Many consider it the best national park in South America, so we´re pretty excited about it.


1 comment:

My mind said...

It *is* the best park in South America. Heck, it's better than most anything I've seen here in Canada. I went there twice when I lived in Punta Arenas and now that I am home I wish I went more! :)