Day 8 – Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

The morning after leaving Ushuaia, the ship arrived in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas.  This is the southernmost city of Chile. It lies on the mainland and is accessible by road from parts north.  Gone are the steep slopes of the glaciers replaced by rolling hills and large ranches. The city has a beauty that reflects the water and hills meeting in the primary colors of the buildings and roofs.  The colors radiate a joy that makes you happy to be there.  Soon after we disembarked we saw a sign with our name on it. An elderly man led us to his van. We boarded and he took us on a 1/2 hour drive out of the city to a ranch.  It seemed a bit strange, but I had arranged for us to spend the morning on a Chilean ranch horseback riding. As it turned out, Sandy and I were the only ones who booked this excursion!  This meant we had the place all to ourselves and lots of individual attention.

sa riding 2Upon arrival at the ranch, we were showed the lodge.  The woman of the ranch was third generation Polish.  Her grandfather arrived almost a hundred years earlier, and purchased a nice piece of land to settle and raise cattle.  Over time, he developed the property into a camp with cabins where families could come and vacation.  Visitors could enjoy horseback riding during the day, and time around the campfire at night.  The climate is very dry in this part of Chile and very few trees grow there.  This woman took pride in the trees her grandfather planted on the property.  He had to water them every day for them to survive.  Now they are mature, providing a rich canopy for the front of their lodge.

Following a brief orientation, her daughter saddled up two horses for us and her favorite horse for her to ride.  Then she coached us to follow her.  She had almost no English and while we know some Spanish, very little has to do with horses!  Sandy is a veteran rider so she found it very easy.  We rode from the lodge down along the shore into their fields along a beautiful hillside.  There we were greeted by other horses who clearly felt like they were being left out of the fun.  It was a peaceful and beautiful ride, and we saw a number of young foals that were recently born into the herd.

s riding beachOn the way back to the lodge we had the privilege of riding along the beach.   As we did, we noticed dolphins playing offshore nearby.  This reflected the richness of life in the area.  Though there are very few people, we were surrounded by birds, and sea mammals, and a beautiful array of flowers and shrubs.  Now I have to admit, my thoughts of horseback riding on the beach were nothing like this.  It was about 40 degrees and quite windy.  I’d always envisioned being able to ride right down into the water!

Upon our arrival at the lodge, a fire was glowing and fresh homemade pastries awaited.  We sat and enjoyed the delicious treats, and learned the history of the area from the owner.  She explained to us that much of this part of the country was divided into large ranches called estancias. Usually, estancias are 5,000 acres or more.  Her family owned only about 80 acres that were carved off a much larger piece of property.  The estancias were originally provided to people brave enough to settle this part of Chile during the early days.  This was the way the government could push back the wilderness. The reason they were so large is that with the extreme climate many acres of land were needed to pasture the sheep and cattle.  It made sense once we saw how dry everything was, and how little natural grazing food was available.  After having our fill of stories and snacks, we were deposited back in town at the main square.

punta arenas squareOf course, the monument in the city square pays homage to Magellan, the explorer  who always seems to be looking far afield as if he is looking for something new to discover.  Magellan passed through these waters on November 1st, All Saints Day, in the year 1520.  The passage he sailed, the one dividing Tierra del Fuego from the mainland of South America, is called the Strait of Magellan.  Punta Arenas lies on this straight.  It was on this passage that Magellan named the Pacific Ocean.  He gave it this name because on the day he emerged in this new ocean it looked calm. (Think of the word “pacify.”) The city continues to be characterized by Magellan’s spirit of adventure because so most of the Antarctic exploration parties set out from Punta Arenas.

The Magellan Square was ringed by a walkway filled with merchants.  This was an excellent place to buy handmade woolen items like sweaters and gloves.  You could purchase a nice sweater for less than $20US. From the square we visited two museums within walking distance of our ship.  First, the Museum of the Salesian Order has four floors of exhibits showing the history of Patagonia from ancient times to the present with information on the flora, fauna, and even the minerals of the region.  Of course, there are a number of exhibits on the religious history of the region.  The Salesian order of the Roman Catholic church dates back to the 19th century, and it began as a movement to serve the poor, especially children. The Salesians did much work in Patagonia in the early years of settlement, establishing schools and churches in the region.  The museum is free and quite well done.

museum punta arenasThe second museum, the Regional Museum of the Magellanes, we stumbled into on our way back to the ship.  We did not know the nature of the museum and when we walked in, the ticket sales man offered us free admittance when he heard where we were from!  The museum is housed in a mansion.  It has been beautifully restored showing the life of the wealthy in the late 1800s.  The sculpture and tapestries have been carefully preserved and the furniture is stunning.

The basement holds an exhibit of photos and and information about the last of the native peoples of Patagonia.  The photos capture the culture that has now disappeared from the region.  Following the photo collection and the stories you get the feeling that something precious has been lost to time and development.

museum billards roomThis little museum is well worth the visit, and the contrast of the old world and the new world, wealth and poverty is not to be missed.

When we arrived at the dock to catch the tender back to the ship, the conditions had changed from our morning disembarkation. The winds were blowing at about twenty knots.  Right away we could see that getting back to the ship was going to be an adventure.  The 3/4 mile tender ride was through harsh winds and six foot seas.  More than once waves swept over the bow of our little boat.  Yes, this was the most exciting ride of the day!  We were reminded of how quickly conditions can change and how vulnerable we are in the water.  The people cheered when the tender finally pulled up alongside the ship!  We were safely aboard!  No doubt navigating the Strait of Magellan was not so easy for the native peoples of Patagonia.  They must have been a sturdy bunch.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sandy on February 4, 2017 at 12:27 am

    🙂 I think Chile is calling me………….


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