The Bottom of the World... ...well sort of...

The Bottom of the World… …well sort of…

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The journey back was reasonably uneventful. I managed to finish off Col Chris Hadfield’s book which I can thoroughly recommend. Chris has done ok out of me, I bought two paper copies, one for me and one for my brother and queued up for an hour and a half in Belfast to get them signed. Having an hour and a half you would think I could come up with some sort of phrase or greeting that would convey the gravity of meeting one of your real life heroes and yet have a little humour as well. Ive met, photographed and spoken (slagged off and been slagged off by) a listers, musicians, politicians etc but after an hour and a half the best I could come up with was shaking his hand, looking him in the eye then pausing for about 10 secs before saying one word ‘Inspirational’. He gave me that sort of ‘I feel your pain’ looked and moved on to posing for the signing photograph.

Canadian Astronaut Col Chris Hadfield signs copies of his book 'An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth' at Easons Belfast Northern Ireland, 14th January 2014.
Canadian Astronaut Col Chris Hadfield signs copies of his book ‘An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth’ at Easons Belfast Northern Ireland, 14th January 2014.

It reminds me of a story of on of my best friends who was in a line up to meet Bill Clinton who was then still the president. Again 10 mins in the lineup thinking of all the funny, serious, witty, momentous things to say and all he came up with was ‘hows it going?’. I laughed when he told me the story but then he just said ‘if you think that was bad, you should have heard what I said to the Pope’. I never did hear that story…
I had bought a few books for my kindle reader for the flights, busses, boats and Chris’s book was one of them so that’s 3 copies! I also got a few recommendations from friends as I returned their copy of Long Road to Freedom I had borrowed 3 years ago and still haven’t read. In my defence all the time I get to read is when I’m travelling and with this amount of camera gear, physical books weight is just too much. I do like to read physical books at home though. I got Long Road to Freedom for kindle as well as Tom Crean’s story after going to see the one man show earlier last month.

train moving through metro station downtown Santiago Chile deliberate motion blur
train moving through metro station downtown Santiago Chile deliberate motion blur

Getting back to the hostel was a bit of a relief, relief that I had my bags intact, relief that Id made it across Santiago in one piece on a Saturday evening and relief because the toilet in the bus was broken for the full journey.

traditional old house in the barrio paris londres Santiago Chile
traditional old house in the barrio paris londres Santiago Chile

I had said in a previous post that my hostel was a bit of a dump but that wasn’t the main point it is a 100 year old building undergoing ‘improvements’ and has character. The only other real options in the city centre were sterile corporate places where you don’t get to meet anyone. I would be getting better hotels as I went along but as I was spending a lot of time here in a place with little to do I thought Id check out a hostel as there was always interesting characters about.
Until I realised that Santiago isn’t really a tourist town, there were a few french/german groups staying but only for a night on the way to somewhere else. Everyone else were locals down for one reason or another so the common room was empty most nights, which was a pity. Not one single solitary Aussie the whole accumulated 5 days!
Knackered after the journey, woods, journey and with a 5 hour flight with a stupid o’clock start I thought Id use my one last full day in Santiago as a rest day. Id pretty much got everything that was on my pre-trip list in my first couple of days and had almost run out of local currency saving money for the early morning taxi ride to the airport.
I had a few shots to get but they were far out. The open top city tour had mixed reviews on tripadvisor but they did take credit cards and it was 2.5 hours round the whole city that I could sit on my arse and get the couple of general view shots I needed by just hopping on and off on the way round.

two carabineros de chile national police officers with roads closed Santiago Chile
two carabineros de chile national police officers with roads closed Santiago Chile

Of course the South American games were on and the main road through the city centre was being used for the cycling time trials. As it intersects the city, no city tours today. But it did mean there were cops everywhere and very few people on the streets. As with every sunday the other main streets were cordoned off for cycling and recreational use so went on a 11km round trip walk to get the final photos I needed. it was really pleasant, little smog, lots of families out and about and very quiet with just the sounds of bikes going past.
For my sins Id already eaten a McDonalds on this trip as it was the only place open and wanting to avoid burger king as well I had a look round the hostel for what was open.
Problem was I only had about 4 pounds 50 left in local currency…
..which got me steak and chips, a bottle of water and coffee and a pastry in a local restaurant! About the same as the McDonalds earlier in the trip.

milanesa steak with french fries in a cafe Santiago Chile
milanesa steak with french fries in a cafe Santiago Chile

It would be ok in the mornings I could get USD changed at the airport or just pay by card. The taxi was covered (just) with no tip which would probably end up with my bags just thrown out of the car 😉
My spanish is definitely improving (although that wouldn’t be hard) as I had almost a 10 minute conversation with the taxi driver who did ask if I was from north or south Ireland! When he got to the bit about the train station, bus station and immigration he lost me a bit, although it seems to be a standard taxi driver conversation worldwide.
One thing really noticeable about getting through Santiago airport at 7-8am was in the queue for security. There were hundreds of people queuing but only 3 women and all of them were accompanied. Must still be just the men who do business flights and trips here, not something Ive seen anywhere else in years and a slightly odd feeling.
There is a cafe in the airport called the ontime cafe. Trust me they aren’t. 45 minutes to get me a coffee and an empanada. I went in with 50 mins before my flight and had to go up with the bill and demand to pay it. I was given a frosty reception but when I took my boarding pass out and started to walk towards the gate they were quick enough with the bill.

LAN airlines aircraft with tug on stand Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport Santiago Chile shot through window
LAN airlines aircraft with tug on stand Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport Santiago Chile shot through window

The flight down was split into two parts, one to Puerto Montt and then an onward flight to Punta Arenas. It was actually two flights so they served 2 meals on the way down. I needed have bothered in the airport at all, but there you go, every day is a schoolday.
It was mid afternoon before I arrived at my hotel. It was the first time I can remember staying in the number one ranked hotel for a city on tripadvisor so I had high hopes for this one.
The hotel was excellent, one of the largest single rooms I have ever seen. Its a modern place, quirky with a lot of character and a lot of characters running it. A great place to stay for a couple of days.
I headed out straight into Punta Arenas to have a look round. Weather was overcast with a lot of wind, but the forecast for the next day was mostly clear with a lot of wind, my last day there would be overcast with a lot more wind. I think the lot of wind is a feature here as most of the flagpoles don’t go more than about 6 feet past the rooftops.

looking down over the city from la cruz viewpoint in Punta Arenas Chile
looking down over the city from la cruz viewpoint in Punta Arenas Chile

The format here seems to be places open, cruise ship passengers arrive, they eat, buy, walk around aimlessly, leave, places close and repeat, but only on the days the cruise ships arrive.
Today and the next days were two of those days so all the restaurants that would take USD in straight payment were full of the people from the cruise ships. Still it was interesting to walk around and get my bearings and realising that it wasn’t that big of a town and I could cover most of my photo list in a couple of hours.
Punta Arenas claims to be the last place on Earth but that is also claimed by Ushuaia where I’m going in a few days. Punta Arenas is on the mainland of South America and Ushuaia is on the Tierra Del Fuego archipelago so technically on an island. Its that whole Honningsvag/Hammerfest thing again. Ushuaia will be the furthest town south though and there’s no question about that. funnily enough its rougly the same latitude south as my house is north, so should be well used to the weather.
The town itself definitely has that end of the world feeling, a bit of a dump, a lot of character and history, reminds me a lot of Donegal!
One of the last trip chokepoints was secured when I managed to get my bus ticket for Ushuaia for Thursday. I wont really relax until I have made it to Ushuaia and even then on board the ship but its another one of those trip up points which would take major rework and a lot of hassle.
The breakfast at the hotel was every part the breakfast raved about on tripadvisor, freshly made chapattis with cheese and avocado, good coffee with a fruit, musli, yoghurt and jam mix. Breakfast of champions and I would be glad of it later on that day.
Everything went to plan for the first couple of hours. The plan was, up as early as breakfast would allow (8am), finish by 9ish (about lunchtime Irish time), check emails and so on for a half hour then when the sun was high enough get out there and get the photos done.

tourists at the Magellan memorial statue in plaza munoz gamero Punta Arenas Chile
tourists at the magellan memorial statue in plaza munoz gamero Punta Arenas Chile

The original plan was to do in and around the city centre depending on sun conditions, walk out the 4km to the duty free zone, get something to eat out there, get cash changed out there and taxi back and do the rest of the city photos with the afternoon sun in the other direction. Then start working my way through the to do list for the food and drink photos.
Well that was the plan and everything was going well right up until reaching the duty free zone when one of my lenses went kaput. I’d sat long and hard deciding on which lenses to bring and my best lenses had to be weighed (literally) against my travel lenses. The lenses I regarded as crucial were the best ones but the backups, general coverage ones and long distance were lighter so a mix was taken. The crucial ones were the good ones and the rest were cover but I could get by without.
It was one of these backup lenses that failed. A Canon 24-105 L lens with Err 01. Now on subsequent investigation this seems to be another ‘common’ problem. Well as much as problems on the internet become problems. There is a technical discussion online of the causes and fix and I wanted to know if it was fixable here. It wasn’t, technically it was as know in the business as ‘fucked’. It would be a couple of hundred quid fix at home perhaps but as the nearest service place was 1400 miles away that wasn’t an option. Coincidently the nearest place to buy a replacement was also 1400 miles away… …possibly.
It was the most versatile lens I had brought but it was the one I wasn’t planning to use that much on the antarctic trip but from now on I really couldn’t afford any more failures.
Standing literally in the arse hole of nowhere isn’t really the time to get mad or pissed off, you just have to deal with it and I always carry 2 lenses at least so I didn’t need to trek back 5km to start shooting again.
It was about 6 hours from breakfast so I was starting to think about getting something to eat which needed local currency.
Not normally a problem but the messing about with the lens had tipped me into Siesta time. This is now really beginning to fuck me off as I’m stuck out here with everywhere closed and even the one or two wee places that are open don’t take credit cards or USD. I’m busting for a piss and water is getting low.
I do a few photos out at the Zona Franca and then decide to come back the slightly shorter way via the coastal road and through the city.
The wind gets up dramatically and I’m afraid to walk close to the sea in case it blows me in, and then I begin to feel the first drops of rain. Strange because directly above me is clear blue sky and I can see the sun lighting up the raindrops as they fall on me. Behind me though there are a load of dark clouds bearing down on me rapidly. The rain is coming from there, that is some amount of wind!
I need not have worried too much as the rain didn’t last long, it then turned to hail then snow.

strait of magellan coastal shoreline in Punta Arenas Chile
strait of magellan coastal shoreline in Punta Arenas Chile

Caught out in it with my freshly waterproofed waterproof trousers and my newly bought thermal liner gloves sitting nice and warm in my rucksack in the hotel. Keeping my thermal boots company as all I would need today is my light walking summer shoes. Of course Id never have been able to walk that distance in my boots but there you go.
So tired, hungry, thirsty, wet, I sat down for a bit and remembered the Tom Crean story play where he was stranded on Antarctica for 2 years, went 600 miles through these seas in an open boat and crossed the yet unchartered south georgia islands to help rescue the rest of the crew on elephant island. I also have just finished Chris Hadfields book and remember the lines about sweating the small stuff and wondering what next would kill you. I’m not likely to die but sitting here isn’t going to help.
I pick myself up, look around, smile and realise, Joe, you are at the fucking end of the earth, you have always wanted to come here, so fucking get moving.
400 yards later the wind slackened a bit, the rain/sleet/snow stopped and the sun came out. A couple of hundred yards offshore I saw what looked like black and white dolphins doing a lot of air time playing around. Truly honoured to be standing there watching it. Only later did I find out they were Commersons Dolphins native to the Magellan Strait and quite rare. I did think at one point they could be baby killer whales but there you go.
On the way back to town an Albatross flew over. Now that’s not something you see everyday either.
I should wear my glasses more because squinting from a distance the large gannets looked like penguins. I’m starting to hallucinate.
I make it back past town to the municipal market to the number one (and cheap) restaurant on tripadvisor for great seafood. They don’t take dollars or credit cards and only have about 4 tables and besides which 100 yards away is the cruise ferry passenger terminal and a ship is in. Ive no chance.
Punta Arenas is a shallow port so the cruise ships moor out in the straight and shuttle people in on tenders. This goes on all day.
I wander back into the town centre to another restaurant famed for its seafood but lately with some mixed reviews. Its a lot pricier than the market but it will take usd at a shit exchange rate and give me pesos as change.
I go for the baked king crab and if I’m perfectly honest it was one of the most beautiful things Ive ever tasted. It was good but also bear in mind the crackers and dip they gave after I had ordered was also up there.

 	bowl of baked king crab chowder chupe de centollo with pisco sour inside la luna restaurant Punta Arenas Chile
bowl of baked king crab chowder chupe de centollo with pisco sour inside la luna restaurant Punta Arenas Chile

The food was excellent and all washed down with their famous pisco sour. Now with everything today and it only being 3pm I genuinely did stagger out into the sunlight.
It was back to the hotel to dump the gear, check emails and then the main point of picking my laundry up! Another one of those compromises, I would normally pack enough for the whole trip but as this is a summer and winter trip and all the extra gear brought Ive had to layer up the clothing. Not a biggie but the cleaners save me a lot of hassle by doing me a one day service.
Thats it now, ready to go to Ushuaia. Just one last day of chilling about the hotel, going down to the chocolate shop for lunch, writing this blog, packing my bag and getting some things together for the 11 hour bus ride tomorrow.

lying in a double bed in a new boutique hotel looking out wide window in Punta Arenas Chile
lying in a double bed in a new boutique hotel looking out wide window in Punta Arenas Chile

All I need to do is pack, get up for 8am breakfast, belt that in to me then hobble as fast as my wee legs will carry me down to the bus company for 8:30am.
…to be continued…

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