A Travellerspoint blog

3. Jumping Off Point: Puerto Arenas, Chile

I'll keep my head down...

sunny 55 °F
View Five Million Penguins and Me on paulej4's travel map.

In Lima, Peru, at 2:10am, I hop onto LATAM 639, an A320, to Santiago, arriving at 7:40am. I sit again, this time for three hours, before boarding LATAM 293, an A321, for the final three-and-a-half-hour leg to Punta Arenas, Chile where I am scheduled on the ground at 2:00pm. My journey this far: 24 hours. Punta Arenas is GMT -3; Kansas City is GMT -6 so 2:00pm at my destination is 11:00am in Kansas City.

At another time, I might have opted to spend a day touring in Santiago. I was here years ago and found it to be a wonderful city. I left 36 hours before a severe earthquake struck--The Russell Luck. I am not touring Santiago on this trip; not now. Back on October 18, an "uprising" occurred in reaction to government-imposed economic measures--subway fares were raised by 4 cents. This was the last straw for students. Demonstrations escalated into protests which, in turn, escalated into civil unrest incorporating occasional violence. Quoting Wikipedia: "As of 26 October, 19 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested. Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters by security forces, including torture, sexual abuse and sexual assault."

Then, on October 27, things settled down a bit and the government lifted the state of emergency. The situation, which I have been monitoring, has continued to improve in Chile. But, on November 12, things got ugly in Punta Arenas when "hundreds of people took to the streets to express their anger."

Me? I'm just passing through Santiago and intend to keep the lowest of profiles. I'll assess Punta Arenas upon arrival and after consultation with hotel folks. Certainly, there is nothing to worry about once I get to Antarctica; penguins have no subway system or economic concerns of any sort.

Punta Arenas, Chile, (‘Sandy Point’ in English) is the southernmost city in the Americas. Started as a penal colony in 1848, it sits on the Brunswick Peninsula north of the Strait of Magellan. A gold rush drew immigrants from Croatia and Russia until the early 1900s and the area became a major sheep farming center. The city—and the region surrounding it—has its own time zone: UTC-3.

This is a city of just over 125,000 people—making it the largest city south of the planet’s 46th parallel—who seemingly love to live beneath red-painted red metal roofs. The area hosts weather known as a subpolar oceanic climate meaning temperatures range from average lows in July (their winter) of around 30 degrees and average highs in January (their summer) of about 57 degrees. It snows a lot from June until September; it is windy all year long. For the last thirty years, Punta Arenas claims the dubious honor of being the most populous place on the planet most impacted by the thinning ozone layer.


It is for me—and for many others—the literal jumping-off point for an Antarctic expedition. I arrived at Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport (three gates and two luggage belts) and was met by a greeter from my expedition company and, along with others also booked on this expedition, shuttled twelve miles to the Hotel Dreams del Estrecho. My schedule calls for a day’s rest and exploration before joining my fellow travelers headed for the southernmost continent: Antarctica.

It appears that it might be a good idea to be cautious here. A couple of weeks ago, 24 people were arrested for looting at the El Arte de Vestir store on Chiloé street, about four blocks from my hotel. A few days earlier, an arsonist set fire to the AFP Habitat (a bank) branch at the corner of Magallanes and Colón avenue, about eight blocks away—I think. The Google Maps app is fuzzy about Magallanes. That was the same day that peaceful marches of “more than ten thousand people” took place. Apparently the Unimarc supermarket and a Bata store were also “ransacked.” That could be the Unimarc across the street or another one; the local news outlets are not specific. I’ve been in well over 110 countries but not in one where the locals were actively rioting.

Two of my fellows, Dianne and Lauren, create a quick friendship and agree to meet for dinner. Outside my hotel window, the cruise ship, Celebrity Eclipse lies at anchor, near to the beginning of a Cape Horn itinerary. It seems odd to me that they would come this far and not take the final leap toward the seventh continent.

Dianne, Lauren and I gather up another couple, also headed for Antarctica but not on our flight or ship, and head for La Luna, a recommended spot two blocks up O’Higgins street from the Dreams Hotel. The baked crab soup was wonderful and the conversation fun. Our companions are from Salem, Oregon and are booked with Quest. For the record, there is no sign of public dissatisfaction along our short route. Only friendly folks and other tourists are around

After the short walk back to the hotel, I fell into bed around nine after a long long day.

Posted by paulej4 04:09 Archived in Chile

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.