As I shop for groceries during the winter months, I am often reminded of my visit to Chile. Many of the products on display now actually come from that green and fertile land. Our cruise around the tip of South America took us to several ports of call in Chile and I gained a whole different perspective of the country as a whole.
Of course, not all of this long and narrow nation is suitable for agriculture. Between the semi-desert area to the north and the cold, mountainous terrain of Tierra del Fuego to the south lies the beautiful and fruitful central valley. There, in the somewhat Mediterranean climate, grow the grapes to make the fine wines for which Chile is fast becoming famous. We toured some of the wine estates but that is for a later blog.
After travelling north from Ushuaia, Argentina along glacier fed channels, we arrived at our first Chilean port of call; Punta Arenas located on the wind-swept Straits of Magellan. The Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, in the service of the Spanish Crown, sailed into these waters in 1520 discovering an alternate and ostensibly easier-to-navigate route to the Pacific Ocean. To commemorate his discovery, a statue of Ferdinand looking towards the Pacific stands in the main square or xocola of the town. It’s an excellent place to sit and people-watch or just wander around the stalls of souvenirs set up for the tourists.
Pacific generally means calm and untroubled but, at this point so far south of the equator, that is not always the case. The winds that blow north from Antarctica can make this area cold and unfriendly. We were warned to bundle up for our bus trip to see the Magellan penguins in their summer habitant located on the Otway Sound. It was sound advice. After an hour long bus ride, over tundra-like terrain, we still had to walk a mile or so along a board walk to view the penguins. Often we were facing into those chilly 45 mile per hour winds I spoke of.
The penguins are delightful to see. By the time we arrived they were mostly gathered at the beach, gorging themselves on whatever fish they could catch. We could only watch them from an overlook about fifty feet away. This is why I made the statement awhile back that I wish we had gone on the Falkland Island tour where you could actually mingle with them. However, along the walkways, we could get quite close to them and see a few that were in the process of nesting. There’s nothing quite like penguins in the wild. It’s an experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think all the sights on the cruise around South America are unforgettable.
(Later this month – Puerto Montt and Valparaiso)