February 9th: Punto Arenas, Chile
Punto Arenas apparently means sandy point. We saw photos of the port from a century ago when hundreds of ships moored in its harbour and it was a vital centre of trade for traffic past the Horn. Strategically placed in the Magellan Strait it was the first port of call for many ships. Those days are long gone, destroyed by the opening of the Panama Canal.
Oil and gas were discovered later, and now the town provides Chile with the majority of its fuel needs, but this hasn’t prevented its steady slide into obscurity. There is a definite impression that the people feel neglected and abandoned by their central Chilean government. The town has an air of dying grandeur, best demonstrated by the one truly fascinating tourist destination which is the old cemetery which holds a magnificent collection of mausoleums.
Cruise ships are a new source of income, and Punto Arenas is setting itself up to be the entry point for tours into Patagonia. Some miles inland are magnificent lakes and forests which we, unfortunately, didn’t get to see. Some of our companions did though. They had signed for a tour to go to Antarctica for the day. Unfortunately, for the first time this trip, the weather failed them. Fog blanketed the Chilean Antarctic base, so they weren’t able to fly down there. In compensation, they flew inland instead to see the national parks, wildlife and lakes.
We were up early today to cruise past the glaciers in the Beagle Channel. It’s cold and very wintry.
The salty air and incessant wind are turning my hair to straw. I’ve booked in for a cut and colour next week – something I’m highly nervous about. I’ve had the same hairdresser for more than thirty years. Trusting my head to a stranger is daunting.
At lunchtime we arrive at Ushuaia, which I’ve finally learned how to pronounce – a sort of Oosh wire sound. The word has far too many vowels for English speakers. This afternoon we’re taking a catamaran trip into the Channel itself to see the wildlife, and I’ll be wrapping up very warmly.