Friday, March 07, 2014

Penguins, street dogs, and sleeping in

Continuing from yesterday after my entry to Punta Arenas...

While still amazed to have arrived at my destination WITH my checked bag, I was further relieved to see my hostal was delightful and simple as I'd hoped. Nit to be confused with a hostel, Hostal Victoria was heavy on the nautical theme, with very friendly and adorable hosts. So far these variants seem like a mix between a hostel and B&B. My room was on a noisy street but that's what earplugs are for, no? With plans to visit la Isla Magdalena via the 8am boat the next day to see some pinguinos, I set my alarm and made it to bed sometime before midnight...

And thanks to those earplugs and jet lag, frantically flew out of bed at 7:45am. No bueno. And no pinguinos that day. But, this did allow me to explore Punta Arenas far more than I otherwise would have. Being a beautiful but chilly day, I took a stroll towards downtown to see some museos. Beginning with el Museo deal Naval y Maritimo, I escaped the gales while learning about the nautical history of the region. Next, I thought a stroll along the coastal promenade would be nice, which was conspicuously empty for such a sunny day. Well, turns out it was because it was REALLY WINDY. Like blow your beanie off, sand in your eyes even when it's at your back, throw you down the stairs windy. I found refuge in a warm,  calm, window filled cafe and had an espresso while chatting with the friendly barista. She kindly discussed all the best things to see in the city while accommodating my crap Spanish. A natural history museum? Si, we have one of those! You should also check out the Braun Menendez museum, an opulent historic mansion in the center of town. And go see the cemetery, it's the most beautiful in the world! Don't forget to check out the overlook near your hostal, great views of the city and ocean. Ok! I'm off.

On my way to the cemetery, however, I learned a little something about walking around in Punta Arenas. Street dogs, perros, dingos. Whatever you call them, they would definitely eat your baby. They seem to be the city's version of homeless people, except they appear quite content all of the time (or it's just the poor nutrition making then zombie-like, sad things). Mostly sleeping wherever they want but sometimes frolicking playfully (most likely to fake you out while their friends eat your baby), they all look a little haggard but savvy. Watch your back, though, because these perros can be freakishly intelligent and might try to take you down in packs on quiet streets. That's what I thought as a group surrounded me and started talking their crazy dog Spanish, sniffing me to see if I'd be any good to eat. Pssst-bahhh! I yelled at them when I figured out their game. Bye bye street perros! That was sooo close. 

I finally made it to the cemetery, nearly missing it on account of its creepy strangeness that didn't exactly embody what I pictured as "the most beautiful in the world!". Better described with the pictures I took, the perimeter was lined with what I later discovered to be the poor man's cubby hole mortuary system, many cubbies tall and blocks long. All stuffed with variations on fake flowers, pictures of dead loved ones, Christian memorabilia, and other assorted flair. The further in I explored, the nicer the memorials became, with huge ornate mausoleums in the center. Interesting, but a little creepy. Moving on...

The Braun Menendez museum seemed like a good follow up to the cemetery, and there were no fake flowers or crazy dogs in sights. Wearing little protective slippers given by the stern but cordial attendant, I made my way through the beautiful and ornate mansion of one of the wealthiest historic families of the area. Pictures will have to wait, but it was impressive. But more to see... 
Next was the Museo Salesman Maggiorino Borgatello, a mouthful of an interesting, expansive, and somewhat bizarre collection of natural and anthroplogic history on three floors. Tragically, no cameras were allowed. I sincerely wish I'd violated that because it represented the most amazing collection of horrible, so wrong it's right taxidermy I have ever seen. I only have my memories now, I'm so sorry I can't share them. Actually, you're probably better off if you're susceptible to nightmares. 

Since my museum binge took most of the day I finished up at the overlook, which brought you one of the pictures I posted yesterday (and another here). I had to be sure to get to bed early to catch the boat (again) in the morning!

...Ok, I'm going to see penguins today! When should we call the taxi? I asked Jorge, the friendly hostal host. Oh, you have time, 7:25 is ok. He calls... no available. available... finally, we have one and I'm on my way! In major traffic. I get nervous, I'm out of days to make this journey and the weather is gorgeous! At 7:59 We arrive at the pier and I run! Los pinguinos por favor! I'm rushed into the ticket office and frantically present my credit card and passport. They could have charged me $100,000 Chilean pesos and I probably wouldn't have noticed. But I'm in! Somehow I'm so much happier than if I'd arrived 10 minutes early. 

As I stood along the edge of the ship (and it was a big ship), I started thinking about how different our experiences of a place can be depending on what we choose to spend money on. This tour was the first semi expensive thing I'd done here so far (made it to day 2, yes!), and it was striking how spoiled I suddenly felt. There's definitely a balance I like to find while traveling - spend as little as possible on the things that are less important, like accommodations and sometimes food. Find the unique experiences and try them if I can afford it. Initially, I wasn´t so sure about Isla Magdalena, thinking I´d rather just get on my way towards the mountains. But I´m so glad I went, joined the masses for a little while, and experienced things I might never do again. Like breathing in the smell of penguin guano, decaying gull carcasses, and cold sea air mixed together (=magic). Or see whales spouting all along the trip.

Our interpretive guide informed us on the two hour ride to the island preserve that these Magellanic penguins we were about to see were molting, underweight, and ´´very ugly´´ right now. We were given one hour on the island to wander about the restricted pathways, check out the light house, and generally restrain ourselves from poking and squeezing their fat, adorable, half-feathered bodies (even skinny penguins are fat).

Like frenzied Christmas shoppers on black Friday at Wal-Mart, we were released from ship to scurry across slippery seaweed to the most of our parole. And were they ugly, you might ask? No! They were adorable, in a vulnerable, I can´t believe you survived evolution kind of way. I took pictures until my fingers went numb from the cold, and suddenly an hour seemed like plenty of time. Off we went, leaving the little waddling feather blobs to their preserve until the next group shows up tomorrow...

On our ride back I enjoyed a hot cafe con leche, even managing to see a black and white dolphin ride the bow. And now, I finish this on the bus ride to Puerto Natales where I´ll base for a few days until my friends Lora and Mike arrive for our adventures in Torres del Paine National Park! 

Hasta luego.

(p.s. having troubles uploading pictures at the moment, check back later...)

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