Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jan 14-15: Punta Arenas, the End of the World in Chile (by Carolyn)

January 14
Becky and I got to explore this port city while the guys spent the entire day planning for a possible Sunday morning departure. The streets were essentially deserted when we headed out of the hotel. We enjoyed the history museum which was attached to the cathedral, the cemetery with spectacular crypts and sheared cypress trees, quaint homes, and cute gift shops. We stumbled upon a neat restaurant/emporium just in time for lunch.

Hotel Rey Don Felipe, named after the Spanish King who ruled when Spaniards came to this area. 
 History Museum

massive sculpted cypress trees in the cemetery

We stepped outside after lunch and the town is packed! Sidewalks were full of locals and tourists (what a difference a cruise ship makes). We wandered back to the hotel, picking our way through a grocery store to secure provisions for the pilots' Big Day.

Dinner at the hotel was quite exciting until the 19:00 weather update indicated minimums far below what our careful pilots will tolerate. A noticeable pall fell across the table. One more chance to check the weather at 1:00 am....

Jan 15
Well, the pilots officially grounded themselves at 1:00 am...the weather was below the minimums. Becky and I, however, were not grounded. We were up and rolling by 8:15 with Esteban Daniels to start our four days of birding.We caught the 10:00 ferry to El Porvenir - a smooth two hour ride with lots of great birds, including imperial comerants, black-browned albatross, skua, etc. (full list when Becky sends it to me.)

We had a leisurely drive stopping at various lagoons and fields to find birds. The most fascinating was Laguna los Cisneros - a vast salt flat exposed over recent years as the lake has dried up. A hard, thin crust crackled under our feet and hollow salt domes looked like geodes turned inside-out. The whole effect was felt like a moonscape until a herd of guanacos (llama cousins) wondered by, then it felt like a Tim Rice movie set.

the underside of the thin crust was marked by worm holes

Somewhere along the way we crossed from Chile to Argentina. Actually, we left Chile via immigration control, got back in the car...drove 10 miles, then entered Argentina at immigration control. I don't know where we were for those 10 miles.

We made it to a monitored king penguin colony just before it closed. These are really spectacular birds! They found this little slip of private property several years ago. Visiting human were inevitable so the owner has worked with conservation groups to build a blind and trails and now there is a small visitor center with parking and restrooms.

At last, we checked into our hotel in Rio Grande before heading out to dinner at 9:00 pm.