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Punta Arenas

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(Poon Ta A Rain Az)

Punta Arenas (Sandy Point), Chile, is the southernmost city on the South American mainland, deeply imbued with history and located in one of the wildest, most remote regions of the earth, on the edge of what one chronicler called the "Uttermost Realm."

It is the capital of Magallanes y La Antarctica Chilean Region situated on the Strait of Magellan and is one of the southernmost cities in the world. The city enjoyed two heydays. The first lasted from about 1850 to 1914, when it was the principal coaling and supply station for ships rounding the Horn, as well as a major world supplier of wool. It was also, by virtue of its strategic location, one of the busiest ports in the world. Its first golden age ended abruptly in 1914 when the Panama Canal opened and ships no longer needed to round Cape Horn. The situation grew worse as wool from New Zealand and Australia began to compete with its major product.

Punta Arenas more or less languished until oil was discovered nearby in the 1940's, and with the subsequent improvement in roads, it has recovered its previous status as an important commercial center as well as a popular destination for tourist interesting in exploring the "Uttermost Realm."

We arrived on a Sunday. All of the stores and shops were closed except for some street vendors and the towns supermarket. The population of the city is about 120,000 people.

 

The bronze statue of Magellan is a focal point in one of the parks. The photo above was taken from our tour bus as we left the town. The photos below were taken on our 1/2 mile journey through the town in search of the supermarket.

The first thing to greet us was the bakery section.

Obviously, this isn't a dieters haven. At the end of one aisle we found halves of pork hanging in a cooler. It was a scene we weren't used to seeing in our hometown.

Above is the egg aisle. Unlike our stores, the eggs survive without refrigeration. On our way back to the dock to begin our tour we pass a canal that directs water to the ocean to the ocean from the hills above the town.

We are now on our 35 mile journey to the Patagonia Institute where we will see our first rookery of penguins northwest of the city. It is on the shores of Otway Sound. There we will see the Magellanic (Jackass) penguins -- the reason for the common name is instantly obvious when one hears them call.

Above we are traveling through the residential area of the town.

On our way to the rookery we happened upon a flock of Rhea. It is a bird similar to an ostrich and found only in South America and Africa. They run wild and are considered to be the same as our deer. There are no deer in South America. The bus driver was kind enough to stop for us to take some photos.

The specie is protected and there is no hunting season. They reproduce by laying 2 - 3 eggs. The eggs are about the size of a foot ball. (It is illegal to gather the eggs.) The whites of the eggs are yellow as well as the yolk. Along the way we would see flocks of 30 - 50 in the fields.

Otway Sound

When we arrive at Otway Sound we discover that the 'tourist trap' consists of a souvenir store and a small restaurant. In order to see the penguins we will walk about a mile to a shelter where we can view them on the shore of the Straits of Magellan.

These penguins were not hatched on the shore. Rather, these are the adult penguins who have finished their fishing expedition to feed their young in their burrows ashore.

The male is the one responsible to dig a burrow. It is about 3 - 4 feet deep and takes about 3 years to prepare. Each year the mated pair return to the burrow to lay their eggs and hatch their young. The hatchlings are born blind and remain so for about 6 weeks. At that time they emerge from the burrow and warm themselves in the sun. It will be about a month before the adult will lead them to the ocean for their first venture into the water.

The above is the life cycle of the Magellanic Penguin.

We were provided wooden walkways upon which to walk. The penguins dig their burrows anywhere from 500 to 2000 feet from the ocean. The walkways sometimes formed bridges that traversed the runways the penguins used to go from the ocean to their burrow.

 

Above are some young penguins warming themselves in the sun.

The area where they dig their burrows is quite desolate. The photo above is a normal view of the landscape. The close-up is of the flock in the middle of the photo.

The above is another view of the burrowed landscape.

One of the adults put on quite a show for us as it guarded its burrow. The photo next to it is the tailings of a silver mine. Silver is an abundant mineral in the region.

As we leave we pass the silver mine slag pile as well as some of the fields that dominate the region. The photo at the right is typical of the landscape. Notice the Rhea at the middle left of the photo.

As we approach the city we see a water shuttle sailing in the strait of Magellan. The strait was named after the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (1480 - 1521). He discovered the long and torturous strait in October 1520 entering it from the Atlantic side.

Thirty eight days later his squadron, with the exception of one ship that had deserted, emerged into the ocean, which - from the gentle weather with which it received him - he named the Pacific, meaning 'the Peaceful One.'

The first transit of Magellan Strait was a part of the first voyage of circumnavigation of the glove. Only 31 of the 270 men who left Spain in 1519 returned to Seville at the end of July in 1522. Sadly, Magellan himself was not among those who made it. He was killed in a fight against the islanders of Mactan, in the Philippines on April 27, 1521.

Today's port, Punta Arenas, is located in the middle of the Strait of Magellan and is thus an important trading center for several products including the wool, hides, mutton and timber produced in southern Chile.

Our next step is to return to our ship and continue our journey toward one of the most southernmost city in the world - Ushuaia - via the Beagle Channel on our way to Cape Horn.

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Last modified:    April 2013