January 25, 2003

Chile flagEarly to rise at 6 am. Today was the stop at Isla Magdalena, where the penguins nest. We donned our yellow suits and life jackets for the last time; by now we knew the correct order for putting on the various bits of clothing. The seas were reasonably calm and the sun was shining. What a nice way to end our cruise!

Isla Magdalena is a national monument that protects many thousand pairs of nesting Magellanic Penguins. And when we arrived there, there they were and we were walking through them. Some were standing on the beach, some were wandering aimlessly, and others were digging out their nesting holes or putting bits of grass or kelp into them. And a few were fighting. Many of them had chicks that were out of the nest. The chicks were about two weeks old but already were almost as large as their parents. They still had some downy feathers on them, but by the middle of February most of the down would be gone.

It was fun to watch the penguins. They were very interested in us as we followed the trail to the lighthouse. When a penguin crossed the trail in front of us it would look at us carefully, first with one eye and then with the other. Also on the island were quite a few Kelp Gulls with downy young, but surprisingly only a couple of skuas. Our time on the island passed quickly but it sure was fun to see the penguins up close.

Back on board we had breakfast, then went to our cabin to pack. We were instructed to have our bags outside our cabin by 10:15, which we did, then we went up to the Yamana Lounge for the last time.

It turned out that the port was already full of ships, including a large cruise ship, so our ship had to dock at the container port way out of town. It took quite a while for any taxis to show up, but we managed to get one of the first ones to arrive. Punta Arenas doesn’t have a central bus terminal, so bus companies are scattered all over the place. We directed the taxi to a company that we knew went to Puerto Natales, Buses Fernandez, but found it was full up until the 5 pm departure. But they directed us to another company, Bus Sur, which was close by.

Paul walked over there and purchased two tickets for their 1 pm departure, and then we made the Bus Sur waiting room our centre of operations. Rosemary sat there with the bags while Paul went around town running errands. First stop was the Lan Chile office, to reconfirm our flights. (As we had found out on the cruise, it is a legal requirement in Chile that you must reconfirm your flights.) Second stop was to buy some buns and juice for lunch.

We must have got the last two available seats, because we found ourselves at the very back of the bus, next to the toilet. The scenery outside of Punta Arenas was very flat and dry looking. We saw several herds of guanacos and also numerous rheas in the scrubby fields beside the road. But after about an hour and a half we could see spiky mountains, perhaps the Paine massif, off in the north. After three and a half hours we arrived in Puerto Natales. We were certainly glad to get off the bus and stretch our cramped legs. But we were scarcely off the bus before we were swarmed by women wanting us to stay at their hostels. We stalled them while our bags were being unloaded from the bus, and then we were lucky enough to see a woman with a Casa Cecilia brochure. We had seen recommendations for that place, so we enquired about a room. She had one available, so we loaded our bags into her car and went off.

Casa Cecilia is quite nice with several rooms off a central covered courtyard. We settled in, then walked the two blocks over to the town centre to buy our groceries and white gas for the stove. We also went to an Internet place to catch up with our e-mail. Back at the hostel we made dinner, spaghetti and sauce, and then went to organize our packs. We met an English couple who had just completed the Torres del Paine circuit and, since they appeared to be about our age, we pumped them for information. They said the trail conditions were good, except for a muddy part near Campamento Los Perros.

After hearing all the details we revised our plan and made a budget for the Paine trip. This budget meant we needed more cash, so we made a quick trip to the bank machine. The evening was quite mild, a pleasant change. Tomorrow we would have to be up early as we have tickets booked for the 7 am bus.

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