Punta Arenas

I was always fascinated at school when hearing of faraway places like the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. Now whilst I am here it is even more fascinating.

After I arrived at my very comfortable and friendly guest house on Saturday I took the owners advice and ventured around the corner to La Marmita. A lovely cosy restaurant with friendly staff where I enjoyed cevuche of salmon and hake followed by a lamb tagine.

imageSunday was a lazy day with not much open or happening in Punta Arenas. In the evening I ventured down to the seafront to the only high rise building in town, a hotel and a casino. Here I took a drink in the Sky Bar (only thr 11th floor) and looked out over the bay.

Tierra del Fuego is an island and after my flight to Punta Arenas I left the island and am now back in Patagonia. The only other way to get here from Ushuaia is an overnight ferry or a 12 hour bus and ferry trip. Either way one has to cross the Strait of Magellan which links the Atlantic and Pacifuc Oceans. Ferdinand Magellan discovered the channel during the first circumnavigation in 1520.

More recently (1916) Punta Arenas was in the news as it was here that Ernest Shackleton brought his rescued crew after the fourth attempt to extract them from Elephant Island in the Antarctic.image After pleas from Shackleton and the UK government the Chilean authorities put the patrol ship Yelcho at Shackleton’s disposal. Yelcho was based in Punta Arenas and was used to tow Shackleton’s schooner down to Antarctica. Three times they failed due to ice and many times the tow rope broke. In the end the surviving crew members were rescued after spending 4.5 months on the island with only a few days food left. Most of Puntas Arenas turned out to welcome them back.


There are a few attractive buidings remaining here, mostly mansions built by the wealthy sheep farmers  who had farms in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego but whose headquarters were based in Punta Arenas.

El Calafate

I had been looking forward to getting to Patagonia for the first time. But again when I arrived at the airport from BA no transfer bus to meet me. The hostel sorted me out and I arrived to discover this time it was my fault. Booked for the following day !!

imageEl Calafate is not what I had expected or imagined. After flying over parched wasteland with heavy soil erosion due to the lack of trees I arrived at a small but modern airport situated on a desolate moonscape alongside Lago Argentino, the colour of which could be described as turquoise or radioactive! Very strange colour.

What I did not expect was to arrive in a town full of trees and greenery. A veritable oasis. Most of the buildings are colourful and single story. The main drag reminds me of a USA ski resort and a Californian couple I met agreed that it reminded them of Lake Tahoe. Everything of course helped by sunshine and a very clean and easy hostel.

I made an investigatory tour, found a supermarket and an ATM and then set off to pick up my rental car…luck provided me an upgrade. So all set for an early morning get away to the Perito Moreno glacier.

Back to food. Online reviews suggested La Zaina a good place so I headed down and found a packed restaurant.


No room at the inn but I was offered a seat at a communal table near the bar. Ideal. Soon joined by Sachiko, a lovely Japanese radio astronomer based in Santiago, and working on a global astronomy project collecting data from some of the Chilean international dark sky observatories.

She was delightful company and it was a great meal.

Ruta 40

After some sustenance in Cafayate and a tour of this small, attractive town, sitting at the foot of the Andes I decided to venture out a little further. On the road into Cafayate I had crossed a junction with the famous Ruta 40, ranked alongside the iconic Route 66 in the USA and a few others.

imageRuta 40 run over 5000kms from the southern border with Chile in Patagonia to the northern border with Chile. It runs parallel with the spine of South America, the Andes, and passes the Andes 27 times, at one point rising to over 5000 metres above sea level.

As I drive north along this road I am amongst the vineyards which produce such wonderful wine. I stop near the 4350kms  marker to take in the view and start to consider Ruta 40 as a future travel project!

I head back to the Ruta 68 junction and notice a sign to the Piatelli vineyard, open to the public. I turn off and drive for a dusty kilometre before reaching the entrance where a security guard takes my details and lets me drive on. Before me lies a modern estate complex more Napa than Loire Valley.

imageVenturing in, notice an inviting restaurant and luckily its lunchtime. It was a wonderful lunch of breaded langostinos and fresh fruit and sorbet, washed down with a remarkabke glass if gran reserve malbec from their vineyard.

Sated and not wanting to leave it too late for the return journey I left aand turned back into Ruta 68 where I picked up three Argentine student backpackers. It was their lucky day as they wanted to get to Salta. It was good company interpersed with their sucking of the mate drink.