06 February 2012
We are in Punta Arenas now, just 200 miles from Cape Horn, though the boat is in a secure marina 600 miles to the north. Punta Arenas is in a land of shredded flags and short, bent over trees from the regular stiff wind. It is of similar age, size, and look to Fort Collins, built on flat ground with grassy foothills to the west, however to the east is the Magellan Strait, the connection between the Atlantic to the Pacific discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, and used commercially by freight mariners not wishing to brave the Cape Horn passage, prior to the opening of the Panama Canal. Today there are two cruise ships in the harbor, likely boarding passengers for trips to Antarctica. The tourism and petroleum economy has brought an expanded middle class standard of living to this community that I have not seen before in southern Chile. There are new hotels and a walking promenade along the waterfront with basketball courts, a skate park, and small amphitheaters, and n otably absent are the near-shanty town enclaves of poor residents often seen elsewhere. It is the height of summer season here, about 50 degrees F and 25 MPH wind. There were more backpacks on the airline luggage claim than normal luggage, most preparing for treks in the Torres del Paine National Park, still a 5 hour drive away, where we also join a tour group tomorrow for 12 days of trekking in that park and another in Argentina.
After our visit to Laguna San Rafael, we made good time to Puerto Chacabuco where we sent Sven back to his family and extended our Chilean tourist cards. Since then it has been a somewhat lazy time, meandering slowly towards the marina. We spent two days at the strikingly beautiful Cinco Hermanas (5 Sisters), photo above. There we met a French man who was solo kayaking a portion of the Patagonian channels, and offered him dinner aboard Hekla. A few days later we arrived at the Puyuhuapi Lodge and Hot Springs resort near the marina, reachable only by boat, nearly a week early because of bad weather forecast, indeed we spent 5 days of continuous rain there, living on the boat but occasionally soaking in the hot pools and taking advantage of the nice restaurant.