Thursday, 25 November 2010

... Patagonia: Chilly in Chile

An early start to the day went a tad smoother once I had some java and toast in my system to give me a jolt. I ate my breakfast whilst watching pink flamingos, yes flamingos, on Laguna Nimez. Then it was a quick taxi ride to El Calafate's bus station to catch a Puerto Natales-bound bus for a journey that was expected to take about 6 hours.

The bus ride was uneventful as bus rides go. I can't quite remember the last time I rode a bus that had reclining seats. I'm lucky if I get a seat when I ride a bus back home. I suspect that only a fool wouldn't realise what a tourist goldmine they were sitting on here and it seems to me that considerable time and effort has been put into making your Patagonian experiences worth the money you have paid. This includes comfy luxury "buses" and smooth paved roads... well the latter for most of the time. But who cares about a gravel road if you're riding a 12 tonne equivalent of a 4WD?!? As we raced along the vast steppe towards the Chilean border I fell into a half-comatosed slumber with my iPod "Berry Manilow" keeping me company.

Crossing the border at Don Guillermo was kind of interesting. You stop at the Argentinean border to get a stamp in your passport as you leave then you drive another 10 minutes or so to the Chilean border. Wow, this border is pretty thick! Both borders crossing are your Latin American standard chain or rail across the road. At the Chilean border crossing you hand in your papers, get things stamped and then send your luggage through an xray machine. They're really strict on things like fruits, nuts, veggies and so it's kind of funny watching people fill their faces so they won't get fined. I was, surprisingly, sans banana.

About 45 minutes drive from this Chilean border, the windswept town of Puerto Natales is found on the shores of Seno Ultima Esperanza. Once a fishing village, it is now overrun with Goretex & Vibram. It is, after all, a gateway to the magnificent wilderness that is Chilean Patagonia, in particular the continents number one national park Torres del Paine. This is a good thing because to be honest there's not much to do here in the town itself although I've heard that there are several really good eateries worth trying out, especially those that serve fish/seafood dishes: Chile is renowned for them. It's a little dreary looking and cold although I did get a chuckle out of seeing a street named Arturo Prat (there's also a mountain in the distance called Cerro Prat). I was blown down the promenade and then back up it again so that's an indication that it's not only windy in Argentinean Patagonia but the Chilean one too. And I am still trying to work out what the creepy looking bear-horse statue is at the entrance to the town.

There is a really good coffee shop called Patagonia Dulce which not only serves awesome coffee but the kinds of homemade desserts and chocolates that go straight to your hips from just looking at them. And whilst Chile is supposely a tad more expensive than Argentina I would say that this place is worthy of a splurge. You can always blame a gust of wind for blowing you in.

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