Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Our Honeymoon - Day 14 - Punta Arenas and Penguins

Today we had a relaxing day around exploring the area around the old fishing town of Punta Arenas in Chile, including an amazing visit to a nearby penguin colony.  Although the town was completely boarded up for the holiday we managed to have a great seafood meal before relaxing on our last night at the bottom of the world.  Click the title to read on....

Today, New Years, we woke up around 8am ready for breakfast after a long day of traveling the day before without dinner after our large lamb feast on the kayaking trip.  But... the hostel was totally quiet, this to be expected I guess after a big New Years Eve night, so we didn't think too much of it and instead headed down the street a few blocks to pick up our Avis rental car.  All the buildings in town were closed up with metal bars on all the windows and huge metal sliding doors blocking entrances.  

It was like the businesses were fortified against riots which was strikingly different than the other cities we visited in Patagonia.  Thankfully there was a woman at Avis who provided us with a car (a Chevy something) but after taking it around the block we couldn't figure out how to put it in reverse and had to return.  Apparently you have to pull up on a ring located on the shifter... never seen that before.  We returned to the hostel where we finally saw Alejandro appear after a very long night entertaining friends.  This, of course, could be forgiven.  We were served breakfast around 10:30am instead of 7 as the board said, but it was with eggs, fruit, bread and jam and of course the usual horrible Chilean coffee :)  We found a french Atlas in the house and took it with us to go find the Ottway Penguin preserve which Alejandro said was out by airport.  

It was a quick drive from town but we ended up on a dirt road for a very long ways (saw a gaunaco too) and decided it was the wrong road and turned around.  This turned out to be the wrong choice because after an hour of searching farther up the road we ended up driving all the way back down the same dirt road and just past where we turned around found the private toll road out to the penguin reserve... whoops, should have trusted Alejandro's directions rather than the topo maps I put on the ipad...

As we pulled up it was raining out but quickly cleared into a very strong wind.  This was disappointing as I was pretty sure all the Magellanic penguins would be in hiding from the wind but to my surprise we first saw a couple in the bushes of the seashore and then behind a wooden wind block we saw a small group of them on the beach.  Emily and I love penguins as they just seem like funny creatures waddling everywhere and shaking their little tail feathers all the time.  

We took a ton of photos and video before continuing to walk the boardwalk loop around the preserve.  We saw a few more pop their heads up out of the grass and we saw a lot of holes in the ground for their burrows.  Alejandro later explained that one parent would stay with the baby in the borrow while the other would stay on the beach all day and fish, hence us seeing only half the colony.  There is a bigger colony on Magdalena Island but no boats were operating on the holiday and we heard it is often too rough with the wind to safely get out to the island anyway.  

Upon returning to Punta Arenas we decided we didn't have enough time in the day to drive south as Alejandro suggested to an old military fort but instead took the time to drive the shoreline road around the city.  This was interesting as we saw a bunch fishing boats off the shore that looked so old they should sink and also tons of old fish boats dry-docked.  Perhaps this was the wrong season for fishing or perhaps the fishing industry was hurting or converting more to tourism.  Whatever the reason I was surprised by how many fishing vessels seemed to be retired to the land.  We also saw a lot of old ships wrecked on the shallow shores of the city, simply left there to rust away.  

We returned to the hostel to clean up around 5pm and decided to drive around a bit to look for restaurants at 6pm.  To our surprise the city remained completely locked up which didn't bode well for us getting a final nice seafood dinner.  When we returned the car to Avis we learned they were going to charge us an extra $50 for renting to us on the holiday.. which of coarse wasn't in the original booking I did online.  She also was going to charge us an extra $80 USD to fill up the half tank we left.  

This was ridiculous so we drove around the corner to the gas station and filled up for $30 USD.  This makes me worry about how much Europcar was going to charge me in Natales for returning our first car half empty....  To be honest, if we had known how cheap cab rides were we probably wouldn't have rented the car in the first place.  With breakfast being so late at the hostel and all the added fees it was an expensive penguin visit.

We then walked around for a bit and found a pizza joint for a backup if we couldn't find a restaurant later.  This gave us time to check out the heart of the city and some of the very old architecture.  Still, it was disappointing because we really couldn't get a feel for the city because everything was closed.  When we got back to the hostel again we cleaned up and relaxed for a bit before heading back out for dinner around 8:30pm.  We were thankful to see places open by now and were delighted to see the same family we finished the kayak trip with eating at a place called Chez Brocolino so we went in and got a table nearby after saying hi to them.  

I have mixed feelings about the restaurant because on the one hand we had amazing, although very pricey, food and on the other we had the worst service I've had in years.  We had some young kid serving us who clearly had no experience and was probably called in by the family to help for the holiday.  He barely wiped our table, didn't give us silverware, just poured our wine full in each glass with out letting us try it, didn't bring us bread and didn't seem to give a crap at all.  

Another gentleman brought us the proper settings only after the kid served our "shared" soup with one spoon.  But, the food was delicious.  I had the King Crab while Emily had the Conga, crab and scallop meal with sauce.  My crab came cold on bed of lettuce which I also ate because I was starving.  We also had a bowl of "afrodesiac" soup which was basically seafood stew.  It was a $90 meal just like we had in Calafate but the difference in service experience was like night and day with our dinner in Calafate being one of the best experiences I'd had at a restaurant.  

We made it back to the hostel around 10:30pm and finished packing up for our very early plane ride the next day.  I went down to check on the laundry we had given Alejandro around noon before we left for the penguins.  As I expected it wasn't done yet and he said he would bring it up "in a few minutes".  An hour later after we showered and were pretty well packed and anxious to go to sleep for our 4:30am alarm I went down again and found him just finishing our laundry.  

Honestly, he was a very nice guy and he told me about how to make a delicious traditional seafood meal but the fact that breakfast (the only food we could find as everything was closed) was served an hour after it was supposed to have ended and the fact that we paid him close to $25 USD to do laundry we gave him at noon and it took him 12 hours to do it, knowing we had an early flight because he arranged a cab for us.... well, all that kinda pissed me off a bit.  Yes, it was a holiday... but come on... we should have been happily in bed by 10pm instead it was midnight when we were able to finish packing....

No comments: