Welcome to Punta Arenas! A Day at the End of the World
~Nicole Melancon (an original post series on thirdeyemom)
Patagonia’s utter remoteness and isolation has added to its appeal because it has helped keep the hordes of tourists out and allow only the true adventurers in. In fact, getting to Patagonia is half the adventure. It often requires well over 24 hours of travel. For us, it took three flights totaling 17 hours in the air just to reach Punta Arenas, one of the southernmost commercial airports in the world and our launching off point for Torres del Paine National Park. Once in Punta Arenas, it takes a minimum of five hours by bumpy car ride to finally reach the park, and then you are finally there in the middle of nowhere.
Here we are loading our first of two flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas:
Landing in Punta Arenas instantly reminds you of where you are. Located on the blustery shores of the Strait of Magellan with Antarctica’s ice-mass not far away, it is not unusual to land in extremely windy conditions.
Although I had read about Patagonia’s notorious wind, I truly was not prepared for how windy it really was. As we made our final descent, I could see the gigantic white caps below and the tiny runway awaiting us. Although I was clutching the armrest of my seat as hard as I could, I still could not contain the excitement and energy I felt about finally arriving in such a wild and remote place. Our captain informed us that we had landed in over 60 mph winds and unfortunately we would have to wait a few minutes to get off the plane because it was too windy to attach the gate!
Stepping outside the airport, I finally understood what mucho viento meant. Too much wind. Incredible amounts of wind, like I’ve never experienced before, anywhere. Excitement rushed through my veins as a wind gust nearly knocked me over. The wind was absolutely unbelievable. All I could think of was “Welcome to Patagonia!”.
We spent the night in Punta Arenas at a quaint hotel located only two blocks from the main square. Despite the fine comforts of our hotel room, we both had a restless, fitful night’s sleep. Our minds were not put at ease. We had no idea what kind of adventure lay ahead.
We woke up the next morning to the buzz of traffic circulating the busy streets. It was Monday and the town had come to life. Most people in Punta Arenas travel by taxi so that explained the crazy stop and go whirl of traffic.
Unanswered questions loomed inside our minds. How big would our group be? Where would they be from? What would the weather be like? And most important of all, would we have fun? We couldn’t wait to find out.
There was not much of all, if anything, to see in Punta Arenas. Yet we made the most of our morning walking around the windswept town. We visited the main city cemetery which proved extremely interesting.
By lunch time we had seen everything and had only a little more time until we would meet up with our driver from Cascada who would take us to the park. We found a little pizzeria and enjoyed a delicious lunch as the only foreigners in sight. We could hardly wait to meet our guide and hit the long ride out to Torres del Paine. It was sure to be an adventure of a lifetime! More to come…