Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Punta Arenas Chile - February 28

The skies are clear as we sail towards the harbour of Punta Arenas which means Sandy Point.  This city was very important, this was the refueling stop for ships when travelling around the horn.  Then the Panama Canal was opened in 1914 and this city languished until oil was discovered nearby in the 1940s.  The city is quite large spread over the flat terrain which reminds us of the Okanagan of B.C. 

During the summer the wind blows incessantly, today the weather is beautiful around 14C and the winds are low.

It is a tender port and we have a private tour organized with to the Magdalena and Marta Islands.  There are 9 of us in our group and we arrange to meet at the International Café at 9 am and head ashore as a group.  Thankfully the tender ride is not very long.

We pose for the pictures on the pier and make our way thru the port terminal. Note here you have to fill out the form the ship delivers to your cabin the night prior with passport # and declaration that you are not bringing fruits/vegetables etc.  They take this very seriously and you can be fined $250 if you do bring something ashore, this is to protect their fruit/vegetable industry.  One parasite could do serious damage to their livelihood.
There are numerous people on shore offering us tours of the city but we have plans so we get directions to the office of Solo Expedicions which is two blocks up and two blocks East on José Nogueira road, which is the main street.  We pay for our tours ($78 each) and we are told to come back in around 45 minutes 10:15 for departure.  We venture out on foot to explore a bit.

We walk to the church and then cross the street to the square – Plaza de Armas which is a lovely plaza lined with trees and spring blooming gardens.  In the center is a bronze statue of Magellan perched precariously on a galleon cannon.  In front of him is a reclining aboriginal, legend says if you kiss the big toe you will return to the area one day.  Bernie rushes up and kisses it, yuck but hey he will be coming back!  I rub the toe for good measure and hope that I will tag along when Bernie returns. 

There are a lot of vendors in the square but we don’t have much time so we make our way back to the tour office for our departure.

The entire group consists of around 22 people made up of a few passengers from our ship, the Adonia as well and many tourists visiting the area.  We later find out there are people in our tour from Northern Ireland, Iceland, Germany and the US and Canada.

We are transported in large vans (two) to the dock which is about a half hour drive away.  We board a very nice vessel that has benches and lots of windows and is enclosed, note there is a head on the vessel in case you need to go to the washroom.  We are introduced to the Captain and his assistants, Herman and Cesar.  Cesar sits up at the front with us and speaks very good English and fills us in on what is happening, what we are seeing and we learn about his country and he learns about ours.

The seas are so calm and the sun is shining and we are told that these conditions are the best they have seen in a long time.  We did come prepared with layers and a good gortex jacket but we don’t really need the outer jacket but glad we have it just in case, and it comes in handy later when we visit Marta Island.

We pull up to the dock at Magdelena Island and the penguins come out to greet us, well everywhere I look I see penguins.  Here we encounter Magellanic penguins, and I am guessing cause I can’t count that high that there were maybe 100,000 penguins on this island spread out everywhere!  They are not as clustered as they were at Volunteer Point but there are about 200 X the numbers here. 

The island is a Natural Park for the penguins, it was created in 1966 and it is formed by two islands, this island Magdalena (210 acres) and Marta Island (29 acres), it is located 22 miles north east of the city of Punta Arenas at 52o Latitude and 70o Longitude.

The Magellanic penguins have a black beak with a grayish border, the head, the collar and the upper parts are all black.  Both sexes are very similar, but males are longer than females and the differ in weight is approximately 144 oz for females, with males coming in around 121 oz.

The penguins arrive in the colony around September, laying eggs in October, the eggs incubate for 40 days hatching their eggs in November.  The chicks become independent in January – February.  The adults shed their feathers and depart in April to coastal waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans feeding in high seas and migrating until they return to the same colony to find their mates and start the cycle again. 

The penguins nest in caves that are dug by themselves, and they normally lay two eggs.

We walk around the island for around an hour posing with the penguins, taking lots of pictures of the penguins and having a great time.  Even watching the birds, the kelp gulls were fun to watch especially those with their babies fighting for Mom’s attention and wanting food. 

We board the boat and we head towards Marta Island where we all put on life jackets and head out on the deck of the boat as we slowly approach the islands we can hear the seals!  The island has Eared and Fur seals… they are making a grunting noise and the males are very dominate protecting their area and trying to impress the ladies… so similar to adults.

The seals in the water are playing around us and popping up and down right beside the boat. 

The fauna on Marta is vast with different types of cormorants, common seagulls, dolphin gulls and Chilean skuas. 

We are blown away but the wildlife and we are all giggling like schoolkids.  And while traveling back to the mainland a group of dolphins swims and plays along side our boat and again we are all giddy and laughing.  What a treat!

We all thank the crew for their amazing job and I can say I highly recommend Solo Expdediciones tours, you can find their tours at the tour we took was Magdalena and Marta Island which left at 10:15 and returned around 14:30.  You do need to provide a credit card number and your passport number when you book (which is common in Chile) but they did not charge our credit card until we got there.

When we arrive back in town we head towards the Plaza again and we are able to get great bargains as this is the end of the season.  We pick up lots of sweaters for around $15 each for the solid colored sweaters and $20 for the more detailed sweaters made out of Apache wool.  The vendors sell everything here, trinkets, magnets, scarves, hats, jewelry, postcards, and in the background we are listening to a local sing karaoke – Elvis, a little odd but a good laugh.

Bernie buys some sweaters

lots of items with penguins on them

Our next stop is to find a washroom and we find one in a small mall that you have to pay $1 to use but trust me right now I would pay lots more.  Not many locals speak English and we are trying to find a grocery store to get some wine and soda and the attendant at the washroom doesn’t understand us.  But we find someone on the street who directs us to a large grocery store called UniMarc that had everything and lots more of what we needed.  The wine is cheap!  But then again Chile is known for their wine.  We get four bottles of wine and some soda to take back on board. 

We start walking back to the port, about a 15 minute walk but made more difficult because of the weight.  And just a block or two away from the port is a UniMarc grocery store that we could of went too, but it is smaller but I am sure you can get all everything you need there too. 

We stop on a beach at the pier to write up our postcards and post them from the tip of South America.

Back on board and we are hungry so we head up to the Horizon Court for a meal and decide that we will skip dinner and eat enough here to tie us over for the evening. 

Back in the room and we can’t believe how hot the sun is!  We head over to Connie and Derrick’s cabin for sailaway and we all have a good laugh and talk about the great day we had.

We wander the public decks but it is so quiet!  There is not much going on in the evenings on board, a lot less than you would find in the Caribbean.  But then again our days are busy and truly we are happy to just sit and enjoy a drink and watch and chat with fellow passengers.  We do head up to the photo department to talk to the crew there who we have become good friends with on this voyage.

We are asleep around 10:30 after another GREAT day.


  1. Vickie....tried their website but not in did you communicate with them? Do you remember how much this tour was?

  2. hi Andi, you need to click on the british flag icon on their page to represent English

  3. Well, duh !!! How simple is that? Thanks