Thursday, September 13, 2007


My apologies, readers. I have over walked and am on my last leg. I will BLOG properly from Puerto Octay. Where? At the head of a vast lake north of Puerto Montt.
I board the ferry tonight here in Puerto Natales and disembark at Puerto Montt on Monday morning. A bus takes me to Puerto Octay where I will rest out in the country for a couple of days and gaze at snow-capped volcanoes.
And, yes, I will bring this BLOG up to date with tales of fjords and ice caps, delicious fish, good wine and chocolate brownies doused in brandy cream. And I will post photographs, including one of my naked ankle which right now is as fat as an old elephant´s trunk. Yuk!
I would be in a worse state but for an excellent mattress at Hostal Casa Cecilia.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007



I am arrogant and impertinent in judging a town on the evidence of a single day. I have hobbled a few blocks, bought tickets for bus and ferry, found a bank that accepts my VISA card (Banco Santander).
EL Chocolate is a chocolatierre a block from the main square at Bories 852. I sit at a table in the window, sip hot chocolate, people watch and read the newspaper. The hot chocolate is orgasmic. I ask a cab driver where he would eat fish the day before pay day. He drives me to the waterfront. Up three steps into a four-table workman's cafe: shellfish stew sets me back $3 and is delicious.
And evidence of optimism?
Trees newly planted in gardens and in the sidewalk. People plant trees because they believe in a future.
Freshly dug flower beds are a further sign.
Builders at work embellishing homes.
Parks free of rubbish.
People want to be here. 90% of people in Rio Grande want to be somewhere else.
No building in Rio Grande is worthy of a second look. No one cares.
People are proud of Punta Arenas, proud of the architecture - as they should be. Those first estancia owners in the 19th century built splendid mansions on the back of a boom in wool. The cathedral is charming. Modern domestic architecture is simple and in keeping with the past: clapboard or corrugated, sloping roofs, dormer windows, fresh paint. And trees: avenues of trees, squares shaded by trees, gardens with trees. On this Spring day the sea sparkles blue at the south end of every street, the first emerald shoots glow on garden shrubs, roses are in bud. I am joyfully free as I hobble on my crutches. Drivers stop at every intersection and wave me across. Such acts of courtesy are jewels in an old man's journey. Thank you, people of Punta Arenas, thank you for a great day..

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


plaza and cathedral

Of all my travels last year and this, TATY'S HOUSE offers the greatest home comforts. Pay attention anyone travelling to Punta Arenas. Claudia has only five rooms. Call or email well ahead for a reservation.
TEL: (61) 241525
Check out the web site at

I soaked in a hot bath this morning. The ankle is back to normal, back of the calf a little stiff. Breakfast waited me in the kitchen. Claudia found me at the computer in the sitting room.
"You're up early."
"Quarter past nine?"
"Quarter past eight," Claudia corrects.
Time in Chile is an hour behind Argentina. No wonder I found restaurants closed last night.


wool boom mansion


The bus stops on the same block as the Tourist Bureau. A change bureau operates on the corner. The young lady at the tourist bureau calls hostals. Hostal Taty's House is a block down and four blocks east on O'Higgins, then a block south at Maipu 1070. US$20 is more than I would normally pay. US$20 is cheap for Paradise. The room is big, the bathroom is vast, the mattresses are perfection (trust in the opinion of one who suffers from a bad back).
Hostal owners come in three categories. Those who offer the minimum that they can get away with. Those who calculate a reasonable norm. The very few who truly care for their guests and add those small touches that make the guest feel at home.
Claudia is the best of the third category.
Vases of dried spring flowers in bedroom and bathroom, scented candles, thick towels...I could go on and on.
Walking from the Tourist Bureau, I begin to tire on the last block - pain in the outside of the ankle and back of the calf. Claudia tells me that restaurants open at 8 p.m. I walk up O'Higgins. Everything is closed. I walk on and on. The pain increases. I realise that I am following the same pattern that lead to my downfall when riding on ice. I turn back to the hostal, take off my sock and elastic bandage. The ankle is red and swollen. Dumb...
Forget dinner.
I lie in the glory of a warm bed and watch cable TV.


This is my goodbye to Tierra del Fuego. I will remember clarity of light, immense distances. Today the sky is every shade of grey from charcoal to near white. Rain softens the greens and greys of the moors. Hills on the eastern horizon glow topaz blue. The dirt road follows a valley through hills reminiscent of the Scottish borders. Wind and weather has rounded every crest. Burns overflow their banks. The lee side of a hill has broken away under the weight of rain; a curved pink cliff rises above the fallen waves of grassed earth. Fifteen guanecos stand on a ridge by the road side. Wild geese face west into the wind. Hereford cattle face east towards our homeland. Spring approaches. Geese pair. Freshly sheared sheep cringe beneath low scrub. Horseman are blue balloons in rain suits worn over puffa jackets and pants. A small drive-on ferry crosses the Straits of Magellan. Sun sneaks between the clouds and transforms the sea into a shimmering sheet of aluminum foil, pale side up.


Tecni Austral runs a bus service to Punta Arenas from Rio Grande six days a week. The bus leaves at 9 a.m. and arrives at 5 p.m. The fare is US$25.
The bus is half empty. A double seat to the rear enables me to prop my feet up on the arm rest. Meeting a truck, the driver slows. Not so the truck driver - not so any of the truck drivers.
We climb the last hill before the Chilean border, the hill where the truck ran me down.
I am an old familiar to immigration and customs at both Argentine and Chilean frontiers - no queues for Grandfather Hoppity-hop, merely congratulations at being mobile.


mobile phone marginales
and my new hat

I have been going stir crazy. I need to be out of here. Each new act of kindness adds to the pain of separation from new friends soon to be my past and adds to the guilt of wishing to be gone. My Friday barbecue was saddened by the ex-future's absence. Saturday Carlos from the Petroleum school drives me to his novia´s home for beer, tapas and conversation. Graciela cooks a delicious stew of squid and shrimp. The ex-future, Graciela, Pedro of the viviendas and I eat at the kitchen table. Sunday I join in devouring a final meat mountain with the Sunday gang at the ex-future's car port. The doctor´s novio has copied the files from my laptop to CDs. The mobile-phone marginales present me with freshly crocheted black woolly hat. I will be gone in the morning. How will I cope?