Chile 2003: Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas & Santiago
Mar. 2003

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Chile 2003: Main Index


1  Puerto Natales, Wed. Mar. 26 / Thurs. Mar. 27
2  Puerto Natales to Rio Rubens, Fri. Mar. 28
3  Rio Rubens to Villa Tehuelches, Sat. Mar. 29
4  Villa Tehuelches to Punta Arenas, Sun. Mar. 30
5  Punta Arenas, Mon. Mar 31 / Tues. Apr. 8
6  Google Earth Map of the ride from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas
7  Punta Arenas to Santiago, Tues. Apr. 8
8  Santiago, Wed. Apr. 9
9  Santiago to Montreal, Thurs. Apr. 10 / Fri. Apr. 11

1  Puerto Natales, Wed. Mar. 26 / Thurs. Mar. 27

These were two lazy days, writing my journal and organising my pictures. I also had to repair a small hole in my Thermarest mattress, and recharge lots of batteries.

2  Puerto Natales to Rio Rubens, Fri. Mar. 28

I was moderately distressed this morning. I packed all my bags for the bicycle and discovered that I couldn't find my Cateye Bicycle computer. As I was packing, it became obvious that my bags had been tampered with while I was away. When I opened my second bathroom bag, it was clear that someone had opened it and had messed around with the stuff inside. I am quite certain that I put my trip computer in that bag so it would not be obvious to prying eyes. I had not counted on prying fingers, or the fiddling with the combination lock that was on the bag, and also missing. Later I discovered that my bicycle headlight, laser pointer, and scientific calculator were also missing - perhaps there is more. My computer and its associated hardware were not touched.

On other trips I have been terribly distressed when it appeared that my Bicycle computer was broken. I rely on it for navigation and expectation. However, on this trip, my GPS receiver will fill in the gap.

As I left Puerto Natales, you could actually see the harbour, and the mountains. It was an incredible day in Patagonia - a cloudless sky, and no wind.

The ride was very gentle rolling countryside with hills, mountains out of the way on the horizon, and reflecting lakes.

As I was leaving Puerto Natales, I saw two cyclists, fully loaded, about one km in front of me. I wondered if I could catch them, but it soon became clear that the reason I appeared to closing the gap was a hill that was slowing them down. I did catch them though, and it was Jeff and Tanya by the side of the road where Jeff was trying valiantly to extract a broken cable from the handlebar shifter. After some examination, and failed attempts to help, I remembered my corneal tweezers, and with some difficulty, was able to extract the cable. Jeff quickly installed a new cable and we were all on our way again.

I stopped at about 5:30pm in Rio Rubens, after 65km, and much to my surprise, found Jeff and Tanya again. The hotel was full, so we all camped in their backyard.

3  Rio Rubens to Villa Tehuelches, Sat. Mar. 29

This was another wonderful, cloudless blue-sky day with no wind. This is flat pampas land with the mountains graceful staying in the background.

The first major town was Morro Chico which exists because of the sacred rock in the middle of the flatland.

The highlight of the day, though, was a flock of nandus, that kept close to the highway fence until their chick was able to make it back inside from the dangerous highway side.

Jeff, Tanya, and I arrived in Villa Tehuelches to discover that there was no place to stay other than a Zona de Camping. This was a small cattle farmers coop, and its function was lovingly told to us by a Chilean with a Montreal Canadians cap.1

It was a good day ... 83km. and easily manageable hills.

4  Villa Tehuelches to Punta Arenas, Sun. Mar. 30

Today was another wonderful, windless day that started with frost on my tent, warmed up so I could remove my jacket, but not my gloves. The morning was cloudless but a thin layer of high clouds came in the afternoon. One really nice thing about the calm is that I could have refueling breaks and enjoy the reflections without being blown away.

The big Carancho Commun (hawks) were alone and in large flocks. I didn't get as close as I would have liked to this one before he flew away.

There were also several flocks of nandus and some domesticated guanacos (alpacas?).

After 100km I arrived in Punta Arenas, having endured a 20km industrial wasteland north of town, and arrived at Dinka's House at about 5:30pm where I will be staying for the next eight days.

My plane for Santiago leaves on April 8.

5  Punta Arenas, Mon. Mar 31 / Tues. Apr. 8

I was shunted out of the main house to a comfortable, but windowless (well almost ... there is a small window in the bathroom) room, in a two-unit adjoining building. It is less convenient for socialising with the other guests, but does allow me easier access to my bicycle, and reduces all qualms I might have had about making tea, coffee, and soup in my room. All the rooms, including this one, have separate gas heaters so my stove just gives a little additional free heat.

I have done very little here except ride around town, exploring its small streets, shopping for supplies, making repairs, and avoiding gravel roads.

On Tuesday afternoon, I took the tour to the Seno Otway penguin breeding colony. It is very late in the season, and breeding is essentially complete so we were left with the few stragglers that were still around.

On the beach, we saw three, in no obvious hurry to get to their burrows.

In fact, they seem to have been waiting for their friends, because soon there were six.

Although we tourists were paying for their comfortable quarters, they did not seem to have any inclination to come close and give us a good look.

The highlight of the visit though, was several Patagonian skunks. The first I saw was harassing a penguin, who was not about to be moved from its burrow. The second I saw was on the path on the way back to the bus. It did not stay around, but did amble slowly away, not being really very concerned.

We saw several more from the bus on our way out.

On the way in, we stopped beside a pair of nandus. They did not, as usual, run away, but allowed me to walk slowly with them, but not as close as I would have liked.

It was disappointing not to have seen more penguins, but was fun to be surprised by what we did see.

Tuesday morning the Plaza d'Armas was full of handicraft stands lots of tourists, with Magellan, holding court, his foot on his cannon.

The Puntas Arenas municipal cemetery is a monument to excess in death.

The Menendez family were the richest and most influential sheep farmers in the region.

For some, though, it means moving from one tenement to another.

6  Google Earth Map of the ride from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas

This is a link Google Earth Map of the ride from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas

7  Punta Arenas to Santiago, Tues. Apr. 8

I packed the trailer and bicycle, each into their own bags and waited for my minivan to the airport. When it was 10min late, I panicked and asked Dinka? to phone and find out if they had forgotten. I was assured that the driver was frantically trying to get there, and he did arrive in another 10min. In 10min, you can drive from one end of Punta Arenas to the other, and still have time left over.

I arrived at the airport 30min before the Lan Chile counter opened so there was obviously no problem. Both bags were almost exactly 30kgm (66lbs). The trailer is quite light, about 6kgm, 12lbs, and the rest of the weight is camping stuff and bicycle tools. The other bag is the bicycle, paniers, racks, and a very minimal amount of clothes. This 60kgm, plus 10kgm to 20kgm for my backpack and computer stuff make up the exorbitant 80kgm that I carry.

I intended, and did, check my trailer bag at the airport, so I had only the 40kgm+, or so for the ride into town. My bicycle went together quite easily this time, and I was off riding the 16km into the centre of Santiago. I followed the Santiago Centro, and Centro signs, until I made my major error. I took an exit that said Maipu Centro, which I interpreted as Maipu and still Centro of Santiago. It turned out to be the Centro of Maipu. Santiago is like Los Angeles, 40 suburbs in search of a city. The only maps I had were those in Lonely Planet. I was unable to get one in Puntas Arenas, forgot to try at the airport, and failed dismally at all the stores I tried. Whenever I asked where I was on my Lonely Planet map, I was told that I needed a more detailed one. This was usually just after I was told that they did not sell Santiago maps.

My GPS receiver has a small dot that said Santiago, so when I discovered that I was really lost, and was told that I was in Maipu. I tried to go down streets that appeared to be going in the correct direction. Invariably, they would dead end, or turn away from where I wanted to go. Finally I found a street that was aiming right for the dot, did not dead end, and led to a bigger 4 lane road that continued to aim correctly. I was still about 5km from the dot, on a rather dark road, when 63 year old Alfredo Leighton, stopped his truck to talk. He was a bicyclist, was curious, and wanted to know if there was anything he could do. I told him that I was lost, and he was the first person that seemed to be able to orient himself, and me, on my map. He gave me directions, and then offered to drive me to my hotel. I gladly accepted his offer, and we arrived at my hotel at 9:30pm. The route was really quite simple, if you knew it, but I think I would have had great problems, because the first part was still not on my Lonely Planet map.

It was, though, a beautiful night to get lost.

8  Santiago, Wed. Apr. 9

I gave my seminar at the Universidad de Chile at noon after discovering that the bus drivers in Santiago are almost as rude as they are in Berlin. I started, as Lonely Planet indicated was quite common, to ride on the sidewalk. The Carabinero did not seem at all concerned about such behaviour. As long as you are not in too much of a hurry, it is an excellent way to see the shops and the people of Santiago. I discovered this morning that banks do not exchange money. This is especially upsetting because almost every block seems to have at least two banks. Money must be exchanged in a Cambio. I had trouble finding my first, and did on Moneda, but discovered several more on the small streets off Moneda in the afternoon. I also finally found a map to Greater Santiago from a sidewalk vendor selling only maps. I have not seen maps for sale any other place, except from sidewalk vendors. In fact, the stock in most stores is very specialised. After a while, I suppose you will discover exactly where you should go to get something exotic, or even quite ordinary.

9  Santiago to Montreal, Thurs. Apr. 10 / Fri. Apr. 11

I was asked yesterday, by Ricardo Baeza, one of my hosts at the university if Chile had lived up to my expectations. I said it had, being the most civilised country in South America, with friendly people and spectacular scenery. Today, Santiago confirmed my quite negative expectations of the city. I had intended to avoid Santiago because the smog was supposed to be horrible, similar to Pasadena when I was there in 1962/1963 as a graduate student at Caltech. In the morning I rode up to the top of 880m (2900') San Cristóbal. I noticed a slight pain in the lungs, and the overview confirmed that, indeed, the smog was sufficiently bad to make Santiago unlivable, at least for me.

I stopped for lunch in a park by the river, and the smog was even noticeable among the trees.

After lunch, I rode slowly to the airport, arriving at about 3:30pm. With my new map, it was possible to avoid most of the really distressing roads and the ride was quite pleasant.

After putting my bike in its bag, with an interested audience, of course, I retrieved the trailer bag from the baggage storage and checked in. Lan Chile was apologetic that the flight to Miami would be 2 hours late leaving. This will not affect my connection in Miami in any way. Lan Chile runs a class operation. They gave me a voucher for supper because they were going to be so late.

The trip back to Montreal was, as it should have been, a totally uneventful trip and set of flights. All my bags arrived without problems. On all my recent flights my bags have been lost so this normal event was quite remarkable.


1He had no idea the significance of the cap. He did a Canadian from Montreal a favour ...  the cap for some gasoline for their car.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 11:57.