Friends in Chile

To finish our trip, we left Argentina for Chile, crossing the border quite near Torres del Paine. We had time for one more night in Patagonia, in Punta Arenas, and then one night in Santiago as part of the overly complicated route I picked to come home.

There is not a lot to see in Punta Arenas, but we had time to visit a museum and the cemetery. The museum is a strange amalgamation of natural history, with galleries of stuffed local animals, cultural history, highlighting the geographic, scientific and socializing efforts of the Catholic missionaries, with a newer section dedicated to and, I’m sure, paid for by mining and drilling, which likely sustains the community these days.

In the taxidermy section we were able to put names to some of the birds we had seen during the drive from Calafate, including the ñandu, or lesser rhea (an emu-like bird), the cisne de cuello negro, or black-headed swan (a black-headed swan-like bird) and the flamenco chileno. which I didn’t know existed. In the religious section, we saw the sillón utilized pur el Papa Juan Pablo II en su visit a Magellenas el 4 de Abril de 1987. It was covered in plastic, like the furniture in Frank and Estelle Costanza’s house in Seinfeld.

However, my favourite feature was the small section on Shackleton’s Antarctic misadventures because it featured a plaque dedicated to Luis Pardo, the Chileno sailor who rescued the Ingleses from Isla Elefante. Where else would this man, without whom the expedition may well have ended in greater disaster, be recognized?

The cemetery was also a pleasant surprise, with the crypts and gravesites reflecting the diverse origins of people who were drawn to Patagonia at the end of the 19th century. Of particular interest is the marker recognizing the loss of 143 lives when HMS Doterel blew up at Sandy Point on 26 April 1881. We learned afterwards that poor design had led to a build up of coal gas, which triggered a massive explosion and destroyed the ship.

But the highlight of our time on Chile was meeting up with our Oakville neighbour, Hugo, who by coincidence arrived in Santiago to visit his two daughters in the city, on the same day as our departure. They took us to a traditional Chileno seafood meal because, being Good Friday, most of the restaurants serving meat were closed. We had a great visit with Hugo, Coca and Claire and her family. It was a perfect end to our South American sojourn.

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