It’s not even six, but the sun is setting over the South Pacific as we descend into Punta Arenas. No, not the Rogers and Hammerstein South Pacific – that’s like Mid-Latitudes Pacific. This is the real South Pacific: about 55o south, just short of rounding the corner at Cape Horn, where two oceans merge in the roughest seas on the planet. No palm trees and sandy beaches in sight; where I can see coastline through the dark undercast below, there are mountains, sharp and snow-capped, far more evocative of Greenland’s treacherous fjords.
Regardless of where we are and what’s below us, I’m feeling done with airplanes for a while. I’ve been riding in back through nearly a day and a half of airline seats: three airplanes and five cities to get from San Francisco to just one town short of Land’s End. Yeah, I did get some sleep on the Dallas-to-Santiago leg, but there’s a limit to how much time one can spend in a pressurized steel tube without going stir crazy.
The snow doesn’t really hit until we’ve managed to drop our bags at the hotel and sally out in search of something to eat. But when it starts to come, it doesn’t tiptoe in – my fleece is soaked by the time we’ve made it the block and a half down down to La Luna, on Via Bernardo O’Higgins (yeah, that’s how they roll here in Punta Arenas). The menu looks fabulous, the prices are surprisingly low, and best of all, they seat us at a table in the front window up against an old-style steam radiator. Dinner – local Chilean beef and potatoes in a blue cheese sauce – is heavenly.
The town itself feels strangely familiar. I remember wandering the streets of Copenhagen back when I was 20 or 21, another sheltered port town indifferent to its mid-winter snows. Punta Arenas is located strategically as well, an eponymous sandy point the Straits of Magellan. Wikipedia claims it was established as a penal colony in the 1800’s, now grown to about 120,000 residents to support fishing boats that pull into the straits from both oceans, as well as the (apparently very profitable) cruise ship business during the summer.
But speaking of ships, the NBP is now supposed to be docking tomorrow morning, early. And it’s tonight, late. And I’ve not slept in anything stationary since Monday night.