Sunday, February 5, 2017

To Tierra del Fuego We Go! Porvenir.


The highlight of our day today was spending time at a penguin colony on the famed island of Tierra del Fuego. But first, we had to get there.

I had signed us up for a full day penguin tour today, through denomades.com.  By now, we had long grown accustomed to the routine to waiting for our pickup based on the information printed on our itinerary.  Today, it would be at 7:30a so Bro and I got up with enough time to have breakfast.

The days indeed are long here.  It finally got dark around 10:15p last night and by 6a, the skies were already getting bright.

View outside my bedroom winter at 6a.  The strip of water is the Strait of Magellan.

Bro usually does the breakfast cooking duties but that does not mean I'm sitting around.  I got to work on checking on our laundry....which had not dried from the previous night and moving items around so they would have a better chance of drying by day's end.



7:30a on the dot and we were outside waiting for our ride. 

Standing in front of the door to our apartment building.

The streets were empty yesterday when we arrived as it was a Sunday and today, they were empty because it was early in the morning.  We have yet to see any of the establishments, around the apartment, open for business.



Our apartment is on Croacia, just one building away from this sign.

We were pretty much one of the first people to be picked up so we sat and enjoyed our ride while our guide and driver made the round to pick up everyone.  By 8a, we had arrived the ferry terminal, a very modern structure located just a short distance outside of Punta Arenas.


The ferry services are provided by a company called Transbordadora Austral Broom.  Our ferry, the Crux Australis Crux which has capacity for 300 passengers and approximately 70 vehicles. 

Our ferry would not be leaving for another hour so while our driver stayed with the van, the rest of us got out and killed time however we could.  It was a blustery cold morning today and even though I had put on enough layers to ward off the cold, it was better to stand inside the terminal that out.  I took a few photos of the ferry before darting inside.



I knew it was time to board when I saw our driving and van getting on board.



Our guide took us to the passenger lounge to give us the lay of the land and then instructed us to meet back up with him at 10:50a which would be about 10 minutes before the schedule arrival time in to Porvenir, the small town that would be our landing point on Tierra del Fuego.  Bro and I then headed up to the upper deck - I enjoy watching ferries pull away from land not to mention just taking in the view of the landscape.


The ferry's command center.


The ferry terminal building is on the right.

Bro always manages to find someone to chat with.  This man was from Santiago and he was vacationing with his family; their first trip to the area. 


Distance wise, Tierra del Fuego is located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Punta Arenas so it's really not all that far away.  But somehow it was cool to think we were crossing the Strait of Magellan!


Passing by Punta Arenas.




Once we got on to open water and there was nothing to look at but sea and sky, Bro and I retreated inside the lounge.  It was so packed with people, it felt like the entire ferry's worth of passengers were there.  We did manage to find two seats though.  They were next to two women from Canada who frequently travel together.  One woman was married and the other divorced.  They do adventure trips together as the married woman's husband prefers a more comfortable style of travel.  We got to talking with them about their time walking the Santiago de Compostela trail.  Apparently, they've done several of those walks and in fact, were in Chile on their way to do the W Trail in Torres del Paine National Park.  They were both around my age and I was impressed with their adventurous spirits, something that I am constantly aspiring to myself.



Flash forward and we are on land.   We had boarded the van before the ferry arrived into dock.

The ferry we arrived on.

Turned out the ferry dock is located a short distance from the town of Porvenir so we had a ride to go.  I don't know what I expected in terms of the topography of the landscape on this island but I most certainly did not expect it to be as flat as it is.  There is a stark beauty to the place.



As best I can describe it,  Porvenir is a shanty town. There is nothing pretty, quaint or attractive about it...at least not the part of town we were in.  We drove what looked like a quiet neigborhood.  Our driver stopped and deposited us outside a building that is the town's museum - the Museo de Tierra del Fuego.



I entered with very low expections.


I quickly became very pleasantly surprised!  It wasn't because the museum had an extensive collection or that displayed items were incredibly well described but it was because of what was on display.


I love it when I come across something interesting that was totally unexpected.  In the case of this museum, it was the exhibits on the Selk'nam (also known as the Onawo or Ona people), the indigenous people that once upon a time inhabited the Patgonian region. They were one of the last native groups in South America to be encountered by migrant ethnic Europeans or Westerners in the late 19th century. With the discovery of gold and expansion of sheep farming, the Argentine and Chilean governments began efforts to explore, colonize and integrate the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego into their cultures.  Over time, the Selk'nam tribe became extinct. The museum has a few original artifacts and quite a few reproductions.  I found the photos to be most interesting though as they should Selk'nam daily life, dress and facial make up. 


I was completely fascinated by the images of the men during an initiation ceremony called Hain. 


Not only are they heavily painted up from head to toe but their faces are often shielded by incredible wooden masks.  Such a shame, the Selk'nam people are lost forever.  I would've been so thrilled to witness this ceremony!  The photos below were taken by German priest and anthropologist Martin Gusinde taken between 1918 and 1924.



The museum also had a small zoological display - mainly skeletons, bones and shells of creatures who call the region home.


A king crab aka centolla.  It's on my list of foods to try out while I'm in the Patagonia region.

At the far end of the main exhibit hall was a display dedicated to the lives of the European pioneers that came to the area.  It was cool to see some of the items that they used in their daily lives.



Shoe laces imported from China :-)

There was an exhibition of large wall murals outside.  I only admired them from the other side of the window.  This one depicts the arrival of European culture.  It's really a shame the Chilean and Argentinian governments felt they had to integrate the Selk 'nam into the broader society.


It didn't take me long to make my way through the small museum and when I headed back out front, it was obvious, others didn't take long either.


Next, we drove back through town to town to a restaurant for lunch. 







It wasn't a fancy restaurant, outside or in.  Inside, it was obvious this was a place that catered to tourists as those were pretty much the only people eating here.   It was packed though but Bro and I were lucky enough to find a table though we had to bus it first.  Service was cafeteria style.  I sent Bro to get the food as he knows I am willing to eat pretty much anything and he knows what I don't like to eat.....raisins, celery and cilantro.


Bro came back with a pork chop smothered in a veggie sauce with a side of rice and a roll.  We had had a huge breakfast so I really wasn't hungry at all.  I took a few nibbles and that was good enough for me.  If I got hungry in the afternoon, I had snacks in my backpack to tie me over to dinner.


Bro and I finished our meal with enough time that we had to wait for the rest of the group as well as our guide and driver to finish up. While it had been chilly this morning, it was perfect temperature standing in the sun.  I enjoyed just soaking up the rays.



 Every now and again, I get a cute follower.  I wonder if this guy smelled pork chop on me!

After lunch, we made a quick stop at a small city park dedicated to the Selk'nam.



Our guide's English is okay but he is definitely a talker and strives hard to explain everything to us in great detail.  He also keeps referring to Land of Fire aka Tierra del Fuego which is indeed the literal translation of the name though we told him that even in English, it's known by its proper Spanish name.  Anyway, here he told us more about the Selk'nam but it was pretty much what I had read in the museum, so while he talked, I wandered around to take photos.







Then it was time to hit the road for the long drive to see the precious creatures I have been dying to see ever since I started planning this trip!