Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Layover in Puerto Natales.


It was goodbye to Argentina this morning when we boarded the bus at El Calafate this morning for the 5 hour journey back to Puerto Natales. We'll be back in Argentina in two days when we fly from Santiago to Buenos Aires. Don't ask me why I simply did not continue our time in Argentina, after we arrived into El Calafate, instead of returning back to Chile and then going forward to Argentina.  In hindsight, I should've checked for a destination between El Calafate and Buenos Aires that we could've spent time in.  Plan imperfect.

After breakfast at our hostal, we made the short 5 minute walk to the bus station.  Luckily, we had come here yesterday and checked to make sure this was the right place because we ended up having to pay a small tariff charge.  I don't think Bro and I understood what the charge was all about but it was such a small fee, we just paid it.  We then had our tickets stamped to indicate that the fee had been paid.  I don't know what would've happened to us had we not paid the fee in advance.  I'm sure the driver would send us back to the ticket counter but if there was any sort of a line, we would risk missing our bus.


The bus station in El Calafate is small but there were quite a lot of people waiting.  So far, we've had really good experiences with the buses in Chile.  They are plentiful, cheap to ride and very comfortable to sit in.   On today's ride, we even got handed a bagged breakfast aka snacks for our ride.


Chilean buses are indeed a very practical way to make your way around the country though I would still fly if I'm going from very far north to very far south - it's a very long country!

Our Bus-Sur bus pulled in about 10 minutes before our scheduled departure time.  

 Having arrived into El Calafate via bus, we knew exactly what the routine was.  Kick back for the long ride until you reach the border.


You then have to clear immigration. Our driver got off while everyone else remained on board.  Once we got the wave from him to disembark, we all got off.  Immigration is handled very efficiently here and I think our entire bus, which was full, was off the bus and back on in probably less than 20 minutes.

The Argentine border control offices are in that brown wood building.

Next we had to clear Chilean immigration AND customs and that was trickier.  The bus attendant  had passed out customs forms which clearly spell out the do's and don'ts.  The country has very strict  rules.  The big no-no is that you cannot bring in any live or fresh plant  matter into the country.  Not even the leaf of lettuce or slice of tomato that you might have in a sandwich.  Meat products and anything dairy must be declared.

Again, we stayed on the bus until our driver gave us the go ahead to disembark.  We were instructed to bring all our belongings with us.  As I walked past the bus that was parked in front of us, I noticed that all the luggage had been removed from the baggage compartment and had been neatly lined up alongside the bus.  A customs officer was approaching, with a dog on a leash.  The dog did the duty of sniffing out the suitcases. Wow!  This is indeed tough customs.

I had some yogurt with me and the remains of a sandwich. I decided it wasn't worth the effort of declaring so I tossed everything into the trash bin.  I knew that Bro had food with him as well though I didn't know if it was in his suitcase or his backpack.  Later on, he told me that he chucked his food as well.  No point being held up by customs.

This time, it took longer to make it past border control because once we cleared immigration, we then had to go through a security check - our backpacks were scanned.  I noticed that the immigration officer and dog remained inside the building the whole time we were there which meant that our suitcases did not go through the sniff test.  I would imagine they only do that as a random check and it just so happened that the bus before us was checked and we were not.


We arrived back into Puerto Natales just around 1:00p.  It had been a 5 hour journey and we were ready to get out and stretch our legs.  For our return visit to Puerto Natales, I had booked us into a small hotel - Hotel Hallef; it's too much trouble to do an Airbnb just for one night.  It wasn't planned but on our walk from the bus station to The Shed, we actually walked past the Hallef so today, I didn't need Google Maps to tell me how to get there.  It's just about a 10 minute walk from the station and about 10 minutes from the heart of downtown Puerto Natales so it was quite conveniently located for us.  The hotel is small but modern inside.  Our room wasn't ready for us so we left our suitcases in storage and headed out for lunch.  Only one place we wanted to go -  La Picada de Carlitos


After having a few bites of my Paila Marina a few days ago, Bro had already decided that's what he wanted for lunch so today, we each ordered a bowl of this seafood stew.

It's nothing more than a flavorful seafood broth but the bowl is literally packed with different kinds of seafood.  For about $9 USD, it's a great deal!  It's also very filling!


After lunch, we decided to go for a stroll.  I've come to the conclusion that cloudy and chilly is the typical weather forecast for a summer's day in Puerto Natales.  Add in a mist of rain.  Nonetheless, we had nothing else to do so a walk was a good idea.  Unfortunately, it's Sunday today and all the shops are closed otherwise, I would've done a bit of window shopping as well.

Puerto Natales is to El Calafate as Pittsburgh is to Lake Tahoe.  This is definitely a working town.  There is very little here that you would label as pretty or charming or quaint.


The buildings are often painted in bright colors.  I think if you live here, you have to do something to brighten up your otherwise drab looking environment.  I can imagine just how depressing could be on a cold winter's day....when it's bone chilling cold and there aren't all that many hours of daylight.


Bro had read in his guidebook something about a famous mural so we decided to go in search of it. We came across this colorful one but later I learned this was not THE mural.   THE mural is titled, "Cultural heritage of the Aonikenk and Kaweshar ethnic group" and has special significance because it tells the story of the region.  We actually did walk by it and you can see a bit of it in the photo that opens up this posting.  Unfortunately, I didn't know that it was THE mural otherwise, I would have paid more attention and taken more photos.

This one is just street art. Pretty though I've not been able to find the name(s) of the artist(s).


We finally managed to get to Plaza de Armas which was just remodeled in 2011. It is designed to resemble the original towns in the region. Thus, the benches are designed to resemble canoes, the pavement resembles Selknam symbolism and the fountain is designed to resemble a bonfire.


Though it's Sunday, in many countries, the main town square would be filled with people out and about enjoying the day.  Not so here.  The place was pretty much empty except for a few teenage girls who had made themselves a bit of a hideout in the limbs of an evergreen tree.  Who needs a bench when you can sit inside tree? :-)


As is so often the case, the main square is ringed with important buildings.  In this case, the cathedral.  We didn't go inside.  We've seen enough churches on our trips....they've long started to be one big blur :-(


Somehow.....(not planned, really....okay, maybe Bro planned it...), we ended back up at our favorite supermarket in all Patagonia....actually, the only supermarket we know in all of Patagonia.


Since Bro had to throw out his fruits at the border or risk confiscation and or fine, he had to replenish his lot.  Fresh produce is relatively expensive in Puerto Natales but he only bought enough to last him through tomorrow as the day after we will be on our way to Buenos Aires and he can restock there.  We will miss Unimarc but hopefully, there will be even better supermarkets in BsAs as the locals abbreviate it.




Sadly, my little dried seafood shack was also closed for the day.  Now that we were on our way out of Chile, I was going to buying a couple of strings of the dried mussels....which are exceptionally large here.  Oh well.  Next trip. :-)


By the time we made it back to Hotel Hallef, our room was ready for us.  As so often happens, once I stop moving, I don't want to start up again. I was plenty full from lunch to readily skip dinner and Bro was more than happy to eat from his food stash along with the fruit he had just bought.  So we just kicked back and relaxed the rest of the day and night away.

Tomorrow, we have to catch the 8:30a bus back to Punta Arenas. Bro is already looking forward to lunch at the Mercado!

Goodnight from Puerto Natales!