I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Chile (9)


An afternoon in Punta Arenas


We left Sara Braun and her family back in the city and headed out of the city for the afternoon.  Our first stop was a small outpost built by a local farmer, where he could show and tell us about some of his life.




We followed the herd to the shearing shed.




The sheepdog kept the group together: sheep, llamas and human beings alike but as we neared the shed, some were more interested in a spot of lunch than a shearing demonstration.




The farmer (whose name I didn’t catch, sorry) explained how he’d built this shed in the traditional format to ease the demonstration – out there on his farm, where a thousand sheep are regularly sheared, he’s using faster, more modern equipment but here he relied on the good old faithful…




engine built by Listers of Dursley, Gloucestershire, England!




Two experienced hands brought the sheep from the pen.  It wasn’t the most dignified of entrances.




But then it wasn’t a very dignified procedure, either!




I’m not sure sheep have expressions but this one was cute.




Within five minutes, she was released from all of that weighty wool.




and as the last bit was finished, she couldn’t wait to scoot back through that gate and return to her friends.




We could admire the fleece, beautifully shorn in a single piece.  It’s Corriedale, not quite so high quality as merino but not far short.  It will be compacted as it is – ten years ago, it’d been described as “dirty”, five years ago as “natural” and today, “organic” – and sent to a processing plant for washing and preparation before being used for clothing manufacture.  Right now, the going rate means each fleece brings the farmer $10.




After a tasty lamb barbeque lunch washed down with Pisco Sour and Chilean Cabernet  (getting to be a habit) we headed still further West to the point where the first settlers had arrived: the original Punta Arenas at Fort Bulnes.




Spectacular views of the Magellan Strait from here.  Julio continued his storytelling with that of the first settlers’ arrival, just shortly ahead of the French, who were then sent packing. 




But though this was a great strategic point, there was no water, not enough grass for grazing animals and the soil was too poor to grow crops.  Bad choice!  The settlement was moved to a more liveable sandy point to the east: Punta Arenas.




The monkey puzzle trees were growing well – but not much else.




On such a bright afternoon, it was a delight to be out in the open and breathe the clear, fresh air.  Being out in the open does take effect on the way home though and the drive back to the ship was quiet but for the sound of twenty people snoozing!


A great story


You know, I spend some of my working life evaluating and assessing teachers and tutors.  It’s a mixed blessing, because I find that I can’t stop working even when I’m on holiday.  So every guide, presenter and speaker is, unbeknownst to them, under scrutiny!  I can’t help it.  Sometimes, I’d love to give them a few performance notes, offer a little support and maybe give them some praise for a job well done – well, of course, that last one is easy but the others, not so.




Today, we met Julio.  He was our guide in Punta Arenas, Chile, and in my opinion, did a first class job!  What I especially liked was the way he linked all the information he had to share to a broader story.  That story was one which intrigued me and led me to want to find out more.




I’d had a little startling awakening by finding a tug right outside our verandah, shining a light straight into our suite at 5 am this morning.  There had been a few thuds and clunks which suggested we’d arrived and eventually, I struggled from our oh-so-comfy bed to peer through the curtains.




Once it was light, we discovered we had company.  It was a lovely morning and we had an early start, so no hanging about!




We met Julio and the other members of our group and made for our first stop shortly after 8am.  The open air museum was a collection of donated buildings and machinery without much of a focus but which nevertheless gave a good idea of what life was like for the early settlers here.




We started in a house built by a Swiss family and discovered a medical themed collection inside.  Joseph Baeriswyl had been a pharmacist and some of the exhibits had been donated by his family.




What I liked especially was the colour palette of the buildings and the machinery dotted about the place.  Not a single garish colour in sight, but soft reds, ochres and greens.  It doesn’t take much to keep me happy!

But it was here that Julio began his story.  One of the families represented here in the outdoor museum was the Menendez family, in particular Jose Menendez, who was quite a key player in the early days of Punta Arenas.  Here, we could see a model of one of his ships and Julio gave us a brief outline of his life.  In passing, he referred to Sarah Braun, adding the teaser “we’ll learn more about her in the next place we visit”




The next place was the cemetery!  As we stood in front of the (locked) main gate, Julio told us the story of Sara Braun, the founder of this place.  Sad to say, that though Sara gets a mention on other websites, there doesn’t appear to be one dedicated to her in her own right.  So, bear with me and I’ll try to share what we learned.




Sara had been an immigrant with her family arriving from Russia in the 1870s or thereabouts.  She seemed to have a good head for business and soon spotted an opportunity to supply some of the ships passing through the Magellan Straits with fresh water and meat.  After all, before the Panama Canal was built, these waters were a very busy shipping route indeed.




In entering the cemetery through the side door, we were following one of Sara’s last wishes – that her cortege should be the one and only time that main entrance was used.  But before progressing to her death, we learned a little about her life too, and how the Menendez and Braun fortunes would be combined to result in them owning land in Patagonia the equivalent of the whole of the Netherlands and Belgium combined!




As we strolled around the cemetery, Julio continued the story.  Sara married a successful Portuguese settler and businessman, José Nogueira, who sadly died at the age of 48, leaving Sara as a young widow but also his fortune.  Meanwhile, Sara’s brother, Mauricio had managed to create a niche for himself in the company, working with Jose to import sheep from the Falkland Islands and even better, marry Jose Menendez’ daughter.




Walking around the cemetery was a good way to learn of these families and their influence on the development of Punta Arenas.  Nice work, Julio!




Sara’s mausoleum is set in its own fenced off area and is in character with her Russian heritage.  She went on to marry again (twice), to divorce (twice) and then to settle for some “close friendships” for the remainder of her life. 




I was rather glad to spot a portrait of her in the entrance to the cemetery, for having heard so much, I wanted a picture in my mind of what she looked like.




Our next stop was the museum of the settlers where there were still more references to Sara, to Mauricio and to Jose Menendez.  Julio could continue his story as told here




There were some other interesting exhibits including this memorial to one of the men on board the HMS Beagle.  Such touching and surprisingly sentimental words, I thought.




And there was this pressed flower collection which defies description really.




Last stop of the morning though, was the Plaza de Armas, where Julio could put the final piece of his story into place.  Here was Sara Braun’s Palace.  There, on the corner, was where she set up home, bang slap in the middle of the action.  Very grand it was – is – too.




Somewhere too, in the middle of all the “craft market” was a memorial to Jose Menendez as well.  Hardly the most dignified setting, but then he was a businessman and would surely have delighted to see some lively trading going on around him.




As we’d driven along, I’d spotted some yarn bombing along the street, so nipped back to take a quick photo.




But actually, what my hero and I both were most eager to do was to touch the toe of one of the figures on the plinth beneath Magellan in the centre of the square, following the old tradition of “touch his toe and you’ll come back to Punta Arenas”.




Well, twelve years ago, we’d done exactly that and sure enough, here we were.  We had, hadn’t we?

And then we looked at one another and both had one of those moments, because four of us had touched that toe and sadly, only two of us returned.  A tear trickled down my cheek and my hero went quiet before we both composed ourselves and felt thankful that we had all been there at all.  We gave ourselves a stern talking to and remembered how thrilled Edna and Gordon had been to travel to this, of all places – who’d have thought it, eh?  That we had come back again would have pleased them no end – let’s celebrate that, instead.




Actually, I think Ferdinand Magellan himself looked pretty pleased too.

Our day didn’t end there – I’ll continue the story in the next post.


Five hours of Patagonian weather


Yesterday afternoon, having missed the glacier viewing, we kept our fingers crossed for “the wreck”.  As the time approached, we headed upstairs to get a good view (it was on the port side and we are sailing starboard).  I’ll let my photos tell the story of the approach, the wreck itself and the continuing weather as the evening progressed.










































All at sea




We are watching our progress as we sail south, listening to the Captain’s updates regarding the weather and how it might affect our plans.  Yesterday, we were glad to leave the open ocean behind and sail in the relative shelter of the islands.  We hoped for some lovely scenery, a bit of wildlife to snap and perhaps an unexpected surprise?




These narrow, steep sided glacial fjords don’t make for good internet communications but I managed to post yesterday’s blog before lunch and enjoyed being up and about, even if the weather did take a turn for the worse later in the day.




We did a bit of penguin spotting, but didn’t quite manage to catch it in time!  As we sat enjoying a spot of lunch, we watched the water spouts from whales swimming a few miles off but again, the pictures remain in our heads.




Last evening, we sailed back out into the open ocean again for three hours, negotiating the last headland which obstructs our passage south.  The Captain had warned everyone that between 8 and 11, there could be a little movement and advised to hang on and hold the handrails.  Sure enough, just as we finished our Italian supper we turned that corner and – wow – all hands on deck to secure the outdoor furniture!  By 11, all was calm again as we sailed into another sheltered fjord.  This is quite a journey.




This morning, we are sailing in the Smyth channel and the plan was to visit the Amalia glacier at 6.30am – weather permitting.  Well, the weather didn’t permit, sadly and having taken advice from the Chilean Navy, the Captain decided it was too risky to take his ship through a narrow channel in high winds.  We continue on our way of course, the next point of interest being the wreck of the Santa Leonor this afternoon, but again we will be at the mercy of the weather.

Are we disappointed?  Of course.  Are we downhearted?  Of course not!

One thing is sure.  We will not be doing any laundry.  The ship is sailing under the highest health precautions following reports of a few GI cases.  As a result, every surface, handrail, carpet and piece of furniture is constantly being cleaned.  Every member of staff is working to contain the situation and their action seems to be proving effective, thank goodness.  One of the more surprising effects of the raised precautions is the closure of the self-serve laundries, so we don’t even feel any pressure to do the washing and ironing today.  What a shame Winking smile

Anyway, with a full programme of things we want to do today, it might be a challenge to squeeze in some reading time to begin my new book group title – A God in Ruins.  I wonder how many pages I’ll manage before I fall asleep?




I’m still on wildlife watch but not doing very well so far, unless this is a particularly rare breed of seagull?


Into Patagonia




We woke to a misty scene outside, but kept our fingers crossed that, as the day warmed up, some of that mist would clear and we’d see some of the magnificent scenery.




Not much life here, apart from the occasional salmon farming enterprise.




Sometime in the late morning, the weather started to improve.  We headed outside onto the top deck to take photographs but really to simply take in these amazing surroundings and enjoy the fresh, clear air.  As we sailed further into the fjord, Terry Breen’s commentary pointed out the classic features of glacial landscapes – a geography teacher’s dream resource!




Hanging valley, anyone?




Even though we knew we were almost at our destination we still couldn’t see where that might be.  There really was nowhere in sight.




But as we approached this split in the fjord, we began to turn the corner.




We came quite close to the side of the fjord too, seeing clearly why this is such an uninhabited area; one which Charles Darwin described as a green desert.




Sure enough, as we turned right, there was Puerto Chacabuco.




Look what was there already: Ocean Princess.




We quickly scooted downstairs to get our things and prepare for our adventure, described as “Full Day Patagonia Nature in Depth”.  I took the opportunity to have a chat with the local guide who was already on board.  She gave me a couple of maps and we chatted as I admired her hat – a kind of beret called a boina.  It was actually rather reminiscent of a Basque beret of the same name, but this had gaucho heritage and a most important little tag which added a particular Patagonian flavour.




Soon, it was time to tender again.




The port of Chacabuco has been very carefully developed by a private company which owns and controls the nature reserve, an hotel and it seems, this whole operation. 




We got an idea of the scale of this landscape once we were onshore.  This “small” fjord turned out to be perfectly capable of accommodating two enormous ships both of which looked pretty tiny relative to their surroundings.  Oh yes, this is big stuff.




Marta, our guide, gave us a bit of information about Puerto Chacabuco during the short drive to the nature reserve.  There’s a general population of around 3000 people here, though some are seasonal residents.  They are served by one school, one hospital, one church and one ATM.  They enjoy 3000ml of rain a year and most are employed in either salmon farming or tourism.




It all felt very remote indeed.




We were divided into two smaller groups, ours being the “purple chucaos”.  The chucao is a small, wren-like bird with a loud call.  Marta said she fully expected us to see one or two along the way.




We warmed to her lively spirit and delightful accent!  “Come on, purple chucaos!”




Into the rainforest we went. 




Every so often, she’s stop and point out something of interest, including this huge gunnera-like plant.  Local people use it to cook, sandwiching meat and vegetables between two of these enormous leaves for cooking  - the leaves are discarded rather than eaten though.  The stems are also used in a salad, so I guess it’s not gunnera…




There was a clear route through the forest and a couple of dry days meant that the pathway was easy to walk along.




Most of it was fairly densely planted, with an even mix of bamboos and other shrubby plants.  Not so many tall trees here.




There was a small river, too, with bright, clear water.




Sadly, not so many flowers and not much variation in the planting, though I spotted some tiny blossoms on a bush by the river.  Though some were lucky to see the little chucao bird, the fact that another couple of groups had gone this way only a short time before meant there was little to see beyond yet another species of bamboo or small shrub.




Thankfully there were, however, two stand-out stars of the forest for me and perhaps that’s enough?  The first was this curiosity.




Known locally as “poor man’s wool”, this lichen-type plant isn’t attached to the ground at all but grows in small clumps.  It’s quite soft and was used as an insulating layer as the name suggests.  I imagine when it gets wet, it goes a bit soggy though!




About an hour and a half from the start of the walk, we came upon the waterfall, called the Old Man’s Beard.




Here, one of the other guides introduced me to my second star of the day.  Hypoterygium arbusculans or the little umbrella moss.  Why is it special?  It’s the tallest moss in the world: all of 2 inches!




A short distance from the waterfall was the Quincho, a typical Chilean venue for barbeque and entertainment.  The view over the lake was stunning and now the clouds had cleared, the air was fresh and clean.




Inside wasn’t quite so clear – the barbecue was set up in the middle with lambs roasting in the traditional style and the resultant smoke was lending a bit of atmosphere, shall we say?




The carving was rustic in style, but having enjoyed a pisco sour aperitif as we arrived and now, here at the table, freely flowing Cabernet Sauvignon, we were happy.




We were still more happy to see the view on our return to the port.  By now, it was around 7.30pm and the changing light made it all the more interesting.




So, we hopped up top on the tender and sat on the roof for the return journey to Mariner.




Well, how could we resist the opportunity to sit up high in this wonderful place?




The little town of Puerto Chacabuco returned to its usual state of peace and quiet, until another ship, tomorrow, will bring some more lucky people.




For now, though, we just keep on taking photographs and feeling very thankful indeed to be here.

Our connection is so slow today, I’ve given up trying to include some links  When it improves I’ll add a few