Exploring Punta Arenas
Another day in Punta Arenas is another day closer to flying to Antarctica. The Norwegian South Pole team was put on notice to be ready for a call to the Airport Friday morning between 6am and 9am. This means we are next and will most likely fly Saturday morning and then hopefully immediately to Vinson with no delay.
Today was cool, grey and windy, but what else is new in Punta Arenas. There was not a lot to do today. I sat around in the hotel and worked on my book for a while. Yes, I am working on a book and have been doing so for around three years. I think writing a book is an even bigger mountain to climb than Everest.
Around 11:30 I decided to go for a run. I figured that perhaps I should try to maintain some fitness while I am here, plus it would be a good way to explore the city. I put on my trail shoes, my smelly socks, my fancy new Lu Lu Lemon shorts that I got for my birthday before I left, my Sherpa shirt, by running hat and my iPod and I was off. I ran down the main street to the water and turned right. The smell of ocean was strong in my nostrils as I sucked in air.
The waterfront is similar to the waterfront of most port cities. There is a combination of industrial, manufacturing, shipping, residential and park lands. One great feature is a dedicated bike path and a separate walking/running path so that there is no mix of cars, people, and bikes. I ran past the Dreams Hotel and Casino. This is where the cruise ships come in and is the finest, and most expensive, accommodation in the city. After that I ran past the shipping docks that were full of containers, forklifts, cranes and for some reason thousands of bundles of rusted wire. Past the shipping docks it turned residential with nice, but not huge homes.
All the nicer homes in the city have tall concrete walls with spikes on top surrounding them and a large gate across the driveway. ADT security signs are everywhere and every store, even the grocery store, has security guards with bullet-proof vests. This makes me think that the city has a high crime rate, but I have seen no evidence of this and feel totally safe. The people I meet on the street are friendly, not overly so, but not distant at all.
Past the residential area the land opened up with a few large ocean-side parks. They are not quite as fancy and lush as the parks we might have back home, but they are nice and attract the locals for walking and beach exploring. The water is cold so there is no swimming, but there are plenty of shells to gather and a lot of beach glass as well.
One park was an exercise park and they have all these metal machines for people to use. I sat on and tried out all of the apparatus as I went by; partly out of curiosity and party because it was a good excuse to stop running for a few minutes. One machine was like an elliptical, and one was like a leg press, another was similar to a shoulder press. Basically it was every exercise contained on a Nautilus machine and set into a stand-alone machine. There were even a few machines that mimicked the exercise gimmicks advertised on late night TV. I half expected Susanne Somers to be there running fitness classes.
Moving on I passed another shipping yard and came to what appeared to be a graveyard for old ships. These were not little ships, but huge tankers and cargo ships. Five or six of them were run aground and looked like they had been there for quite some time. One huge cargo ship was easily 300-feet long and presented a massive hole in its side. Another was even longer and had four tall masts that once upon a time would have held sails. All the ships were extremely rusty and had been stripped of everything of value and that could be re-used on other ships.
As I walked the beach looking at the ships I began to notice all the shells, the pretty rocks, and the beach glass passing by my feet. I walked up and down the beach for a while collecting the nicest specimens and enjoying the view of the ocean. Eventually it was time to start my return run.
On the way back I picked up a friend to run with me. She was beautiful, in great shape, very friendly, and had gorgeous blond hair. She was also a dog. Punta Arenas has over 11,000 wild dogs and one had chosen to spend some time with me. She ran right beside me like we had been doing it for years. Every minute or so she would look up to make sure I was still there and that she was right at my side. It was fun to run with a partner for a while, but she was not much of a conversationalist.
Eventually I turned up away from the water and my partner decided not to join me on this last leg of my run. I ran up the second main street which moves towards the city centre square at a slight upwards slope. Just like the other main street this one has two lanes of traffic separated by a large boulevard in the middle. This boulevard is full of walking paths, sculpted trees, monuments, statues and busts of famous people. This presents a contrast in times as this was obviously once a rich, proud and special place, but today much of it is in disrepair, and graffiti covers many of the monuments.
Close to the top of the hill I turned right and followed yet another once beautiful boulevard back towards the direction of my hotel. Just over an hour later I returned to my hotel. Although I was not overly excited about going for a run when I first set out, I am glad that I did it. I saw parts of the city that I would not have seen otherwise, and I did feel good from the exercise as well.
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful. Ron, Ryan , one of Ryan’s friends Eric (he is guiding the Emperor Penguin trips in Antarctica and has skied to the North and South Poles as well as climbed Everest – there are a lot of over achievers down here) and I went for a drink at the Shackelton bar which is in a famous hotel used by Shackelton and his team when planning his two South Pole Expeditions. After that we went back to the pizza jazz bar where we had dinner the other night.
After dinner Ron and I explored the main square and I took some photos of the architecture and the craft sellers. We also got a glimpse into the youth culture as they hung out on their BMX bikes and skate boards in the square. One interesting fact about life in Punta Arenas is that a very large percentage of the population, kids included, smoke. There are no smoking by-laws and the restaurants are thick with smoke. It is difficult for a non-smoker like me to adjust to. I have not had to deal with smoke while I ate dinner for a very long time (at least not in North America anyway).
We then wandered slowly back to our hotel and retired for the night. All in all not a bad day. Nothing that exciting, but still good. Every day is a good day.