finally a post! lots more to try and get onto the blog…
I had been waiting for over a decade to procure the funds and time to travel to one of the most remote points on earth. Since I’d managed to knock off the pinguinos the first day, I was chomping at the bit to get on the ship. I did find some cool handicrafts and plenty of lapis lazuli in tourist shops and in the open air market in Plaza Muñoz Gamero.
Prosperity first came to Punta Arenas via sheep imported
by some enterprising immigrants. One place definitely worth visiting is the Braun Menéndez Mansion. While they made their fortune out of supplying ships rounding Cape Horn prior to the Panama Canal, both had familial links to sheep barons. The house is now a national museum where you can get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of wealthy immigrants trying to create a life of European splendour in a place so remote it was unlikely they would ever see the European mainland. The craziest part is that it was only over 100 years ago – but only that short time ago in human history, electricity and indoor plumbing were novel and there wasn’t even an airline let alone on-line booking on the internet. Turn off your phone for a few minutes and just imagine what their lives must have been like.
The weather in Punta Arenas worsened each day that I was there and by the time I walked with my suitcase to the pier to get on the Australis ship, I was worried I might get picked up by the wind and end up in Oz instead! I spent my final night at the Dreams Hotel drinking pisco as already noted. I also found a charming place to have dinner. It’s called La Cuisine. It’s also an homage to immigration – a French and Chilean couple. The serving sizes were far too generous but the food was excellent – home-made terrine followed by salmon with saffron cream and jasmine rice along with artistically arranged vegetables. It was all accompanied by an excellent rose wine and lovely service.
Finally it was time to board the ship! Many people were not well organized so check-in went on for a long time. They took my passport! Officially because we would sail into Argentina but it felt both disconcerting and comforting. I had just been issued the temporary passport after all the trauma so reluctant to hand it over BUT it meant I wasn’t responsible for caring for it while I was on the ship…
The captain welcomed us and there was some safety information and then we headed to dinner. I’m not really a cruise person so am not amused by the mandatory seating but does seem to be the norm. On my two cruises so far, Canadians are rare so I can tell they aren’t sure what to do with me and Americans seem the most obvious choice.
In this case, I got lucky. I doubt I would have met the people at my table otherwise but it definitely made for an interesting cultural experience. Diane was a lawyer from Montana in her 60s who had brought along her 30-something son Ryan. She was a great conversationalist and an intriguing mix of cosmopolitan and naïve so watching her in action was fascinating. The most interesting exchanges involved her and 93 year old Harlan, who was accompanied by Cézar, a much younger Brazilian who spoke minimal English. The exact nature of the relationship between Harlan and Cézar remained a mystery.
It was unfortunate that Harlan hadn’t managed to get a hearing aid that really worked for him so the conversation didn’t flow as easily as it might have and we only learned some tantalizing snippets of information. He was one of those people who might have been the most interesting man in the world for real, not just as a frontman for Dos Equis. He seemed more likely to drink champagne than Dos Equis 🙂
What I did learn was that he had grown up in South Dakota and then served briefly, without injury, in World War II, which entitled him to the GI Bill. He chose to go to law school at the University of Chicago. I have had that same kind of journey so can totally understand how Chicago in the 1940s would have seemed like Oz to someone from small town South Dakota. It’s that history thing again, too. There was very limited media in the 1940s so you had little knowledge or imagery of places you had not seen with your own eyes.
That was enough to make him interesting but he was recruited by a Wall Street law firm to article so that
took him to New York City. Where the story got really interesting, though, was that he didn’t like Wall Street so went to teach law at the University of Minnesota, somehow ending up at Columbia Law School back in New York. Apparently somewhere along the way he met Mary Hemingway who introduced him to Ernest with whom he shared a love of bullfighting. He was also obsessed with ballet. It’s hard to know if it was all true but he was an excellent raconteur 😉
Once dinner is over, there is an open bar on the upper deck where most of the guests congregate. Diane convinced me to sign up for the harder hike for our first adventure off the ship the next morning. Most of the people onboard weren’t terribly young… how hard could it be? 😉