Just after taking off on the flight to Punta, the scenery was suddenly breathtaking. The airport itself is surrounded by hills, hazy in the sunshine and dust. Five minutes after we left Santiago, the clouds became a sea of white, with the occasional black mountain top poking through. Such was the enormity of the view and the immensity of the horizon, I began to doubt my own eyes – was it cloud or snow? Cloud of course, as the snow wouldn’t lick the tops of the mountains and leave the crests exposed. Nevertheless, I was taking as many photos as I could. Twenty photos out of an aeroplane window do not a good blog make, but I was mesmerised by the sheer scale and beauty of the landscape below.
I would have probably been more than a little apprehensive if I had been crossing Antarctica this time, as it would have been my first view of unending snow fields, crevasses and Glacier tongues.
When we arrived in Punta Arenas, I felt Lou had undersold the place. I’d almost expected horses and carts and people in traditional Andean clothes. Instead was a beautiful town with colonial influence. It had clearly had its heyday a century or so before – and had a definite air of being an outpost – but it was otherwise a small South American town full of friendly locals and a bit of British history.
The main industry had once been whaling and Punta Arenas (sandy point) is still a lively port town. The British had quite a presence there in the 19th and 20th century – you can still see many English names on headstones in the cemetery.
The golden age of Polar exploration left its mark here too. With so many Antarctica journeys using Punta as a jumping -off point, there are still roads and restaurants named after ships and explorers. The Shackleton bar on the main plaza is a must on any adventurer’s to do list when they’re here. The tiny pannelled room is filled with leather chairs and Antarctic memorabilia- including a photo of Shackleton himself signed by his granddaughter Alexandra – line the walls. It’s not too much of a leap of the imagination to see Shackleton and his men toasting their journey here while waiting for the weather to be in their favour for their onward trip.