We arrived at Punta Arenas airport to pick up a Dutch friend, who’s luggage had somehow got misplaced on the way. After a little investigation, he was told that they had no idea where his bag was and that he would have to come back the next day, a great start to his 2 week holiday. We moseyed on into town and checked into a little guest house, greeted by the most stony faced woman I’d ever met, I honestly couldn’t figure out if she pissed off, or just like that naturally.
One of the brilliant things about Punta Arenas is the “Zona Franca”, where you can shop duty free, meaning it’s a popular stop off for tourists to stock up on all the gear they need before heading to Torres del Paine. At that point in time I assumed we’d be able to pick up the luggage the following day and then head to Puerto Natales (the closest town to the national park) straight away. With this in mind, I was racing around the camping shop, which was going to close in less than an hour by the time we arrived. When the dust had settled, I ended up with a new rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hiking socks, sleeping socks, head lantern and thermals, all for around £280 which I thought was pretty decent as it was all high quality gear.
That evening I had my first taste of lamb in Chile, which they unfortunately serve without mint sauce, much to my dismay. However, saying that, they had cooked it so well that it didn’t really warrant it. I could definitely tell I was in Chile when I was speaking to the waiter, as I had a very hard time understanding him, he spoke even more quickly than the Argentinians did and the words that I did catch seemed to have no end to them, he just sort of stopped saying them half way through. For example, “Mas o menos” was contracted to “Maomeno”, but fortunately I have spoken to other Chileans since this encounter and my comprehension fared much better.
The next day we were planning on leaving in the afternoon (assuming that the luggage would arrive the same day) but it was a Sunday so most places were shut. I’d totally run out of clean clothing and desperately needed somewhere to wash it all. We managed to find a launderette that was open 7 days a week and explained to the lady that we were in a bit of a rush and that we’d need it done as soon as machinely possible. She agreed to get it done by 2pm and when we came to pick it up she was grinning from ear to ear, she seemed to be elated that she’d got it done so quickly and could see the appreciation on our faces, it was a lovely moment.
We did a shop around for all the food we’d need for Torres and had to cross our fingers for the baggage turning up so we could leave for Puerto Natales and start Torres the day after the next. We got back to the airport to check on the bag situation but nothing had changed and no one had any idea where it was. To curb my boredom as we hung around, I figured out the key sequence for Frere jacques on the public telephone, so it wasn’t completely wasted time. At one point we were allowed to use the airline company’s computers to try and locate the AWOL bag, which did result in a few odd looks from the passengers on the other side of the desk, but we had to get our kicks somehow.
We checked into another guest house that night and received a much warmer welcome. The following day we had to wait around until 7pm for the next flight from Santiago, but we still weren’t sure that the bag would be on the plane, so we had more time to kill in the Zona Franca. I picked up a Swiss army knife and messed around in a guitar shop for a while. We went back to the airport again, with all crossable body parts crossed and to our delight the bag had arrived, we could finally get on the road again!
On the way to Puerto Natales the clouds were really beautiful, suspended in mid air as if frozen in time, layered on top of each other forming interesting abstract shapes. Some were very low to the ground and as we were driving in the evening time they were softly lighted from beneath, glowing orange like lava lamps in the sky. Sometimes they resembled dinosaur skeletons, flying dragons, submarines and boats, constantly evolving as we travelled further along the road and observed them from different perspectives.