Sunday, April 20, 2008

Puerto Natales

After arriving in Puerto Natales on the Navimag ship, a few of us grabbed a taxi to a hostel named Erratic Rock. I had e-mailed them before the cruise but hadn't heard back before departing, so I didn't know if I actually had a room or not. As it turns out, they were booked. A lot of travelers—including many from the ship—had to find other places. I and the two guys I was with ended up going to a related hostel just a couple blocks away called  Erratic Rock .5. There is also an Erratic Rock 2, which is a little more upscale, and an Erratic Rock in Punta Arenas.

Erratic Rock was hopping and it was packed full of backpackers to hear the daily afternoon presentation on the main local attraction here, the National Park Torres del Paine. Most of those in attendance left the presentation when it was finished and went directly to the supermarket to buy food for the next five days during which they would be hiking "The W," which is a popular hike in the park, so named because of the shape of the trail when viewed on a map. Many of them also rented gear they were lacking.

Erratic Rock is a great place to hang out. There's a sofa in the entry area where there's commonly a movie playing (out of a selection of maybe a few hundred VHS tapes), people on laptops, and others just relaxing next to the heater.

Later in the evening, I retired to my room. When I entered the house—a common use of someone's house is to turn it into a hostel or hotel, typically called a hospedaje in these here parts—it was completely dark inside. I groped my way upstairs and into the bedroom, trying not to wake my room mate, John, of Alaska. When I woke up in the morning, the house was absolutely freezing. I lit the tankless water heater in the kitchen with a nearby match and hopped in the shower. Apparently I didn't know the trick to getting the water to come out hot, so it was only warm. You've got to fiddle with the knobs just so.

Not wanting to live in a dark and freezing hostel, I moved to another place that day, which also costs less. I've been here for two nights and will stay one more, moving to Erratic Rock in a private room tomorrow, Monday.

Puerto Natales is a town of less than 20,000 consisting largely of hostels, hotels, and hospedajes. It's a place to stay en route to Torres del Paine, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, and Tierra del Fuego. There are places to stay on every block. You've also got your basic infrastructure, such as small restaurants, markets and various and sundry stores.

This morning after I woke up and took a nice, hot shower, I lumbered into the restaurant—this hospedaje has a small restaurant on the front of it—to eat the breakfast that's included in the per-night price of 5,000 pesos. That's around $12. As I waited for the bread to be brought out, I heard the hushed sound of the TV in the kitchen:

Santo, santo, santo,
Santo, nuestro Señor.
Santo, santo, santo,
Santo, nuestro Dios.

The man of the house was watching a Sunday morning service on his TV. He soon brought out three small, warm, rolls. This somewhat luxurious, as most bread is cold and not infrequently stale. On the bread, I spread either butter—another nicety—or the ubiquitous dulce de leche. After yesterday's breakfast, he thoughtfully asked me if I wanted cold milk. Not being a coffee or tea drinker, I like—in this order—juice, cold milk, or cold water with my breakfast.

The weather here is very inconsistent. Within a day, it regularly changes between rain, wind, cloudy, and clear, with combinations being the usual. Last night, it was very rainy, windy, and cold. This morning, it was cold, windy, and semi-clear. I've been warned that the weather cannot be forecast here, so you really just need to make a plan and stick to it, even if that means getting wet while out in the park.

Having time on my side, I hope I can avoid getting stuck out in some miserable conditions. If the day looks nasty, I'll just wait for tomorrow. At least that's the plan. So far it seems to be working, as I have been able to see some of the town without suffering too much.

I may stay here as much as a couple weeks, as I bide my time waiting for a package in the mail. I have been working with MetLife, my home insurance company and the company with which I have insured my camera gear, to get reimbursed for my stolen property. MetLife has come through with flying colors. They've already cut a check for the theft. I can't recommend them highly enough. I've reordered what got stolen and will hopefully have it shipped to Punta Arenas. Meantime, I'll do some writing, reading, relaxing, and photography in Puerto Natales and the surrounding areas. I hope to receive the package sometime around May 7th. We shall see.

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