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Full Circle

Day 158: Straits of Magellan to Punta Arenas

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe Straits of Magellan widen out until it is almost twenty miles from the Chilean mainland to the western shore of Tierra del Fuego, now no longer a place of glaciers and mountain peaks but a low, bare plateau, piebald under the snow. It is a land of ghosts, for the Indians Darwin found here were systematically wiped out in the century ahead by the European farmers who came out here and took their land for sheep farms.

By mid-afternoon I catch a glimpse of the multicoloured roofs of Punta Arenas, the gateway to Antarctica, which I flew from and returned to on my Pole to Pole journey four and a half years ago. I was pleased to see it then and I'm pleased to see it now. It's a proper town, with hotels, an airport and 80,000 inhabitants, isolated at the bottom of South America, with no settlement of comparable size for thousands of miles around. It began life as a penal colony as did the Falkland Islands, one hour's flying time away.

The Isaza squeezes in to a crowded dockside at which the battered Polish factory fishing boat Pollux is landing a huge catch of krill. After three days under the protection of the Armada de Chile we walk down the gangplank for the last time. To the Cabo de Hornos Hotel for a bath and a drink. From the window of my room I can see increasingly fierce squalls sweeping across the Straits of Magellan and console myself that we have got out just in time.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 158
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Punta Arenas
  • Book page no: 217

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