Today Punta Arenas is my oyster.
Capital of the Magallanes region of Chile it sits on the Magellan Straits, a natural fracture dividing the South American mainland from Tierra del Fuego which provides a rather useful shortcut avoiding Cape Horn. (Generally best avoided unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys cleaning their teeth with a jet washer).
The city is an interesting blend of colonial splendour and urban sprawl laid out on a modern grid system. It feels a little like a cross between New Orleans and Luton located on the coast of Cornwall. In the main square, Ferdinand de Magellan looks away to the south as a stiff 70 mph breeze blows in from the West. Trees bend, flags are ragged and people lean into the wind (even indoors).
On the lookout point at the top of the hill, one of the guest houses has put up a pole to which visitors nail signposts showing the distance and direction to their home cities. London, New York, Beijing, Berlin, Moscow, Sydney and just about every other major city you can name is here – all the arrows point North.
On Sunday we are due to fly to the South Shetland Islands. Matthias tells me that, in extreme latitudes, accurate weather forecasting is pretty much impossible. Pilots need to be assured of visibility at both ends of the journey before they will attempt a crossing. So tomorrow will be given over to boot fitting and instructions for getting on and off the landing boats and then we will wait for our window.
Although the day is cold, it has not yet been cold enough for the Unfeasibly Large Coat which still languishes in my room like a malevolent, oversized tea cosy. Will it prove to be a white elephant – a rash purchase in a mad, male ‘must have all the gear’ moment? I prefer to think not – I feel sure it’s time to shine is growing near.