Day 3 |
Mar 02, 2012

Punta Arenas, Chile

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Coordinates: 53˚10’12” S, 70˚54’24” W
Weather: Overcast

Before the sun had been able to lift the veil of darkness cast over the Straits of Magellan, Captain Adam Boczek and his officers were bringing the Silver Explorer alongside in Punta Arenas. Working hard to lift that veil, the sun briefly showed itself along the horizon before it became heavy, moisture-laden clouds filled the skies.

With a stiff and biting wind blowing, guests made their way along the pier towards our awaiting buses while the Expedition Team made sure they were headed in the correct direction. With a long stream of red Silversea parkas in front of them we knew none would be left behind.

As I boarded my bus and made a quick head count the sun began to peek through the clouds, the blue sky behind greeting our arrival at the day’s activities.

Weaving along the coastal roads of Punta Arenas, we left the city behind and headed for Estancia Olga Teresa and the vast Patagonian pampas. We made several unscheduled stops along the way as we spotted southern crested and chimango caracara, black-chested buzzard-eagles, Darwin’s rheas, coscoroba swans and even the Patagonian hare amongst other animals. By the end of the day Ornithologist Will Wagstaff and I were going to have quite a large variety of new species to add to our growing list for the voyage.

Upon arrival, our gracious hosts welcomed us to the Estancia Olga Teresa. Founded in the early 20th century by French-Irish immigrants, the small family continues the traditions of the huasos (Chilean cowboys) today.

Before our tour began, guests were served coffee, tea and biscuits and given a moment to stretch their legs and shake off the time spent on the buses. As soon as everyone was assembled, we walked a short distance to the edge of the paddock. Gathering along the fence we were treated to a demonstration of the amazing abilities of one of the estancia’s border collies. With only the use of a whistle, his owner had Cinco (the dog’s name and Spanish for ‘five’) heard a small group of sheep from the stables out into the pasture and have them stop only feet from us. I believe many wished they had a dog that was so well trained!

Breaking into two smaller groups, guests next headed into the sheering barn. With translation from one of our local guides, the estancia’s owner explained the process that is undertaken during the height of the sheering season. Employing six professional men to sheer the sheep, they will run through over one thousand sheep a day.

As the demonstration began we were all amazed and the calmness of the sheep. Flipped onto its back and in what seemed an awkward position, it didn’t struggle in the slightest as the large sheers raced along its body removing its wool in one large clump.

Once the wool was sheered it was moved across to a table where it was inspected for strength and then pressed into large bails to be sent to New Zealand where it was tested and certified for quality, from here it would be sold. Once the European countries were the largest buyers of wool, today Chile’s wool is largely sent to China.

Leaving the sheep behind, we headed back across the paddock towards a large wooden pen tucked away in the trees. As we arrived and guests seated themselves in the stands along its side, two Huasos sat patiently on their horses awaiting their chance to begin their show.

As they began to demonstrate the abilities of their horses I quickly noticed their very unique riding style, it was like nothing I had seen before. Leaning way back, the reins of the horse were loose and they controlled the horse’s movements with only their legs. Although an awkward looking position it was quickly shown to be very effective. Its effectiveness became even more evident in their next demonstration, part of the Chilean Rodeo. With a steer in the ring, the two Huasos, one riding alongside the steer the other with its horse galloping sideways along the other side, attempted to make it stop. It was explained that points were given on where the chest of the horse running sideways pushed into the steer and made it stop. It was also explained that the scoring system was extremely difficult to understand to those who did not know the rodeo well.

We had seen our lunch cooking during our earlier arrival. Grilling slowly for hours over an open fire were four well-prepared Patagonian lambs awaiting our taste buds. The time had come. As we arrived at lunch, the estancia’s staff greeted us with wonderful baked empanadas a glass of Pisco Sour while the lamb, potatoes and salad were being finalized.

As the lunch bell rang (figuratively speaking) the rush was on. Judging by the smiles I could see on everyone’s faces as I walked around, the lamb was as good as I was hoping it would be. Grabbing a plate myself, I joined the team and dug in. It was some of the most tender, juicy and delicious lamb I had ever eaten. I was already trying to decide how I could build the same style of cooking pit on my family’s farm at home!

Back on the buses we had a two-minute ride out the lane and across the road to a small area where the Andean Condor happens to nest. They were everywhere! With an average three-meter wingspan, these giant scavengers of the Andes are a sight to be seen, and we weren’t let down. From an initial count I would guess there to be in the range of 40 to 50 pairs resting along the edge of the cliffs in the distance while 15 to 20 soared in the Patagonian winds above us.

Boarding the buses once again we settled in for our return to Punta Arenas and the awaiting Silver Explorer. While most chose to sleep away the time, others gazed out the windows of the bus and took in the wild Patagonian pampas one last time.

With a great distance between us and our destination for tomorrow, Captain Adam and the crew were ready for departure from Punta Arenas as we arrived. As the last of us entered, the gangway began to be dismantled and the lines prepared to be brought in. Before I knew it the Silver Explorer was off of the pier and Punta Arenas was behind us.

Sailing away I headed to the Bridge to spend some time on the lookout. Peale’s Dolphins can often be seen in this area. Although I was unable to spot any, many Chilean skuas, southern giant petrels and cormorants circled the ship.

Gathering in The Theatre at 1700, we all joined our Historian, Christian Walter, for his talk entitled ‘Magellan and the First Circumnavigation of the World’. Christian is a not-to-be-missed lecturer. Today he took us on a ride through the endeavors of this Portuguese captain who worked for the Spanish crown, his voyage around the world (the first of its kind) and what it all meant. In the end he left us all with a desire for more.

As the sun set on another spectacular day, we settled down to our dinners as excited conversation of the day’s events and speculation of the days to come filled the air. The most common of the comments went something like: ‘Can it really get any better?’ We’ll just have to wait and see…