Ever since I heard the name “Terre de feu” (land of fire) in 7th grade geography class, I was hooked. All I could picture was a place not unlike that game you play with your brother or sister, when you imagine that the sidewalk is lava and you keep bumping into people as you do your best not to fall in. Then your mom gets really annoyed really fast and ends up sending you to boarding school soon after for reasons apparently unrelated… All I’m trying to say is that this land of fire sounded so cool, I made a date with myself to eventually get there.

Fast forward thirty-six years and here I am, landing with my own family in Punta Arenas, the first stop of a long journey into the southernmost point of this, our earth. My first astute observation was that this land is not only not on fire at all but, to add insult to injury, freezing and seemingly made from wind! What the… It turns out that Tierra Del Fuego was so named because the originals from this lovely land used to wait for low tide in order to pick up seafood, and lit fires on the beach so as not to freeze to death before dinner. Smart. When the Spanish conquistadors came knocking and gazed upon these walls of flames, intellectual giants that they were, they thus named the soil they were about to tear apart appropriately. Trying to once again reconcile my dashed childhood dreams, this time not George Lucas’ fault (I think) we proceeded to cab it to Shenu Cabañas, a wonderful bunch of cute wooden cabins awaiting our arrival.




As we drove through town, it was striking how nothing about it felt Chilean to us, or even South American. Having visiting Iceland not long ago, we found the grey skies, concrete and punishing frigid wind eerily similar to that of Reykjavik, except without the warmth of the people or their fancy mustaches. After settling in, we walked a few blocks over to La Marmita for lunch, confirming that we were either the only ones to have survived a sudden plague or that Saturday afternoons are traditionally spent inside, fearing tourists.

A wonderful typical vegetarian dish whose name escapes me.
A wonderful typical vegetarian dish whose name escapes me.

Now, that isn’t as crazy as it sounds because Patagonia in located directly under the hole in the ozone that we’ve worked so hard to build, so dysfunctions might not be out of the ordinary with so much UV making landfall. Or maybe there’s just nobody here, which wouldn’t surprise me since this town was only settled in 1911 and it takes time to get the word out in a country so vast. Stranger still, 95% of the stores and restaurants were closed, so closed in fact that I searched for about thirty minutes to find a cash machine and another thirty for a place that would let me recharge my cell phone account, all in striking loneliness. It is so odd to walk the streets of a medium-sized town all by yourself as you attempt to find your way against the perma-gust with no one to ask for directions…

Eventually, I found my way to the bus station to buy our tickets for later this week, direction: the roof of the world, Ushuaia, only reachable after 12 hours of glacial and sinewy roads going down Chile and sideways through Argentina. In the meantime, we shall visit a bit of Patagonia tomorrow to see what it is made of, outside of bustling downtown…

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