I traveled to Punta Arenas in late December right after Christmas. It was a full day 18-hour bus ride from Ushuaia because the windy conditions along the Strait of Magellan were too dangerous to cross. We waited on the other side of the strait with nothing to do, no internet access, no stores, nada.
Luckily, there was a group of Russians sitting behind me on the bus. I was enjoying eavesdropping on their banter, but I didn’t make it known that I could half-understand them. At the only hostel we passed along the way, instead of buying lunch at the front counter, they each grabbed two bottles of wine. I suspect if the hostel sold vodka, they would’ve each walked out with two bottles of vodka.
I introduced myself to them on one of their dozen smoke breaks, and Misha, their group leader, instantly lit up. A bottle of Smirnoff vodka materialized from his backpack, and we took turns taking swigs. I was trying to stay sober at the time, but this was an offer I could not refuse. It turns out they were escaping the draft by traveling all over South America. These were smart IT guys who could work remotely from anywhere in the world.
I finally got into Punta Arenas at 2am in the morning, and the wind must have been blowing at 40mph. I could barely stand straight. It took serious effort to move my suitcase along the sidewalks.
The next few days I stayed inside my AirBnb because it was constantly raining. The wind never let up either, and I had trouble sleeping through the night because the houses there are built of thin metal sheets, which rattle like none other.
Finally, the weather cleared to a marvelous sunny day. Punta Arenas has a coastline to the sea, and it’s known for its seafood. I took a stroll along the beach and I saw hundreds if not thousands of mussels dotted on the rocks. My instinct was to pocket a few to eat later, but luckily I didn’t. I later found out from a taxi driver that it wasn’t safe. There was some poison in them, and someone had died doing this.
It was a serene day, and I especially enjoyed it because it was mostly an empty beach. There were only a few kids playing around. Some were playing catch with a bouncy ball. Another was cheerfully walking her dog, laughing as she ran along the beach.
Something seemed strange, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. A few moments later, I realized why I was on edge. These children were unattended by their parents! My head was unconsciously on a swivel because my first instinct was to make sure they were safe and they had parents to look after them.
But alas, no one was there to look after them, and they were still happily playing. It made me wonder how distrusting my society back in the States had gotten. Either that, or they’re all stuck inside on their electronics devices. Nowadays, it’s unheard of to see children playing outside unattended.
But here in Punta Arenas, it was safe, and people were happy. It was beautiful to think back to my simple and carefree adventures as a kid. I remember going outside every after school and roaming the neighborhood and surrounding state park with my group of friends.
I remember trespassing into areas that had clear ‘No Trespassing’ signs. I remember throwing pennies onto the train tracks and waiting for the train to flatten them. I remember my friend’s mom even had a rule that we couldn’t come home until the sun went down.
Thank you Punta Arenas for letting me remember these beautiful memories.