Punta Arenas: Magellan, Wind, & Raspberries

What better way to spend the week of Valentine’s Day than picking and eating fresh raspberries, gooseberries, and zarzaparillas? Not to mention the most delicious jams and marmalades you could imagine. Mmmm….

We had our first workaway experience in Punta Arenas, Chile. Workaway is a program/app where you can register to be connected with hosts in need of work help (similar to WWOOFing). In exchange for about 5 or 6 hours of daily work, the host provides a place to sleep and food for meals. It’s a win-win in our opinion – a great way to save money while travelling, and also to get to know the locale a little bit better! Our host’s name was Patricia Delgado Navarro, a local organic fruit farmer with greenhouses and crops on the western edge of Punta Arenas. Patricia is a bit of a genius when it comes to berries, fruit juices, marmalades, and plenty of other edible botany. She’s got her own small business called Amai Kipa – her face is the logo on all of her products.

Amai Kipa is not Spanish (yes, I tried to look it up on Google translate and was confused). It’s actually the language of one of the original native tribes of the Magellanes and Tierra del Fuego regions – the Yaghan. Famously, Ferdinand Magellan passed through the strait that now bears his name in 1520 and they saw constant fires burning along the shorelines. Hence, it became known to Europeans as Tierra del Fuego, or Land of Fire. Punta Arenas sits right on the Strait of Magellan on the Western side, and you can see the island of Tierra del Fuego across the way.

The mornings were usually dedicated to one key task – frambuesas! Aka raspberries.

Patricia has a VAST amount of raspberry bushes. She basically could be picking them every day because if she doesn’t, they get overripe, purple, and smushy. These are decent for marmalades, but not for the fresh fruit selling. We would all pick raspberries and fill the containers, and she would take them to sell and just keep needing more the next day. Apparently there is quite a demand for them – people love their raspberries! And we did too, enjoying snacking from the bushes as we worked. As far as taste goes, we thought these frambuesas seemed sweeter than the ones we buy at the grocery store in the US – not sure if this was a factor of a different varietal/kind of berry or just that they’re extra fresh. Either way, I think David and I will now get an extra little kick out of buying raspberries in the US in the future, remembering how we would come in for lunch each day with fingers and hands stained maroon. HA!

We stayed in a little guesthouse on the farm property that Patricia had for workawayers, a simple cabin with a bathroom, kitchen, wood stove in the living room, and bedrooms with bunk beds. It was lovely! And we weren’t the only workawayers – there are always people coming and going on their own timelines, so we made some new friends in our fellow cabinmates and workers. Katie from Santiago, Chile; Margaux from Bordeaux, France; Siska and Joachim from Brussels, Belgium! Lots of great shared meals, homemade desserts and tartas, and hot beverages. Not to mention life perspectives and conversation – always a plus. Hope to run into these faces sometime again along our elusive travel path.

Patricia speaks English, but she would often only speak to us in Spanish or wait for us to ask her a question in Spanish instead of English. It was a challenge! At times, I would get frustrated because I didn’t understand what she wanted us to do, or I would feel stupid because I forgot how to say something I had just learned the previous day. Overall, though, David and I both agreed that it was better this way because the mental struggle of trying to comprehend and form sentences is really the best way to build those necessary neuroconnections. Still nowhere close to fluent, but we think we’re getting smarter? My Spanish is often still mixed with French accidentally, so I jokingly keep saying that I speak “Franish.” Oy…ALL the languages in my head mixed up in a salad bowl of vowels, consonants, and accents.

Other tasks at our workaway included picking gooseberrries (grosellas), zarzaparillas, weeding out the strawberry quansets, packaging and putting the stickers on the packaging, starting planters with soil made from coconut fibers, boiling and cleaning marmalade jars, and cutting rhubarb. Patricia also found out that David has some carpentry skills, so he was side-tracked for a couple days building planter racks in a greenhouse.

Taste testing all the finished products was the best. Cool note: We got to try El Calafate for the first time! El Calafate is a berry that is native and endemic to this area of the world – it ONLY grows in Patagonia. It looks kind of like a huckleberry or juniper berry, and is tart but tasty. We had a fresh El Calafate juice Patricia had made one day with a bit of sugar and it was a great surprise treat.

We just happened to be there over a weekend where Amai Kipa was signed up to do a medieval fair at a nearby school, and we helped her “man the booth” for a night. It was awesome! Dragons, unicorns, fairies, elves, dwarfs, crystals, mythological stories with evil kings and dashing heroes – it is a fantasy-book-lover’s heaven. Part craft-fair, part Renaissance/madrigal music concert, and part Robin Hood theater show, I was psyched to find out that the whole thing was put on by an organization aptly named the Sociedad Tolkien Magallanes…basically a whole society that loves JRR Tolkien. Yaaaas, sign me up!

Definitely played LotR themes and GoT themes live. Bagpipes, flutes, violins, epicness.

A few notes on the town itself: Punta Arenas is very spread out and there is a small downtown area with some shops, restaurants and bars. It is definitely not as touristy and built up as some other cities we’ve visited. We did go to a few local breweries and took a tour at Cerveceria Austral which is the largest craft brewery we have visited, supplying all of Chile with great packaged beers. We also visited a ship museum called Nao Victoria which had replicas to scale of Magellan’s ship and Darwin’s ship the Beagle. Very cool to climb around on the ships and read about the famous voyages!
There is a nice coastal walkway where the town has built up several parks (Costanera del Estrecho). And oh boy, it. Is. WINDY! We just became accustomed to the wind whistling around the outside of the cabin at night, and could basically lean against it on some days. Often, tour boats or entire day trips are cancelled because the wind is just too much. Part of life here. We didn’t mind it! It is a pleasant difference in our normal lives to have the salty sea smell on the breeze. Made us feel like sailors (almost!).

All in all we liked Punta Arenas but it does feel like a gateway town to go to Tierra del Fuego or north to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine. If anything, that kind of adds to the charm as the people are very straightfoward, no-frill, and content with their identity.

We stumbled upon this cool restaurant that also turned out to be a nanobrewery with 5 kinds of packaged beer! Our amazing seafood sampler of a raw fish medley, spicy shrimp, garlic octopus, creamy scallops, and the piece de resistance: fried king crab chowder!

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