How did a police officer become part of the history of aviation?
The current flight is only a stopover on the way back to Santiago after my holidays in Patagonia. However, cute, minuscule, history-full PNT airport deserves a report of its own.
Besides, I'm not wasting 187 kilometers that can be added to the kilometer count on my profile page! XD
This is flight 5 of 9 in this series. The reports for flights 1, 2, 3, and 4, are also available.
But before we board the plane, I am glad to invite you to cross the border to Argentina and behold the overwhelming beauty of Perito Moreno glacier, a huge - HUGE - river of ice that rises almost 80 meters above your head.
If you'd rather skip the bonus, please use ↑the links above↑
Pre-Flight Bonus - Puerto natales and Perito Moreno Glacier
The access to Puerto Natales is guarded…
…by the imposing figure of this ancient local herbivore…
…the milodon. We visited one of its dwelling places - the milodon's cave - in a previous report. Remember?
Tourism is the main activity here…
…mostly during summer, because it's the headquarters for anyone visiting Paine Towers National Park, 100km north.
Remember we are in Patagonia. The town lies by the sea (by Señoret Channel, to be exact)…
…but only a mad man (or swan) would dare to swim in those frigid waters.
The largest buildings are on the seafront, like the Indigo Hotel…
…or the Costaustralis Hotel.
These fingers are a testimony to the Chilean lack of creativity. Ever since a Chilean artist came up with this idea for a sculpture in Uruguay, fingers have popped up all along the country.
At least someone had a more original idea.
Downtown (centro) is to the right. Let's go.
Most streets in Puerto Natales look like this. Silent and empty.
Downtown is a bit more active…
…but mostly in the evening, when tourists…
…have come back from their tours around Paine Towers, or Argentina.
That wooden building with a red roof is the handicraft market. Small, expensive, and with a limited variety of products.
Chelech is a department store. I think that Chelech is the Spanish spelling of the Croatian name Čilić. Lots of Croatian immigrants in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
Unimarc, on the left, is a chain of supermarkets. So you see, you'll find anything you need in the town. There are also two banks and ATMs.
The traditional Plaza de Armas does not attract many visitors.
It's just too cold all year long! Though the thermometer is hitting a "scorching" 24°C today! XD
Let's playSpot the milodon!
The day of my tour to Perito Moreno glacier a van picks me up at about 6 a.m. We'll cross the border into Argentina, and then travel for about 4 hours to El Calafate, a town some 80km from the glacier.
7km north of Puerto Natales is the airport.
We'll get to know it very well in this report.
I love the landscape, the immense spaces of Patagonia. So much air! Such beautiful clouds!
I would run to the top of those hills and sing like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music…
… ♪ ♫ the trees are aliiiive ♩ ♬ ….. XDD I'm ecstatic.
We arrive in Cerro Castillo in matter of minutes. For some unknown reason, this town on the border is wrongly labeled "Torres del Paine" in Google Maps. This bookstore/cafeteria might seem a little expensive at first, but then you realize that their sandwiches are really large! One can be shared by two. They have some very good books about the local flora and fauna. I bought a wonderfully illustrated field guide about Chilean birds here.
Some introduced species have to deal with the cold wind.
Chilean customs. Visiting the restrooms here is a good idea. Still 4 hours to the glacier!!
We wait at the border gate until it's our turn to go through customs.
Inside, that sign by the door draws my attention. The Spanish and English versions are different: In English, "Please ring the bell." In Spanish: "Press the button ONCE." I think that Chileans are an impatient bunch.
Suddenly I hear some kind of commotion outside. A child exclaims un zorriiiiiitoooo!!! And yes, a fox has become a superstar outside.
But it's not domestic at all.
It comes for some bread crumbles…
…but won't let anyone get close to it. It stalks, picks the bread…
…and hurries back to that spot. I wish they'd stopped feeding it. They're going to make it sick!
The gate opens for us and we keep going until we can see the exact point where Chile…
…comes to an end.
Gee, Argentina! You either don't care much for your border crossings, or you just want to keep us away. :'(
A couple kilometers ahead we stop…
…at the Argentine customs office.
The road ahead of us.
Luckily, the paved road is not far, according to this map. (We are at the place marked as Cancha Carrera). Even so, I am shocked at how scarce paved roads are around here.
The red lines are paved roads. The blue lines are gravel roads (like this one). The green lines are "natural" roads (so there's something worse than this border crossing??!!), and the black lines are "natural with improvements". The yellow lines are just tracks ("huella" basically means " footprint"). Can anyone please tell the Argentine government that Argentina deserves better roads??? >:(
We continue on the gravel road for other six kilometers, feeling lucky that we are not on a yellow line.
We come to route 40, which will lead us north east…
…with a view on the distant mountains in Torres del Paine National Park.
Later that day, the Argentine tourist guide will joke about the "boring" Argentine Patagonia. I don't find it boring at all!
I guess she has never been to Atacama! That's boring! But at the moment I am enjoying the rolling landscape…
…and the occasional shades of green in the brown vastness…
…and the sheep, cows, and other animals.
La Esperanza (The Hope) is the only (desolate) town we find on the way.
I'm in the mood for some ñandú-spotting…
We never lose sight of the mountains.
Then comes an incredibly long descent into the valley of river Santa Cruz, which has been carved this deep by regular catastrophic floods.
And here we are at last. A police control outside El Calafate.
El Calafate is an important tourist destination…
…because it's the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park…
…and to other natural attractions.
After this roundabout…
…San Martín Avenue leads downtown.
I hope this is not a reference to the national economic situation!
No time to stop at the town. We have to be back at the border by 7 p.m., before the custom offices close! I can only take some photos from the bus. Nice little town, isn't it?
From El Calafate we continue west for another hour. These are the eastern limits of the forests of lenga trees that stretch from the Pacific coast.
We are coming to this round peninsula called Magallanes (Magellan). All that water is Argentine Lake. The glacier splits the lake into two sections. The lower part is called Brazo Rico (Rico arm)
I can already see the Rico arm of Argentine Lake.
Finally, the park entrance…
…where our guide gets the tickets for all of us. Foreigners pay 500 ARP (18 USD), far below the 21000 CLP (32 USD) that foreigners have to pay at Paine Towers in Chile.
From the park entrance there are some 30km to the glacier.
As you see here, the road winds around the south shore of the peninsula, along the Rico arm.
Look! The first ice floes! The glacier is near!
We keep going.
Suddenly, Perito Moreno comes in sight!! But it's only the top that we can see for some seconds.
We keep going.
And there it is!! The south side of Perito Moreno! Woooow!!!
Far in the distance…
…all that ice…
…flows from the so called Campos de Hielo (Ice Fields)…
…shared by Chile and Argentina.
We make it to the lookout at last.
The cafeteria and souvenir shop.
As soon as the guide gives instructions to the group I run to my first face-to-face encounter with the glacier. I'm awe-struck.
There's a maze of metal paths at different heights from which you can see the glacier from all imaginable angles.
I took hundreds of photos from the lookout. Too bad I can leave only a couple here.
On the left is the place where the tip of the glacier blocks the water from the Rico arm…
…from flowing to the north. Once in a while the tip collapses due to the pressure of the water…
…as shown here.
The north side of the glacier.
But this is not the end of the visit. A boat will take us all along the north side of the glacier. For this we have to run to the dock at the end of the metal path. And I say run, because the path turns out to be much longer than expected!
The guide told us it was a 10-minute walk to the dock. It turns out to be a 20-minute race!!
Gosh. I'm gasping. I thought I wouldn't make it!
That was long.
We board the Cruz del Sur (Southern Cross)…
…and the show begins.
The glacier is like a kaleidoscope.
The colors change. The shapes change. Continually!
It becomes lighter or darker, depending on the sun, on a passing cloud.
It melts and breaks and moves. It's never the same.
We go all the way to the other side of the lake and back.
The trip comes to an end after some 40 minutes.
No need to go all the way back to the lookout. Our bus is waiting nearby.
And we start our long way back to Chile. Now I can see Argentine Lake…
…as we cross El Calafate again.
…and these… wild geese (?)…
…are the last things I remember before I fall asleep, hypnotized by the deep golden hues of Patagonia in the evening.
A Police Officer With His Eyes in the Sky
Back in 1945, Lieutenant Julio Gallardo, the first carabinero (police officer) to have qualified as a civil pilot, was assigned to work in Puerto Natales.
Aware of the need to improve the town's connectivity (the only way to get to Puerto Natales by air was on seaplanes) he founded the local club aéreo (flying club), whose members built the first runway there. This implied finding a suitable place and cutting down the forest. Over the following years that runway would serve "fat cats" like LAN (now LATAM) and the Chilean Air Force.
Some years later Lt. Gallardo was transferred to a new assignment in San Felipe, north of Santiago. On April 3, 1953, he was in service piloting an Aeronca L-3B Grasshopper, property of the Club Aéreo de Carabineros, which, according to its airworthiness certificate, had been completely repaired and its motor checked.
Something went wrong and Lt. Gallardo's plane ended up crashing vertically.
…to Teniente (lieutenant) Julio Gallardo Airport (PNT)…
…where I'll board flight LA2 to Santiago…
…with a stopover in Punta Arenas…
…after some fantastic holidays in Patagonia.
As you might have read in my previous report…
…PNT was recently renewed.
How do you like it?
PNT is one of those airports conveniently located on a main road…
…in this case the road that connects Puerto Natales and the national park.
Fences can't stop the advance of nature, which claims the pavement little by little.
Even though Puerto Natales is the gateway to nothing less that Paine Towers National Park, which gets thousands of visitors from all over the world every year, no commercial flights landed here until the LCC Sky Airline started regular flights to PNT in 2008. I found this old piece of news in some dusty corner of the Internet announcing three weekly flights:
As the article says, there was joy among the local authorities over the arrival of Sky Airline, which brought the isolation of this town to an end.
However, Sky would soon renew its 737-200 fleet, and PNT's 1800mt-long runway would become too short for their new A320 aircraft. Anything but joyful, the local Tourism Board and the Chamber of Commerce sent a angry letter to the government in 2013, complaining for their failure to fulfill their promise to modernize the airport.
So, that would be the main reason for this stopover at PUQ.
Let's have a look at this new PNT inside.
Oh, by the way, this little memorial makes much more sense to me now that I know Lt. Gallardo's story.
Those two carabinas (carbines) are the symbol of Carabineros de Chile, the Chilean police force. It's very moving how Gallardo's life of service and his love for flying are linked together here.
PNT is designed for the beastly weather of Patagonia.
You don't want to open a front door and see everyone inside blow away!
Let's look around the main hall.
On the left, baggage claim.
President Bachellet taking credit for something that started before she assumed.
The only shop airside. Some snacks and souvenirs.
Restrooms and safety check at the bottom right.
Boarding room is behind that wall.
Última Esperanza (Last Hope) is the name of the province we are in now. Yes. Patagonia is full of depressing names. In this case, Spanish explorer Juan Ladrillero tried to reach the Strait of Magellan navigating along a certain fjord, but it was in vain and he gave up. He called that fjord Last Hope.
No baggage to check. Let's go airside. As you see, no one else in line.
The other side of the Última Esperanza ad. So that's the name of that sculpture: Monumento al Viento (Monument to the Wind). I should have guessed! XD
Our gate today. The only one, actually! XD
On both sides, the attractives of nearby provinces are advertised. Tierra del Fuego (meaning Fireland) is the island that makes up the southernmost tip of South America. It's shared by Chile and Argentina.
The so-called Province of Chilean Antarctica encompasses the Antarctic Peninsula. This might cause some international quarreling in the future, I'm afraid. Britain and Argentina also claim that territory as their own.
Five small displays tell about the beliefs and lifestyle of some original unhabitants of the area. They say nothing about the way in which most of these peoples were hunted down to extinction, as if they had been animals.
But I'm leaving photos of the five displays here anyway.
A chilling example of the way Chilean, Argentine, and European cattle farmers exterminated the original inhabitants of Patagonia is the Selk'nam genocide. If you follow the link, my suggestion is that you right-click on the page and translate it to your language. The English version is terribly incomplete.
Belt barriers are already in place.
Surprise! We'll board the old fashioned way today…
…with different queues for the front and rear seats. Precisely when we don't need it because there's no jetway that can get clogged with passengers.
There's a tiny cafeteria. And restrooms by the side. It will be a good idea…
…to pay them a visit.
As you enter the restrooms (or exit them, depending on the urgency) you can learn about the origin of the pattern used to decorate the airport.
…has just arrived.
I found a way to get a photo of the whole plane from the boarding room. XD
Passengers from SCL disembark.
Something tells me this is the crew's first time at PNT!
You see? I'm not the only one impressed by the landscape.
We queue up along the provinces.
A life of privileges might imply a degree of loneliness. XD
Salida (exit). We also have the word éxito, but it means success. False friend. (And don't forget that accent on the e, because exito means I excite)
A jetbridge would be essential if PNT were open all year long!
Arrivals and baggage claim.
Does it always take this long for airlines to update their aircraft livery?
…our FA here deals with a problem. A young foreign couple with a little child couldn't find three seats together. The parents are sitting on different sides of the aisle and the child is seating in another row! They think they could swap seats with other passengers. The problem is that the FA doesn't know what seats will be available after some passengers have disembarked and others have boarded in Punta Arenas. At a certain point the husband tells his wife very rudely to shut up. The passengers around them give him a look of reproach. She picks her laptop and concentrates in it, red in the face, and stays silent for the rest of the flight. I'm very sad for her.
The middle seat is still empty. Thise are the feet of the husband of the year.
Ready to leave.
Some details of this flight.
Pushback. Those guys won't have more work until tomorrow, I think.
After a very sceninc taxiing to the runway…
…a very scenic rolling to the head of the runway…
…a very scenic U-turn…
…and a very scenic wait…
…we have a very scenic takeoff with a view of some of the dozens of vans taking tourists to Paine Towers…
The airport of the flying police officer.
We leave the road to Paine Towers…
…banking to the left…
…above Señoret channel (that name revolts me after reading about that murderer)
Now we see Admiral Montt Gulf…
…before we climb above the clouds.
But we never climb…
…which is the highest altituded…
…registered by flightradar24.com
This allows for…
…of the land below.
We have strong turbulence…
…but far from being scared…
…all the children onboard seem to be having a great time…
…because they won't stop laughing!
Those white lagoons below…
…are an indication…
…that we have arrived at the Strait of Magellan.
Punta Arenas in the distance.
Isabel island and the oil refinery.
Banking to the right…
…above this island with a lighthouse in the middle.
The road to Puerto Natales. It takes 3 hours to get there by car.
This flight took less than 25 minutes!
I'm bracing for a landing as rough as the one last week…
…but this time…
…the wheels give the asphalt the softest kiss. Yes. I'm feeling romantic. So what. XD
Where last week was an Ilyushin, this time there's a Hercules.
Loading or unloading?
Most probably loading, because Punta Arenas is a tax-free zone. I still remember my mother at that supermarket Sánchez & Sánchez) in the tax-free area. Hadn't it been for LATAM's baggage allowance, she would have taken the whole supermarket back home! Really, really low prices.
What a nice livery!
Welcome to PUQ.
I'm not disembarking here…
…but I wish I had…
…because being on that plane…
…for about half an hour…
…was NOT a nice experience!
All the details…
…in the next report.
Thanks for reading! :)
Puerto Natales - PNT
Punta Arenas - PUQ
PNT Recently renewed little airport serving equally small Puerto Natales during the summer months. In spite of its small size, it's enough for the daily flight it has to serve.
LATAM LATAM is the only airline serving PNT from November to March, summer in the southern hemisphere. This flight is a short hop to Punta Arenas, a stopover on the way to Santiago. The service and cabin are the usual for LATAM's domestic flights.
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