The next leg of the journey began today, in the twilight setting of all goodbyes (Neruda is working his way into my very breath it seems). Without much support from our program, the Magallaners made it to the airport and onto our plane, which seemed to be a recomissioned German 737 in service since the 80s.
The countryside and Santiago fell away, from densely populated to drought-stressed farms...intensely green cow pastures to mountains devoid of all traces of human life. Fnally the mountains fell away to reveal a barren, scrubby landscape and choppy inlets where whitecaps danced. I instantly noticed the difference in peoople's dress when we got on the plane. The light cotton see-through flowery things purchased from street vendors in Santiago were replaced by big boots, Gore-Tex jackets, and simple earth tones.
Sky Airlines' pilots do not mess around with landing. They come in line, tell the flight attendants to be seated and basically then it's a "everybody hold on, we're coming in" moment. *insert dive bomb sound here*
Landing in Punta Arenas was even more interesting because the pilots made a 90 degree turn in heavy winds just before landing. I was staring at the choppy fjord outside the window and wondering if our wing would skim it, and we literally straightened out about a second before we touched down. It probably looked like one of the landings on that show about Alaskan bush pilots, but with a 737.
The three hour bus ride from the airport to Puerto Natales was a long journey through emptiness. Thank goodness I'm from the Western United States, because otherwise the vastness of the sky and the plains would have been a lot to take in. They still were, but the landscape reminds me of New Mexico or Nevada with random lakes and stretches of sea. Flamingoes sometimes form pink knots in the shallow waters.
What I noticed immediately about Patagonia is the pervasive quiet. I was originally going to say silence, but that isn't exactly accurate...there is the wind and the rain and the occasional barking of dogs. But the quiet commands my attention. People were talking on the bus and I nearly asked them, "Don't you hear the immense quiet? shhhhhhhh!"
That quiet and isolation was summed up in a lone ostrich I saw outside the bus in a field. Everywhere, despite the lack of people to look at, there are traces of human interaction with the landscape. Mostly a fence here or a dirt road branching off our seemingly infinite two-lane highway, but occasionally a shrine to a saint or a tiny town smaller than Fairplay, Colorado.
Though I haven't had much chance to walk around it yet, Puerto Natales appears to be a cute town at the foot of the Torres del Paine. Yes, the picture that is the backdrop for this blog is also the backdrop for my new hometown. Even though I told them to put me anywhere they had an open position in all of Chile, they put me in this town that is just right for me. Destiny has a funny way of working.
Tomorrow I meet my cohorts at school and maybe some of my students! I am very ready and excited to begin.