Patagonia: Puerto Natales & the Fruit Smuggling Incident

Country Chile | City PuertoNatales | Dates May 19-21 | Accommodation Puma House

My Patagonia adventure continued to Chile, on the bus from El Calafete to Puerto Natales. It was about 5+ hours, through the now-familiar rolling landscapes of mountains peaked with snow, green and yellow grasses, too-blue lakes, and more wildlife than imagined (LOVE!)). 

Rio Turbio seen through bus window in Patagonia near border of Argentina and Chile.
Terrible window photo of the town.

On the ride I saw ostrich, guanacos (like llamas), sheep, condor, big ducks (not sure the scientific name), cows, and horses. Many an estancia, too. There were small red huts roadside, some littered with water bottles, which research tells me are actually shrines to two specific people. 

We passed a small mountain town, Rio Turbio, next to an industrial area with gas mining. Homes and streets were set on the hill above, opening their way to the mountains.

“American Stupid”

The Argentina side of the border was small and disorganized; they didn’t even use a computer just slowly wrote down all our documentation by hand. We crossed the border at a small crossing point, Dorethea, on the Chilean side which was slightly nicer. A teenage girl began singing “American stupid” to the tune of Greenday’s “American Idiot” under her breath, which I can only assume was in reference to me. It should be noted at this current time I was NOT in fact doing anything dumb nor hobo-like. [Later I spooned straight caramel on the bus, but no one saw me and that is not the point].

And Then I Accidentally Smuggled “Plant Material”

The trouble started at the baggage scanner. They pulled my bag out to search (happens a lot), and I feared the would confiscate my travel shell collection (also happens a lot).

Rejected customs form!

A minute later the customs man pulled from my bag my orange, stolen from the hostel, and made a “no” finger. He then made me REDO my entire customs form to officially declare I was trying to bring plants into the country! I tried to explain in bad Spanish that it was an accident, but he wasn’t having it. Unable to even specify it was just a mistake orange, I had to check the “plant and animal material” box as if I was smuggling in a forest, and my crime is in writing forever. The bus driver also suddenly materialized and shook his head at me sadly.

Downtown Puerto Natales

Cafe Kaiken in Puerto Natales
View inside cafe

Eating lamb in Puerto Natales Patagonia
Lamb [dead]
Upon arrival I treated myself to some real food, at a local spot Cafe Kaiken. Thinking “when in Patagonia” I went ahead and ordered lamb ravioli in a red wine sauce; not my typical choice but why the heck not. After, I warmed myself by the hostel stove as I sadly digested the dead baby lamb. I started my exploration of Puerto Natales on the main road, heading towards the ocean. Brightly colored 1-story houses packed together lined the side streets, including a sunny-yellow church, and a view of breathtaking snow-peaked mountain and oceans guided me forward. Larger rogue dogs than the last town threatened me at every turn. I remained vigilant, hands up at all times and ignored them.

I soon spotted an old/rundown boat in the water and went after it. After wandering

Wishing I had my real camera with me.

through some neighborhoods and maze-like streets, I found myself smack dab in front of the boat (I am great at navigation…if a photo is inspiring me that is). I arrived JUST moments before the sun moved behind a cloud.

On my way back up I took an alternate route, spotting those travel treasures like a jacket-ed child playing in the street, men working on a huge, blue-and-yellow wooden boat (obviously peered in ajar gate) and a closer look at the bottles and trinkets dotting the windows of local houses.

I went to the supermarket, successfully asked “where are the eggs” in Spanish, and asked if I could buy a few rather than the create of 24 (I could, obviously, not sure why I asked). Next I stopped in a few shops, as the town was more alive than expected even in the off season and things were open. My last stop was for a drink at the town’s first local brewery, Bagueles, which was recommended by a fellow hostel-goer in PN that I walked to the bus station with in the 7am dark.

Unexpected Street Festival
High school parade in Puerto Natales
Day of the dead themed dance and song

Earlier in the evening I saw stalls being set up for what I assumed was a street festival. Despite the freezing weather, I peer pressured myself to go check it out. Actually it was a high school “homecoming” type parade with massive floats. Each truck had a huge image of the nominated girls’ face, and in between each float were group performances. There was some awesome dancing, girls in small outfits (thongs in 20 degrees), a Coco theme group, and bands of students playing predominately drums. It was music and madness, in the wet, mid-lined post-rain streets. Not what I was expecting, but an experience to be had. 

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