Story by Mel Gee Henderson
“Sorry, Your Flight Has Been Cancelled!” Not exactly the words we wanted to hear!
Punta Arenas, Chile ~ Have you ever been stranded at an airport in a foreign country due to inclement weather? After our three-week exploration of Chilean Patagonia, covering the astonishing Torres del Paine National Park, as well as the mind-expanding Australis cruise expedition through the Strait of Magellan comprised of the mythical and challenging Cape Horn, an almost vertical 425 meter high cliff discovered in 1616, we were definitely beginning to feel the longing for a more familiar environment called home. That homesickness was only fueled further by a wonderful invitation we received from Sergio Solar Ramirez and Paola Milosevic, Co-Founders and Directors of Punta Arenas’ newest Boutique Hotel, La Yegua Loca. Yes, it fueled our ESCAPESEEKER team’s longing for home because that’s exactly what it feels like–a cozy, warm, comfortable familial home.
We elected to depart Las Torres Patagonia one day earlier than planned so we could take in their new hotel, and also enjoy the convenience of already being in Punta Arenas, where we were set to begin our journey back to the U.S.A. the very next afternoon, via Chile’s capital of Santiago. Sounds like a great plan right?Well enter, Mother Nature. More on that later, but first let me tell you about this charming 8-suite hotel nestled on the hilltop overlooking Punta Arenas. It is an artistically curated living museum–a living legacy, a hotel that pays homage to the incredibly courageous pioneer ancestors who carved this untamed region of the world, which by the way did not receive the nickname “El Fin del Mundo” (The End of the World) for no apparent reason. It is literally on the very southern tip of the South American continent! But how can we refuse the invitation to explore Punta Arenas when everything I had read from guide pamphlets made it sound like a ready-made ESCAPESEEKER script as illustrated below, that merely needed some slight tweaking:
Live the adventure of navigating the main natural route between the two largest oceans of the world: the Strait of Magellan, whose coasts are formed by the extreme south of the American continent and the island of Tierra del Fuego. On the banks of this mythical inter-oceanic passage is Punta Arenas, where you can experience the charm of a small European town in which a cosmopolitan population, an interesting history and modern facilities are combined with a wide range of tourist attractions, including one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world! [Pictured below] We invite you to be part of the history of the Magellan immigrants who formed this beautiful city and infused with their customs and traditions.
“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” – Alex Haley
“Bienvenido a Nuestra Casa”
After a long, albeit pleasant journey from Torres del Paine National Park to Punta Arenas with our new friend, Martina Ablinger, she introduced us to Paola Milosevic, a beautiful native Chilean with a warmth, smile and disposition so kind, she defied the chilly, rainy day that greeted us as we entered the city.
Paola gave us a thorough tour of La Yegua Loca, even giving us the option to select the room we preferred, as she explained the motivations behind each individually designed suite:
“The Hotel and Pulpería La Yegua Loca is a dream born from the passion and love we feel for this wonderful land. It was here, in the mid-1800’s–at the end of the world–where Croatian, English, Chilotes, and many other courageous pioneers and explorers who brought their traditions and combined their efforts to conquer, and reshape the destiny of the Magellanes region, bequeathing an invaluable social and cultural wealth for future generations, of which I am part. Our grandparents were Croatian pioneers. Our parents were born here, and this is the land where we grew up, amongst the simplicity, yet often difficult country life. We learned to work hard, respect the land, and revere our family’s traditions. With our Hotel and Pulpería La Yegua Loca, we want to share and impart the true essence of our culture.”
Paola continued to describe: “Our eight suites have been designed to represent either a typical job or a ranch area such as The Shearing Shed, The Coachman , The Orchard, The Blacksmith, The Dairy, The Carpenter, The Stable and The Braider. We included these traditional, familiar occupations, and places of the ranch, displaying them in an innovative and artistic way to surprise and delight you with our treasured, family antiques.
LA YEGUA LOCA PAYS HOMAGE TO THEIR ANCESTRAL ROOTS
Being with Paola, and hearing her speak proudly of her grandparents and parents who paved an exemplary path for her to follow, I am quickly reminded of another quote from “Roots” author and dear friend, Alex Haley with whom I had the honor and privilege to work in the early 90’s on a special PBS Series “Ancestors,” wherein he expressed, “The family is our refuge and our springboard; nourished on it, we can advance to new horizons. In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
Paola admits, “We painstakingly remodeled this heritage home which was built in 1929. We instantly fell in-love with its hilltop panoramic view of our historic and colorful Punta Arenas, the Strait of Magellan, and Tierra del Fuego. We want all our guests to truly comprehend what it is like to reside at the end of the South American continent!”
“When the weather is good, it is really good. When it is bad, well, you have no choice but to just wait it out, and at La Yegua Loca, you know they’ll pamper you! Besides, it will give you the opportunity to sample all of the Chef’s delicious, native Chilean dishes. ” ~ ESCAPESEEKER
Now back to my WEATHER STORY entitled, BLESSING IN DISGUISE.
For those of you who don’t remember your grade school history and geography lessons, there is a region of the Antarctic Ocean known as the Drake Passage–the treacherous stretch of ocean between the southern tip of South America (at Cape Horn) and the northernmost reaches of Antarctica. There, the otherwise unimpeded waves of the vast Southern Ocean squeeze through the relatively narrow and shallow bottleneck of the Drake Passage, and in the process, generate complicated, unpredictable and often brutal weather. Well, we got a taste of Mother Nature’s unpredictable side when we tried to depart Punta Arenas as scheduled on our LAN flight to Santiago, Chile where we would then catch our connection back to the USA. The otherwise pleasant, efficient Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Presidente Carlos Ibáñez) [ PUQ] serving the city of Punta Arenas was totally socked in with dense fog–flights could neither safely land, nor take off. And, because of high amounts of tourism into Patagonia’s National Parks, the airport handles a large number of passengers daily. So, there we were, waiting in long lines amongst strangers – other stranded passengers – waiting to receive new future flight assignments. Well, some of us did not remain strangers for long. I felt compelled to ask another friendly American family, Dr. and Mrs. Pat Beaumier who were also traveling with their teenage son, Nick if they needed a place to stay for the night. Plus, we met this super friendly Canadian, Calvin Hass who was wrapping up a very exciting multi-country South American adventure, if he too, needed a home for the evening. I was so enamored with La Yegua Loca that I couldn’t think of a better place to be on this cold, foggy night. Thankfully, Paola had given me her private mobile number just in case we were not able to depart as scheduled. So, I called her, woke her, and explained what had happened. Then, I kindly asked, “May I bring a few extra friends home?”
Paola, not only acquiesced, she offered a “special friend’s rate” and then even returned to the hotel so that she could welcome me, and our newfound friends properly, with true Chilean hospitality, making sure everyone was comfortably settled in after our long, surprising day.
Having the extra day or two in Punta Arenas gave us all more time to explore this historic city, and also spend more time getting to know each other. It wasn’t long before the entire hotel was reverberating with laughter and story after adventure story shared. I realized this would have never happened had we all not been stranded at PUQ–Punta Arenas’ airport. And, had Paola not given me her private mobile number, I would not have known to bring them “home” with me. Yes, Mother Nature granted us a “Blessing in Disguise.” Interestingly enough, one of my newfound friends would bear the name of “Blesie?” Lesson Learned? “No matter where you go, be the kindest person you know,” because you may soon discover that you have just gained some new brilliant friends who also share your indefatigable passion for travel!
It only seems apropos that Punta Arenas magically bids us farewell with a stunning rainbow on the eve of our departure, as if to signal, “Yes, your LAN jet will be free to soar safely across these Patagonian skies once again!”
Where is our next reunion Blesie, Pat and Nick Beaumier? I’m fairly confident that we can convince our Canadian friend, Calvin Hass to join us. And, between Calvin and our photographer Miristi Gee, the entire adventure will certainly be stunningly documented with countless images.
For those of you who are traveling to Punta Arenas and wish to experience Paola Milosevic’s and Sergio Solar Ramirez’s new beautiful boutique hotel, better book it now. With only 8 suites, you don’t want to take any chance that you’re going to miss out on one very special, and may I add, delicious experience!