Puerto Natales is what I imagine the world would be after a disastrous cataclysm has swept away from Earth almost entire humanity. The town’s location, its topography, the colours, the quietness and desolation seem all to be the signs of a slow and faithful rebirth by the hand of those few survivors who are trying harder and harder to start all over again. Of course, that is not what happened but it is what it feels like when you walk from one block to the other of this grid-based town.
Set right in the heart of the Magallanes and Antartica region, the town was originally settled by Tehuelche people and later on by European immigrants but was only formally founded at the beginning of the last century. Today, the economy is mainly based on tourism, as proven by the abundance of hotels, hospedajes and restaurants frequented by all those who plan to visit the nearby Torres Del Paine National Park. However, I believe this outpost town deserves more than a one-night stay.
With vast plains, softly golden rounded mountains on the East, and the dark blue water of the Canale Señoret in the fjord of Ultima Esperanza to the West, Puerto Natales is a little secret gem of Chilean Patagonia. Although, I have to admit, there are not many sights, what I believe has to be savoured is the town’s unique atmosphere, which is better experienced strolling the centre as well as the streets on the periphery.
A walk along the Costanera, the waterside road, is an introduction to what hides within the innermost streets. The Monument To The Wind, a busy skate park, old salmon factories and derelict graffitied buildings hosting rusty and decrepit carcasses of old boats, all contribute to the end-of-the-world feeling that is at the core of the town’s character. A couple of blocks east of the waterfront there is Plaza de Armas, the main square with its neat cream, white and ochre Jesuit church guarding a central courtyard with the odd swing, seesaw and others scattered around.
From there, a network of pastel coloured houses extends to the hillier part of town. This almost kaleidoscopic pattern of curved-tin, single storey buildings more than anything has caught the attention of my camera. Contrasting the long, bright-white walls of the Cementerio, the colours of the houses under the austral light add drama yet serenity to the cityscape. Each one has its own annexed guard dog that lazily stares while you pass by.
Maintenance is the order of the day; they all seem to be in a constant state of remaking and rebuilding. Hammering, sawing, banging echo through the streets as a reminder of the industriousness of men who strive against the waywardness of Nature, which in places like Patagonia has supreme power. Sunlight, rain showers, piercing cold winds all randomly alternate, producing the strangest and most unpredictable weather pattern I ever experienced. The light though is divine. Soft and mellow, it throws a veil of natural brightness and melancholy on the landscapes, making them perfect for shooting. After a week spent here, I can definitely say that Puerto Natales grew on me day by day and I do think that it has been the perfect introduction to this magical land called Patagonia.