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The Lighthouse at the Start of the Strait
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The Lighthouse at the Start of the Strait

Wayne Bernhardson

When Ferdinand Magellan first entered the famous strait that now bears his name, he was not on a Patagonia adventure cruise. In late 1520, when his fleet of five ships sailed past what is now Punta Dungeness, at the eastern entrance to what is the most direct route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, he had no lighthouse to guide him. Today, there’s a series of lighthouses to help guide shipping along the Strait, but no other quite so oddly located as the one at Punta Dungeness.

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One day several years ago, I myself visited the Faro Dungeness almost without intending to do so. From Río Gallegos, the southernmost city in continental Argentina, I drove some 120 km on a series of gravel and dirt roads through sprawling sheep farms to Cabo Vírgenes, a protected area with upwards of 120,000 breeding pairs of burrowing Magellanic penguins. There are plenty of other Patagonia excursions where one can see similar penguin colonies in this part of the world, but most visitors who arrive here have the area pretty much to themselves.

Geographically, Cabo Vírgenes is an oddity because it lies along a sliver of Chilean territory, at the end of which only a precarious wire fence separated the two countries. When I visited, there was a hole in that fence and, with some trepidation, I crossed into Chilean territory to be greeted by a naval officer who gave me a tour of the property. Technically, this was illegal but, at the end of a 68-km dirt road that passes through Chile along the shoreline of the Strait, any visitor can be a welcome sight.

Though I was able to cross the border myself for a brief visit, it was impossible to bring my car across. Rather, I had to backtrack to the main highway Ruta 3 and then turn south back into Chile.

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About the author: Wayne Bernhardson

Having spent more than 30 years living and traveling in southernmost South America, Wayne Bernhardson is the author of Moon Handbooks to Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia, and the National Geographic Traveler guide to Argentina. He is also on the editorial advisory board of Patagon Journal, is the South America editor for the website Bindu Trips. Wayne has a PhD in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley, and has done research in Peru, Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands. He resides in Oakland, California, but spends four to five months every year in southern South America, where he owns an apartment in Buenos Aires’s Palermo neighborhood. He can be contacted through www.southernconetravel.com.

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