It is Monday morning and I am walking along the windswept promenade of Punta Arenas with the Magellan Strait on my right side and Tierra del Fuego visible on the horizon. With the local head quarters of the Chilean Navy behind me, I am passing the cut out prow of the Yelcho and the life sized statue for its commander Luis Pardo Villalon, who so famously managed to rescue Ernest Shakelton’s crew just over hundred years ago.
The Yelcho was a very basic whaling ship commissioned and retrofitted by the Chilean Navy. It had no heating or even a radio for communication. Following failed rescue attempts from Australia, Uruguay and Argentina and from some Norwegian whalers based in South Georgia, Luis Prado and his crew with Ernest Shakelton on board finally managed to navigate their way through the ice flows. They reached Elephant Island on 30th August 1916 and rescued the exhausted expedition members without a single loss of life. Back in Patagonia Prado had to use a local telephone further up the coast to inform the Naval headquarter about the successful outcome of his mission.
Punta Arenas continues to be the main port of call for naval, research and sight seeing vessels to Antarctica and it is there the left arm of the commander is pointing at…..
Right opposite of the memorial, looking out to the Sea is a yellow house with the image of a bearded veterinarian painted on the wall and a couple of imaginary cats sitting on a window sill at the first floor.
This is the most Southern branch practice of Veterinaria del Estrecho (Veterinarians of the Strait) and the third most Southern veterinary practice on the Globe (the two most Southern clinics are in Ushuaia on the Argentinian and in Puerto Williams on the Chilenean part of Tierra del Fuego).
I am arriving unannounced but despite a busy schedule of consultations and neutering operations, Mario Oliva, the head vet, is happy to seeing me and I am invited to a brief tour of the practice.
As it is just a branch practice, there is only a small waiting room, a consulting room and a small operating theatre plus a few cages for the recovery of patients after their anesthesias .
The whole set up is very similar to that of branch practices in England and so is the work load here : clients request preventative neutering procedures for their pets and at the same time identification with the help of microchips (for which there is no legal requirement in Chile). Here as well clients are issued with a microchipping certificate and the chip number is recorded in a national database.
A fair amount of pet owners have their dogs and cats regularly vaccinated and I notice that the vaccine fridge on the wall is exactly the same model as was ours in Virginia Water.
A routine consultation here costs circa 18 US $ and the practice offers both inhouse examinations of blood tests and diagnostic imaging with the help of a digital radiography system.
If the findings require further investigation or more detailed interpretation, the practice is seeking on-line support from veterinary specialists in larger Latin American cities like Santiago or Buenos Aires or even from Spain or Portugal.
Saying goodbye to Mario and his friendly team, my journey continues further North to a far less clinical and more adventurous setting …..