Give me one reason to stay here ...

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
1
22
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Flag of Chile  , Patagonia,
Sunday, January 15, 2012

...and I'll turn right back around

So my next stop was Punta Arenas because this is where the tour I was joining was starting from. Unfortunately it is a whole day's journey from El Calafate on a couple of buses. So I left Helen, who was flying up to Rio to meet up with her parents and got a bus back to Puerto Natales. No annoying Brazilians, but it did take 6 hours as I had to once again get through the Chilean border and they once again wanted to get all of the bags off the bus. Once in Puerto Natales I then had to catch another bus for 3 hours down to Punta Arenas.
So Punta Areans, which in English means 'Sandy Point’ is the capital city of Chile's southernmost region, Magallanes and Antartica Chilena. The city was officially renamed Magallanes in 1927, but in 1938 it was changed back to Punta Arenas. It is the largest city south of the 46th parallel south. It is 53° south of the equator which is the equivalent of Manchester which is 53° north. It’s called Antartica Chile because they have a claim to a wedge of the continent directly below Chile.

Sitting by the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas was established originally as a tiny penal colony in 1848. During the rest of the 1800s, it became increasingly large and important as international trade across the straits grew and the countryside around experienced a gold rush and a sheep farming boom around 1900. Chile effectively used Punta Arenas to exert sovereignty in southernmost South America leading to the strait of Magellan being recognized as Chilean in the Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina. The geopolitical importance of Punta Arenas has remained high in the 20 and 21th century as the city is important for logistics in the Antarctic peninsula. Since the Falklands War, when transport ties were severed between the Falkland Islands and continental Argentina, Punta Arenas has become a major outside link to the archipelago. The Punta Arenas harbour, although exposed to storms, was considered one of the most important in Chile before the construction of the Panama Canal, because it was used as a coaling station by the steamships transiting between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Today it is mostly used by tourism cruises and scientific expeditions. The city is often a jumping-off point for Antarctic expeditions.

So old (well he’s dead) Magellan then - Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 into a noble Portuguese family. In 1505, he enlisted in the fleet of the Portuguese viceroy to the Indies, and spent the following years involved in a series of Portuguese expeditions in India and Africa. In 1512, Magellan returned to Lisbon, and the following year, he was wounded during an expedition to Morocco, which left him with a permanent limp. After a disagreement with the Portuguese king, in 1517 Magellan went to Spain to try and enlist the Spanish king's support for an expedition to reach the Moluccas by sailing westwards. The Spanish wanted a share in the valuable spice trade from the Moluccas, but the Portuguese controlled the eastwards route round southern Africa. Magellan was successful and in September 1519 set out with a fleet of five vessels. In spite of a mutinous crew, rough weather, scurvy, a desperate lack of provisions and unknown waters, Magellan managed to cross the Atlantic and navigate through the straits at the southern point of South America which were later named after him. There is now a statue of Magellan in the city’s main square.

The city has its roots among the population origin of the European colonists (Croatian and Spanish) that populated the area at mid-nineteenth century. One can also find colonies of descendants of people from other countries , in particular the UK. Croatian immigration in Punta Arenas was a crucial development in the region of Magallanes and the city in particular. Currently, you can see this influence in the names of shops, streets and many buildings. According to some references to 50% of the population of Punta Arenas would be descendants of Croats. This can also be seen by the names on the graves in the cemetary.

The memorial park, also known as Sara Braun’s Cemetery occupies four hectares and, when it opened in April 1894, its location was on the outskirts of town. With the development of the city is now virtually in the central area and easily accessible to visitors.The family names shown on the tombstones give an idea about the cosmopolitan nature of the beginnings of this city, while the splendour of the mausoleums tell about the wealth of the pioneer families who made great fortunes during the boom times of sheep raising and the wool export trade. Sara Braun was one of the city’s major pioneers and she paid for the cemetary to be built. When Sara Braun gave everything for building the entrance of the cemetery, she asked for something. After her death, the central door of the cemetery had to be closed forever. Nowadays, that door is still closed and has not been opened since Sara Braun's death.

Another known legend of the cemetery is the one concerning the "Indio Desconocido". Everything started in 1930 when an Indian died in the Island called Diego de Almagro. The Indian was buried in the cemetery due to a donation from the administration of the same place. After twenty years, someone discovered several candles and coins around the grave. The years passed by and in 1968 the grave were plenty of papers demonstrating gratitude for being helped by the Indian. Moreover, a woman named Magdalena Vrsalovic decided to donate the coins, in order to help the Cruz Roja of Punta Arenas, a Chilean Institution that helps the community in case of difficulties. Therefore, Magdalena and other people agreed to build a monumental grave with the figure of the Indian made by Edmundo Casanova.

The final Punta Arenas bit of trivia I have is that since 1986, Punta Arenas has been the first significantly populated city in the world to be directly affected by the hole in the ozone layer, exposing its residents to potentially damaging levels of ultraviolet radiation. Oh and the other thing is that it has lots of brightly painted buildings so that in the winter when it’s cold and bleak and dark, people won’t kill themselves.

Right so enough of the geography and history of Punta Arenas (sorry Andy there is no religion), well I suppose they have some churches (the cemetary counts doesn’t it?). I am here for three days waiting for the rest of my group to arrive. To be honest three minutes would be too long !! It’s up there with Hull for places you really do not want to get stuck in. The shops are all stuck in 1973 (although yes it does have the obligitory North Face shop). It doesn’t even have a decent selection of fridge magnets. This is my new thing to buy. I decided it was a good idea to collect them from the different places that I go. The logic is that they are not very big and not heavy so are ideal souvenirs. The one thing that I have failed to take into account and acually with some due consideration I guess it is quite important – it’s that I don’t actually have a fridge. But other than that they are great items to have.  So have also got my washing done, cleaned the walking boots and watched a lot of TV.

The worst day is Sunday as most of the shops are shut ...

So Sunday – First of all the problem is that I have had to check out of the place I was staying and I cannot check-in to the group hotel until 3 (have deposited the bag though). So I start wondering around the streets and there is nobody else around except a few fellow travellers who are wondering around as aimlessly as I was. It’s freezing, drizzly and very windy – not even the colourful painted houses can save me. So I head down to the beach and there are some magellan penguins down by the pier which cheers me up a bit. The only place I can find open is a bar down by the port so I settle in for the afternoon.

So am sat in a bar with no other customers in Punta Arenas – it’s Sunday lunchtime and there is no-one else about. Just me in the bar and the waiting staff. I’ve also realised quite how far from home I am. Scotty texted me earlier and I worked out I was 5000km closer to Sydney than I was to the UK. Antarctica is just down the road !! But finally some decent beer (it is past mid-day). So far the beer I have experieced over here has been a bit lacking but Cerveza Austral, which is brewed down here is up there with European lagers.  According to their website Cervecerķa Austral, the southernmost Brewery in the World, is located in the city of Punta Arenas, only 1,120 km away from the Antarctic continen and it’s actually made by penguins. The other thing I must comment is the bizarre mix of music I am experiencing in here . First of all we had a bit of Abba – a little weird to have Waterloo blasting out on a Sunday lunchtime in a bar by yourself, followed up by a bit of Xanadu.  Then I get some 80’s  - they do love a bit of a-ha and Erasure down here (particulary Erasure – I think I’ve heard their entire back catalogue – and that’s just in the supermarket . Then it all gets worse. All the hotels and restaurants seem to have decided that they need to play some jazz. But I am not talking about Miles Davis. It’s where they take decent tunes from the 80’s and 90’s and then give them the jazz treatment. Seriously how can you turn ‘Smells like teen spirit’ into a jazz track. I was so disturbed I looked it up on itunes and there’s these Jazz and the 80’s and Jazz and the 90’s albums (Helen I’ve found them !!).  By 4pm I decide I in severe danger of turning into one of those women who sit by themselves in a bar drinking wine. They’ve just started on the 80’s ballads, I’ve already had ‘Lady in Red’ and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. I’ve got to get out before Eric Carmen’s ‘All By Myself’. Time to check-in, and meet my new group.
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Comments

Mum on

I would suggest that you take your fridge magnets to Iceland (the shop) as you must have hundreds if you have bought one from every place you have visited.
I must admit I cannot keep up knowing which country you are in. Argentina and Chile seemed to have blended into one. Your passport must be full of stamps. Still, it will be a good topic of conversation with Frank, who has the most stamps. Lots of love

Marg on

Thanks for postcard -- i am trying hard to keep up with you - where are you going next? Bit worried about you collecting fridge magnets thats what old age pensioners do!!! - join the gang. Hd some snow yesterday but its melting already thank goodness.xx

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