Welcome to Punta Arenas. This is Patagonia and one of the gateways to Antarctica. Punta Arenas is a town that is almost “tucked away” on the Strait of Magellan. To understand how isolated this town is, you only have to look at a map. Surrounded by numerous islands, water and mountains, the people of Punta Arenas have to enter another country (Argentina – 300 kms away) in order to travel by road northbound in their own country! Unless they fly. Do they complain? I don’t think so. If they want to go to the nearby island of Tierra del Fuego, then it’s a two hour ferry.
This town has the fingerprints of Magellan and Sir Francis Drake all across it. Although maybe those two guys aren’t held in the high degree they once were. It’s been discovered that Magellan murdered the local indigenous people and Drake was a pirate! The area shares a strong similarity with Australia in the manner in which its indigenous people were treated. Farmlands were allocated to the new settlers and many of the indigenous inhabitants killed.
Life is tough here with the isolation and the weather conditions however our tourists’ guide Anna, painted a picture of a calm and friendly way of life. However she was not a big rap for the food here as they have limited ingredients with which to work. Mr and Ms X did manage to find a good coffee shop thanks to Anna and some empanadas which were delicious.
The cormorants become the welcoming party as you enter Punta Arenas as are the statues and monuments that remind everyone of the battle to establish a settlement here. The place was thriving back in the day and you know how this story ends – the Panama Canal! The town has also had a love/hate relationship with its neighbour next door, Argentina, particularly during the Falklands War. Chile helped old England out during that dispute and things then became frosty. It’s been almost 40 years and things between these to are just beginning to thaw.
The Monkey Puzzle Tree, which happens to be the national tree of Chile, is found in front of important buildings and even in residential front gardens. It was given that name as it looks like it would be difficult for even a monkey to climb. Very spiky!
Now this place is the 3rd windiest city in the world. How windy you ask? So windy that they installed some rails on their main crossing point on which people cling on to whilst waiting for the lights to change. Previously they used to tie rope around the traffic lights!
There are many beautiful buildings as you walk around town and you can see the English influence. Punta Arenas has the largest Croatian community outside of Croatia. Mr and Ms X are beginning to recognise the melting pot that is, Chile.
The scenery in this country is remarkable and the people are welcoming. It’s so very different to other places these two tourists have visited. Although many places had familiar demonstration-scars on show, Mr and Ms X took the view that this was representing a specific restless time in this country’s history. Other countries may be graffiti-free yet have no gun laws whilst others struggle with immigration policies. Our retirees sometimes struggled with comments made by other tourists in their group which displayed a lack of empathy. When you visit a country you sometimes see a place warts and all and not a rose-coloured glasses view.
So as these two farewell Punta Arenas and also Chile, the reliable cormorants arrived on shore to bid them goodbye. Mr and Ms X are both richer for having been here.