Thursday, April 18, 2013

Punta Arenas, Chile: South America's Southern-most City

Punta Arenas ("Sandy Point") is the southern-most city on the continent (mainland) of South America. The city has about 131,000 inhabitants, is located on the Straight of Magellan, and was founded a little more than 150 years ago. It was Chile’s first permanent settlement in Patagonia.

Just as an aside, I do not understand how Punta Arenas can claim to be the southern-most city in South America. Here is what I found at the CruiseCritic web site ; "

"Little can prepare you for your arrival into the southernmost city in the world, the city closest to Antarctica, the city bordered by the last peaks of the Andes mountains and the Beagle Channel (named for Charles Darwin's ship, HMS Beagle), the city surrounded by lakes and bays, forests and glaciers, the city in which a sunset can bring tears to your eyes and make believers out of heretics. This is Ushuaia, a one-time penal colony, Fin del Mundo, the end of the earth."
I have no way to resolve the issue: Which city is truly the southern-most city on the South American continent? It really doesn’t matter since both are very remote, very distant, and very southerly.

Chilean Patagonia is "the southernmost province of Magallanes, the waterway of Seno ltima Esperanza ("Last Hope Sound"), and the infamous misnomer, Tierra del Fuego ("Land of Fire"). It is one of the least inhabited areas in South America, cut off from the rest of the continent by two vast ice caps and the Strait of Magellan. The only links with the north are via air or water—or through Argentina" (p. 375, Fodor’s South America).

Because of cattle ranches, mining, and wood production, Punta Arenas experienced an economic and social boom at the end of the 19th century (1850 to 1914). It was the development and use of the Panama Canal (in 1914) that caused the port to no longer be an important stop on trade routes. Also, wool from New Zealand and Australia competed with wool from Chile, and helped diminish, if not destroy, that market.

We were tendered in from the ship (a mere 10-minute ride). The Adonis (a much smaller passenger ship than ours) was able to dock, but because of the size of the Star Princess, we could not.

Although we were told to fill out and carry with us a Chilean immigration paper, it was never asked for, looked at, or collected as we hurried through the passenger terminal.

Immediately when we disembarked and moved through the passenger terminal, we turned right on Avenda Del Estrecho and angled off at once on Lautars Navarro. We were told by the saleslady in the port handicraft store, to follow this street for 3 blocks, then turn left for 2, to get to the Plaza Muñoz Gamero Calso known as the Plaza de Armas)—the central square.

You can tell when you have arrived at the Central Plaza because it is surrounded by a canopy of pine trees which shade the entire area. Also, there is a bronze sculpture in the middle that commemorates the voyage of Hernando de Magellanes. Our Princess Port Guide says that Magellan’s ship "was literally blown through the strait that also bears his name by a series of gales in 1520."

We looked for the shiny toe of Clafate, one of the Fuegean statues at the base of the monument, which our port guide, Joe May, told us that if you plant a kiss on the toe, it will one day bring you back to Punta Arenas. First, we thought the toe would be full of germs, and, second, we hoped we would never return! —so, we did not take the chance of kissing the toe.

We had an early breakfast, spent less than 5 minutes waiting for a tender, and the ride in took a mere 10 minutes. This was an advantage, because we arrived in the city before most of the ship’s passengers, and although many of the small shops around the square were just getting their merchandise out for display, the square was largely vacant and my wife could get some nice pictures of the statue of Magellan. One thing that impressed us here was how clean it was.

The small stands (most in wooden wagons with their goods displayed on heavy 3-foot by 10-foot metal tables just in front of the cute wagons, sold woolen items (e.g., hats, scarves, gloves, and sweaters), Andean textiles, as well as jewelry (e.g., the violet Lapis Lazuli, a native stone), hand-tooled leather items, and handicrafts, as well as many souvenirs—a large number showing penguins (they have a large colony of more than 120,000 Magellanic (Jackass) Penguins 35 miles northwest from the central city area, on the bleak shores of Otway Sound.

Seeing the penguins in Punta Arenas requires a boat trip to the Monumento Natural Los Pingüinos, and once there, the penguins are everywhere==="wandering across your path, sitting in burrows, skipping along just off the shore, [or] strutting around in packs" (p. 305, Fodor’s).

We were forewarned that the odor on the island can be extreme, and although it’s usually windy, you want to hope for more to help diminish the odor.

Our port guide, Joe May, told us to follow Boras Street off the main plaza. It was approximately four or five blocks up to the lookout/overlook. We knew we were in the right place by the 4 or 5 tour buses already lined up, the number of vendors displaying their wares, and the height of the overlook. It was truly a spectacular view.

By the time we returned to the Central Plaza, one side was lined with about 6 tour buses, and the Plaza was teeming with activity. We sat on one of the many wooden benches to relax, watch, and listen to a local singer lip sink to a variety of American recording artists—including the Righteous Brothers’ "Unchained Melody."

We found the Plaza wonderfully relaxing. The sky was blue, there was bright sunshine, almost no breeze, and the temperature was close to 50-degrees. I need another essay on Punta Arenas to talk about the buildings around this park and a little about its history.

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The Chili, Punta Arenas, website offers a brief history of this city:

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Copyright April, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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