The Southernmost City On America’s Mainland
We decided to break up the trip to Ushuaia and stopped in Punta Arenas for two days, discovering the southernmost city on America’s mainland. What we found was a rather rough place. The town is a wild mix of houses of all shapes and colours. In the very centre there are a few old mansions dating back to turn of the century when Punta Arena was the home of a number of “wool barons”.
The more common sight here are houses made of wood with thin sheets of metals nailed onto them, then the building is painted in the wildest colour. There is a lot of graffiti on houses and some of them seem abandoned. Some windows are secured with metal panels or metal bars, or simply boarded up with a piece of wood. It reminded Heidi a lot of poor, rundown neighbourhoods in the USA, where all these signs clearly signal a “no-go zone”, although here it never felt dangerous. In between is the odd nice house or a fenced in parking lot.
As everywhere in Chile, large groups of stray dogs are roaming the streets, playing with each other or chasing a motorbike. Sometime a dog joins you on your walk. We came across a few drunks or drug addicts lying in the streets, which did not seem to bother anybody. Another common sight is groups of men sitting at street corners, drinking and chatting up people passing by.
Probably the most beautiful place in Punta Arenas is the Cementerio Municipal, a large setting with everything from small untended graves to huge mausoleums. By strolling around we learned a lot about the history of the city. The first thing that struck us where the many Serbian / Croatian names on the tombstones, which means there must have been a large wave of immigrants from this area of Europe. Others told about shipwrecks and the many young men who drowned, one inscription told of a family losing three young children, incredible and heartbreaking stories. In between the lines of graves are lots tall manicured green bushes adding to the tranquil and peaceful ambience.
We also visited Palacio Mauricio Braun, the mansion of one of richest families around 1920. All the rooms are very luxuriously furnished. The building also houses a small, but very interesting museum presenting the history of southern Patagonia, an area where the first humans settled only 11.000 years ago.
Our “home” here is The “Blue House”, which seems to be a popular name: our hostal in Puerto Varas was called Casa Azul. The owner waited for tourists at the bus station and we simply came along, because she gave us a lift in her car. The place was so filthy that we signalled disinterest, so we were quickly moved into her mother’s house. The room is quite nice but without curtains in a region where the sun sets at 11:00 pm and rises at 04:00 am… And in the evening, we still enjoy chatting with other travellers in the common areas in the filthy place.