Saturday, November 28, 2009

South America Day 10: The Southernmost City in the World, According to Chile

When we awoke we had already arrived at Punta Arenas, well up inside the Strait of Magellan. For some odd reason the ship wasn't anchored; it just kept shuffling back and forth along the center of the harbor.

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There's a lot of sky out today!

Dad and I aren't going on an official tour; we just planned to walk around the town and see what it's like. About midmorning we moseyed down to the Deck 7 casino to get tickets to ride the tenders ashore. On the way down, we heard an announcement: "The crew will be having an emergency practice drill." When we arrived at the casino there were no employees in sight! We assumed they were off doing their drill, but fortunately a fellow passenger came by and clued us in. It turned out that you don't need tender tickets after the first rush, which had already left. We just needed to go down to Deck 3 and wait our turn.

The water felt way choppier in the little lifeboat than on our big old cruise ship. We chugged in a long way, and they let us out right in front of a little tourist welcome center. Delightfully, there was an internet cafe right in there; we instantly logged on like addicts looking for a fix. (If we'd gone farther into town we might have found a better rate than the $2-per-30-minute rate here, but the price is so much cheaper than what it costs on the boat that it seemed very reasonable!) We spent maybe 45 minutes reconnecting with the world.

Next, we muddled our way through customs inspection, where we got in line right after an enormous shipful of tourists, toting all their luggage and arriving in the country for the first time. At last we were through, and loose in Chile for what, now that I think of it, is our last day here.

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Punta Arenas bills itself as "the most Austral city in the world" - aka the farthest south. This is one of those debatable points - it's certainly the largest city anywhere near this far south - their population is more than 130,000, and the next bigger city is almost 500 miles farther north. On the other hand, Ushuaia (in Argentina) is over a hundred miles farther south, but it only has 64,000 inhabitants. It's a definitional question.

Punta Arenas is one of those thin cities like Valparaiso, sandwiched between the coast and the hills. A statue of Bernardo O'Higgins

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waved us inward and upward as we climbed a steepish sidewalk to the main street. The architecture has a frontier flavor,

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but I guess they live in the 20th century too: I spotted the logo of a familiar security company on one house:

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(We use ADT at our library too.)

A lady at the visitors' center had given us a map with some of the local attractions marked on it, so we walked six blocks to the east and arrived at the charming town square

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whose centerpiece is a large statue of Ferdinand Magellan:

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Notice the shiny foot of the able seaman sitting crosslegged on the lower part of the pedestal? Apparently the thing to do is to kiss it. I declined.

There was a curios/handicrafts/flea market set up on tables around the square; I wandered among them but didn't buy anything. Instead, I kept a lookout for the town dogs. Punta Arenas, like Santiago, is well populated with genial Chilean free-range dogs. They are friendly and sociable, and assume they are welcome anywhere including right under one's feet.

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I don't know any of these folks, but the point is, neither does that dog! I saw one dog sleeping beside the curb, all four paws up on the curb and his head lolling in the gutter. I asked him, "Are you alive?" Turned out he was. I saw another, very pretty one, and said "Perro! Perro!" ("Dog! Dog!") to him. He opened his eyes, tucked up a front paw and showed me belly. I patted it - what else could I do?

Dad's knee has been bothering him, so we grabbed a sandwich at the "Downtown Cafe"

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to give him a chance to rest it. After a little more walking he was still in some discomfort, so he elected to wait on a sunny bench while I walked on to see more of the town. The bench he selected was right on a corner where they were holding a tiny political rally, so he could listen to the music and watch the speakers exhorting the crowd (all 12 or so of them).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love how you seek out canines no matter where you go. ;-)