A Travellerspoint blog


Death in Punta Arenas

sunny 21 °C

Don't worry, this is not a report of my death in Punta Arenas, but it has a cemetery which features strongly as a tourist attraction, and for good reason: I have never seen one like it. I wasn't actually heading there when I found it: I was looking for some lunch, but in a very wandering sort of way. I had decided that the time had arrived for me to finally have a haircut, but didn't quite know how to go about getting one, what with my lack of Spanish and the tendency for English to be thin on the ground. I asked the fellow running my hostel (the rather brilliant Estancia) for advice about finding an English speaking hairdresser. A random hostel guest offered to teach me enough Spanish to ask for what I wanted (my response: "I'm a guy, how do I know?"), or I thought maybe someone could write down some instructions. But Alex, the hostel guy excelled on my behalf: he phoned his hairdresser and gave instructions as to what to do; the hairdresser was extremely careful, and took exacting measurements but ultimately I think I should have asked for "un poco mas" to be cut off as I still had problems seeing when the wind blows (although he did get my beard looking nice).

So after that, I just set off on a general walk, looking for something interesting to eat and noting buildings which caught my interest


and there I am at the cemetery. Space must be short, because they've built it up so that it looks for all the world like a miniaturised motel complex


So, this is one way to end up, in a space not much bigger than a deep drawer filing cabinet, with hundreds of neighbours. I found it quite depressing


But it certainly wasn't all bad - the space had some nice trees


and there were some rather luxurious spots


On my last day in Punta Arenas, I woke to a disconcerting sight: four half naked, gorgeous German women getting their day started. Funnily enough, we ended up in adjacent seats on a ferry later in the day, but they showed no signs of recognition. The ferry was across the Magellan Straight to a wee port town on Tierra del Fuego called Porvenir, a sadly run down spot - I described it as sad to Alex back at the hostel, but he insisted the right word is melancholic. The food places were looking so damaged and neglected that I only ate some bread from a panaderia. The one bright spot was the police: I was walking in to town from the ferry and they were kind enough to pick me up. They even said that if I went up the hill, I'd get some photos but, well, I went up the hill and things didn't look much better from there.

On the way back, I shared a taxi with an older German guy: I don't think he enjoyed his trip very much - his only words to me were about the expense of the taxi (he actually harrumped as he climbed out) and he was clearly not happy to be served instant coffee in the cafe. I took the safe option and drank beer.

Posted by NZBarry 04:01 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

To Punta Arenas (Chile)

sunny 20 °C

Most of the buses leave at a stupid time from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas (and by stupid I mean 5:00 in the morning) and then take around 12 hours to get there. It is only about 250 km as the crow flies, and there is even a road that gets close to being direct, but public transport won't take it. Instead, you have to head north west through Rio Grande and then make a big loop around to the East into Chile and out to the coast. It is about 500 km. I couldn't face doing the trip all in one hit, so caught a minibus up to Rio Grande (noting the distance to Buenos Aires as we left Ushuaia was 3000 km), stayed in a ratty old hospedaje and discovered why Rio Grande has such a bad reputation. It was windy, dirty, covered in graffiti and generally very unpleasant. So after another hamburger at Tante Sara, it was back to the hospedaje - the TV had two channels in English, but they both seemed to confine their showings to Friends, Seinfeld, House and Two and a Half Men. All in all, I was pretty pleased to be out of there the next morning.

People think of Latin American buses as being death traps full of chickens, pigs and about 600 passengers but Argentinian buses are possibly the best in the world (Chilean buses give them a run for their money) with seating better than that found in airplanes, waiter service (some even have wine, but I was never lucky enough) so that travelling around in Argentina is generally very comfortable and fast. I actually took quite a few pictures of the buses at one point but, thanks to a story I'll share later, I no longer have them. Here's a sample I stole from someone else's blog:


As for what you see as you travel around Argentina by bus, here's a fair representation of about 90%:


Every so often you'll see an estancia


or a tiny wee town, comprised mainly of a service station, a tyre repairer, a food place, some houses - most were in some sort of indeterminate state of being half built or half falling down.

Before getting to Punta Arenas, we had to leave Argentina, a fairly painless process, and then leave Tierra del Fuego, which involved a bit of a wait in a very rustic looking cafe where the locals were tucking into very large and tasty looking meals. Since I didn't know how long I had, I just had a beer.

I had vague memories of Punta Arenas as a city of quite grand buildings, and my memory proved to be correct, particularly around the central plaza:



This town was a vital trading port back in the day, had its gold rush and was a focal point for large scale sheep farmers, including the Braun and family. Sara married well and was left a fortune, which she used in part to finish off the family palace, right in the middle of town, which is now a museum. I spent quite a while wandering around, marvelling at the opulence of this place


It is decades since anyone lived here and yet there is still some of the wine collection to be seen


It is a bit drab from the back


Everyone seemed to be raving about a particular restaurant, La Luna, so I thought I'd check it out. It certainly had quite a spectacular bar area


That ladder was used by the waiter to scurry up and down to get wine - it looked decidedly precarious and was quite a mission to get down with a bottle of wine in hand. On the ceiling, there were some suspended diners


but, all in all, I was not that impressed with it. The food was average, the service was random. I had a far better experience the night before, when I saw a burger restaurant which was absolutely packed - for once, there was no ham in the hamburger. Best of all, however, was a restaurant I found up above a very faded looking shopping mall, a typical local place (I wish I could remember its name) with great food, and on Friday nights they have a special dish called Curantos. I tried to get the waitress to explain it to me, she said something about fish, chicken, pork, shellfish but I couldn't make any sense of what she was talking about. I asked back at the hostel and really wish I'd had it. It is basically a kind of hangi, with smoked pork, chicken and shellfish making up the main ingredients but the thing that got to me was the ceremony in which it was developed. On Chiloe Island (half way up the Chilean coast), they don't have many houses so when people want to move, they take their houses with them - put them up on logs as rollers, use bullocks to pull them. It takes a village to move a house and the curantos is the thanks the house-owner gives - they make it into a big party, one day of party for each day of house moving. Of course, the restaurant version would be different, but it did still sound wonderful.

Posted by NZBarry 02:54 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

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