There are some places that keep me going back, first time here in 2004 then 2010, 2011 and again in 2012. It is as a city frozen in time; it started as a penal colony just as Ushuaia en Argentina. Back then British influence was dominant in South America and both colonies were modeled after the penal one in Port Arthur in Tasmania; it was a way to colonize to the isolated southernmost regions of the world.
This city was booming back in the XIX century when all seagoing traffic from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of the USA went via the Straits of Magellan’s. When gold was discovered in California, this was the easiest away to get there. It was a coaling station so ships have to stop there for fueling bringing business to the local economy. The opening of the Panama Canal changed all that.
During 1890-1940, the area was the largest exporting of sheep and wool in the region; giving rise to large fortunes as those of the Menendez and Braun families. They controlled vast territories both in Chile and Argentina. As always, national pride between the countries put in dispute as to who is the southernmost city in the world, so Ushuaia and Punta Arenas are in competition. I will settle this by saying that the former is the southernmost while the latter is the largest southernmost city.
Punta Arenas has the honor of being the city with the largest exposure to Ultraviolet light as part of the daily weather report the radiation index is posted. I enjoy walking the streets and I will venture that there are more murals and graffiti here that any other city I have visited. It may have to do with been the southernmost city and the ozone hole that exposed its artists to high doses of ultraviolet light; causing them to see colors that have to be expressed in their neighbor’s walls.
It is not only paintings but there are also local sculptors at work mostly using metals. Some are very original as the trashcan made out metal parts and the hand in the wall supporting a flag pole. The more you walk, the more you appreciate the local talents.
There are lots of street dogs and they are mostly friendly ones. One morning, while standing in front of the hotel Plaza at the traffic light facing the square, I saw 2 mutts crossing the street with the pedestrian light green; they got across as the light changed. There was another dog behind them that began to cross with the Do Not Walk sign on, the two dogs that have crossed started barking at the third dog crossing the street which turned around and went to the sidewalk…Believed or NOT? And they are always looking where they can check previous visitors and leave their business calls.
The cemetery has several large mausoleums from the old potentates of which the Menendez-Braun family are the most prominent. And there is the statue of the Indio Desconocido covered with flowers and the walls behind with testimonies plaques of the miracles that he had granted. In the beginning of the XX century there was a great immigration of people from the Balkans that were escaping the wars there. Some of these families established here with great success as represented by the triangular mausoleum below.
A section of the cemetery has a complex of multistoried sepulchers, the most extensive I had seen; not even the one in el El Retiro cemetery in Buenos Aires can match its size. Another peculiar thing is the way that the trees are trimmed; they look like they are fertilized with Viagra.
I noticed a revival of the city in 2010 when la Avenida Costanera was being finished; this year it is booming with new construction both industrial and commercial. By 2011, there were windmills harnessing electricity from the winds. I attribute this growth to the discovery of coal. Nor far from the city they are opening a coal mine which along with the damage to the environment, will brings jobs and wealth.
This is a city I could live on; still a slow pace with nice cool summers. I may have a different opinion if I would visit there in the winter. This year the city was still undergoing repairs both of the streets and historical buildings. They just recently suffered large mud floods. But the colors are still there.