Easter in Punta

April 8th, 2007

In daylight, Punta turns out to be a bit of a curate´s egg – parts of the city are very scruffy and other areas have shiny new retail shops. It´s also hard to tell on a Sunday which of the businesses are closed permanently and which are just shut today as everywhere has shutters covering the shopfronts. The city´s laid out on a grid pattern and the main traffic routes are wider, with large central reservations that double as linear parks. Unfortunately, although Punta clearly has had plenty of civic pride in the past (there are monuments and statues everywhere) it now seems prone to vandalism and graffiti. The area immediately around the main plaza seems to have been smartened up quite recently. Anyway, this morning I thought that I might go to the service at the cathedral (as it´s opposite my hotel) but it appeared closed for most of the early part of the morning and there was no information as to when the services were held. So I went to the museum instead – which is in a palatial Edwardian house once owned by Mauricio Brown, one of a small number of merchants who became extremely wealthy through wool and whaling back when Punta Arenas was one of world´s busiest ports. When the Panama Canal took away the trade the city never really recovered. Having enjoyed the preserved rooms from the mansion and the exhibition on the history of the city I found the shops open and went in search of a few small items. When I was done I wandered back into the plaza to find that a curious roped-off area in front of the Cathedral was occupied by a small military parade. There was a small marching band, a group of (I think) sailors in blue uniforms and a small detachment of soldiers. They formed up in a line and as I came into the plaza they presented arms and someone ran an enormous Chilean flag up the flagpole whilst the band played the national anthem. The soldiers and sailors all sang, as did some of the crowd, although the effect was somewhat spoiled by a pair of stray dogs who ran in and out of the lines of soldiers barking loudly at the band!
Lots of people were there watching, but everyone seemed mildly amused by the soldiers´ antics rather than stirred to nationalistic fervour, much as it is back in the UK.

chilean flag on pole
A very big Chilean flag

This afternoon I´ve strolled round more of the city, seen the cemetery with its ostentatious mausoleums, and seen the American antarctic research ship Lawrence M Gould again, tied up at the main jetty.

Tomorrow I´m planning to take the bus to Rio Gallegos in Argentina, and then start making my way north.

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