Monday, February 6, 2017

More of Punta Arenas.

This  mansion was once the residence of Sara Braun.  It is now partially occupied by the Hotel José Nogueira and the Club de la Unión.

With a population of around 125,000, Punta Arenas is the capital of the Magellanic and Antarctic Region XII, and it is Patagonia's most important city.  For, us Punta Arenas is our starting point for our time in Patagonia.

The residents of the town have made their living primarily from coal mining, wool production, oil and natural gas, and fishing, and as a service center for cargo ships and the Chilean navy.  While there are obviously tourists here, we've noticed it really not a very touristy place at all which I prefer.

From our apartment, it's about a 15 minute walk to get to the town's main square - Plaza Muñoz Gamero.   It is here that you see the grand stone mansions that reflect the town's post colonial wealth - there was a lot of money made  from the sheep estancias (ranches) of the late 1800s!

The Bus-Sur sits alongside Avenida Cristobal Colón which to me marks the commercial heart of the downtown area.



Just as we were about to cross the avenue, I spotted a bright yellow vending cart.  On the side was painted one word that told me all I needed to know - churros.  To say that I love churros would be the understatement of the century.  Who doesn't love fried dough dipped in sugar!  I had to try them. 


Two flavors - chocolate or dulce de leche.  Two churros for 1500 pesos.  So I got one of each.   Bro and I took them to the small park across the street to eat.


They weren't bad but they weren't but the dough was a bit dense. I did like the dulce de leche filling though. I have to figure out how to make the filled churros at home cause these things are really addictive.


By now the skies had cleared and it was absolutely gorgeous day.  Even after we finished munching on our churros, we sat for a bit just to soak in the sun.  Then it was back to the pavement.  We made our way towards Plaza Muñoz Gamero which takes its name from the former governor of Punta Arenas, Benjamin Muñoz Gamero.




Bro had read up about the Sara Braun house and so we decided to check it out.  So who was Sara Braun and how did she end up owning a mansion in the most desirable location in town?  Obviously, she was very wealthy.

Sara Braun Hamburguer (1862 - 1955 ) was a Russian businesswoman and philanthropist who settled in Chile.  The daughter of Elias Braun and Sofía Hamburguer, she was born in Talsi , present Latvia , in 1862.  Accompanied by her parents and siblings, she traveled to the city of Punta Arenas where they settled in 1874.  They were not a wealthy family when they landed in  Punta Arenas but Elias Braun managed to make a small fortune. In 1887, Sara Braun married José Nogueira, a leading shipping entrepreneur and exporter of sea lions and other wild animals.  Having married a very wealthy man, Sara Braun enjoyed the luxuries that money afforded her.

In 1893, her husband died of tuberculosis and she inherited his assets which she continued to grow because of her business acumen.  In her lifetime, Sara Bruan undertook many philanthropic endeavors that contributed to the society in Punta Arenas, making numerous charitable contributions in her late husband's name.

Unfortunately, today is a Monday and the Palacio Sara Braun, now a museum, was closed.  Generally speaking, museums are closed on Mondays.  We will be returning to Punta Arenas in 6 days so we made a note to visit then.



Directly across the street from Palacio Sara Braun was a row of souvenir shops.  Of course, I had to check them out.  Most of the stuff was not interesting to me but it was still good to see what types of handicrafts they offer here.


Behind the vendors was the plaza. Not a big space but nicely maintained.


The plaza is filled with tall (and very old) cypress trees.


In the center, stands a tall statue of Ferdinand Magellan that was  inaugurated on the 400th anniversary of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s discovery of the strait that now bears his  name.  Magellan is depicted standing on the bow of the ship looking toward the strait. At the base are two statues representing the indigenous Ona and Tehuelches and a mermaid holding up the coat of arms of Spain and Chile.  The statue


There is a legend related to the Ona statue - that's the one with the now shiny foot.

It is said that a Spanish sailor liked the statue so much that he had it tattooed on his chest. The tattoo was so well done that the image seemed to come alive with every movement that the sailor made.  But what really drew attention was the movement of the toe when the man moved his chest.

The story goes that the sailor was so proud of his tattoo that he even used to speak to it looking directly into the mirror. So when the day to return to Spain came, he looked a reflection of the tattoo in the mirror and asked if his business back home would be successful.  With a small movement with his arm the toe moved affirmatively.

Happy with the response, the sailor when to the plaza and looked at the monument. Touching his chest said, "Here in my chest I will take you with me, my friend. I want to be strong like you." And touching the foot of the statue said, "Wish me luck".  He then kissed the Ona's toe and said goodbye.

The lucky foot.

Months later the sailor returned to Punta Arenas radiant with joy saying that his business had indeed prospered.  

Since then, people come to the square to touch the foot of the statue for good luck and the belief that doing so will also bring them back to Punta Arenas.


We walked all the way around the plaza, taking in the sights of all the grand mansions that ring it.  Pretty much all of the grand buildings are no longer private homes instead, housing museums, offices, etc.


We also walked by the Sacred Heart Cathedral which is located across the street from a grand building that now houses the Hotel Plaza.


The cathedral doors were closed so we'll have to try and come when we return to Punta Arenas in a few days.


From the plaza, we meandered our way down towards the water.  Along the way, we checked out a few of the restaurants on Bernardo O'Higgins that our tour driver had recommended to us yesterday.  We found Sotito's - very elegant looking establishment and based on my rule that real table cloths and wine glasses translate to beaucoup bucks for a meal, we decided to pass it up.

Standing in front of Sotito's, looking towards the waters of the Strait of Magellan.

There aren't all that many restaurants located on Bernardo O'Higgins but I have to say, there is quite a variety of cuisines offered.  We eventually settled on a place called La Luna which had a nice menu of dishes at very reasonable prices.  Since we already have our merluzza austral filet for dinner tonight, we'll hit up Punta Arenas when we return in a few days.

Bernardo O'Higgins is located just a block away from the water so our meandering took us in that direction.  A promenade called the Costanera del Estrecho, runs alongside the water.


Looking  back towards the city, I spotted murals painted on the facades of several buildings.  The works of art appear to pay homage to the city's maritime past.  It was a nice bit of color in an area filled with some pretty run down looking buildings.



Bro, who is not normally very eagle eyed unless it has to do with either plants or fruits, spotted a large congregation of birds gathered on the beach area.  They were waddling along like penguins and so at first, that's what we thought they were until we got closer.  They were Imperial shags  (Phalacrocorax  atriceps), a species of cormorants that is native to this part of the world.  When we looked up, we saw literally hundreds of the birds, hanging around the abandoned piers.  They are a noisy bunch! :-)











We continued our walk along the promenade, in a direction that was taking us back towards the apartment.  Next thing to catch our attention was this large monument that pays tribute to the Goleta Ancud, a ship that sent by Chile in 1843 to claim sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan.

Commanded by John Williams Wilson, a British born Chilean captain, the Goleta Ancud sailed out from the city Ancud on May 22, 1843.  On board were 23 crew (20 men, 2 women, 1 child), of which about half would stay in the Magallanes region with the mission of establishing a permanent settlement in the region.



From here, we veered off into the neighborhood, strolling along towards our apartment.  I'm always curious to see how people live.  Here, they live very modestly.  Most of the homes were small, single story homes clad in siding and topped with tin roofs.  It's odd the things that sometimes catch your eye.  Like these garbage bins.  They sit high off the ground, presumably to prevent cats and dogs and other creatures from breaking into the bags.  Most certainly, the containers are not large so people must not have much trash to dispose of.  If this was a US neighborhood,  each house would have at least one 30 gallon trash can and one or more recycle bins.  We generate way too much garbage!!


We also passed this very cute little chapel, which at first I assumed was a small church.  This is the Capilla de la Sagrada Familia.


Right next to the chapel was a small grotto filled with small plaques thanking the Virgin Mary.  Strewn about the ground all around here were offerings.  The grotto did not look to be man made so it was very unusual to see a cave here.  Unfortunately, there were no plaques describing the place but from the looks of it, it's actively used.





Back in our apartment, we had our chores to do.  Bro had dinner cooking dinners to attend to.  I helped with the prep work and then left him to take care of other tasks.

 It's a big chunk of merluzza austral!!

The fish was absolutely delicious!  Bro just pan fried it with butter and some salt and pepper.

While Bro worked on dinner, I gathered up the clothes that we had hung up to dry (took two days in this cool, humid weather!) and folded them, ready to be packed in our suitcases.   We are leaving Punta Arenas bright and early tomorrow morning so I want to be ready to just head out the door.  I also took stock of the food we have to bring with us  - surprising how much we've already accumulated.  Thankfully, we have a couple of nights in Puerto Natales to eat things up as best we can because after that, it's several nights in hotels before we reach our next Airbnb apartment which will be in Buenos Aires.

I cannot believe that we are almost half way through our trip.  I've really been enjoying my time in Chile and I don't want to think about it ending soon.   On the other hand, I am really looking forward to going north and finally seeing Torres del Paine National Park!  But I do have to finish up a few more small tasks before calling it a night so I am signing off now.

Goodnight from Punta Arenas!