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Pole to Pole

Day 136: Punta Arenas

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleWoken by the sound of a car alarm, which makes me think for a happy moment that I'm back in London. Consciousness slowly clarifies my surroundings into the narrow, unadorned walls of a room in the Hotel Cabo do Hornos, Punta Arenas, Chile. The Cape Horn Hotel is a romantic name for an unromantic eight-storey slab of a building, whose pale-yellow brick walls and low gabled roof stand on the brow of a hill dominating downtown Punta.

I sent off a postcard to my daughter yesterday and wanted desperately to lie to her and say that my room looked out over Tierra del Fuego. Basil's room looks out over Tierra del Fuego, but on my side of the corridor we look down on the main square, with its labelled trees, as neat and proudly kept as those of any French provincial town, protectively clustered around a flamboyant bronze statue of Ferdinand Magellan. The great man stands, one foot on a cannon, atop a plinth on which striving mermaids hold aloft the shields of Spain and Chile. Patagonia is marked on one side and Tierra del Fuego on the other, together with a bronze relief of Magellan's plucky little boat fighting its way between the two, as he became, in 1520, the first Westerner to sail from the Atlantic into the Pacific. Whoever designed the statue wouldn't let it lie and added two subjugated Indians beneath Magellan's feet. To kiss the toe of one of these Indians is supposed to ensure safe passage back from Antarctica. Since Dr Baela's bark I've been rattled by all superstitions, so I give the toe a quick peck.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 136
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Punta Arenas
  • Book page no: 300

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