Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Punta Arenas, Chile

Greetings from Punta Arenas, Chile. After three plane flights both myself and my luggage have made it here intact, though it was looking a bit dicey for a while there. It was critical that I make it to South America in a timely fashion because if I missed the boat to Palmer Station I would have to wait a month for the next one! I'm sure it would be fun to have a Patagonian adventure, but I do really want to go to Antarctica.

My first flight, to Dallas, Texas was delayed by more than two hours and it landed 14 minutes after my plane to Santiago was supposed to depart. Fortunately there were so many delayed flights with passengers that needed to catch the Santiago one that they held the plane for us AND our luggage. So, after a mad sprint across the Dallas terminal laden with 40-pounds of carry-on bags bulging with expensive and delicate recording equipment, I made it onto the plane, lungs burning but much relieved.

What followed has to be the coldest airplane ride I have ever endured, and unfortunately it was over 9 hours long. All night, by the window in the drafty exit row, I huddled under two fleece jackets and my scanty airplane blanket, attempting to find a way to get into the fetal position in my coach-sized seat. The experience reminded me of spending an unplanned night on the side of a mountain wrapped in a space blanket (which I must admit I have done a few times). At one point I looked up at the video monitor that was tracking our plane’s progress on a map of South America and it said that the temperature outside was a balmy -39 degrees Celsius.

In Santiago, thankfully, being the Southern Hemisphere, it was suddenly summer and quite a bit warmer. Myself and the other USAP (that's United States Antarctic Program) folk gathered in the baggage claim area and slowly met each other as we collected our bags. Our luggage all sported the USAP’s signature ice-blue, penguin-motif name tags so it wasn’t too difficult to identify who was with our group. We were met by an AGUNSA agent named Jimmy who helped us make our way through Chilean immigration and onto our next flight, to Punta Arenas. Jimmy has been wrangling USAP travelers through the Santiago airport for 25 years and I have to say he was really good at managing our lengthy caravan of luggage carts and bleary-eyed Antarctic scientists, artists, and staff. Our last flight arrived in Punta Arenas in the evening and we were shuttled to our hotels. Finally, after over 30 hours of travel, a chance to be horizonal, brush my teeth and change my clothes! Very exciting!

Today we will get our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing and then board the ship in the evening. Hopefully tomorrow we will be on our way to Antarctica, but right now the winds are blowing incredibly strong and operations at the port are temporarily shut down. We'll see.

Here's what the beach looks like here. Look at all the white caps!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you already got to use your "Skills" and you were only on the airplane! (I thought you always carried a space blanket? Cause you nnnnnnnnever know.)
    I'm betting you are already in an penguin proof igloo or you have been sadly turned into an ice vampire...which ever it is...we await your next post!