Today was the day of information overload. We had a briefing by Antarctic Logistics Expeditions (ALE) this morning – they weighed our gear and took our bags away.
A few major things we learned were that they take ‘biosecurity’ very seriously. This means that if there are any particles on clothing or boots, they need to be wiped, shaken or washed off. They are trying to ensure that there is no new flora or fauna introduced. We will step in disinfectant as we board the plane.
We were told to separate into carry on, packed gear, and city stay stuff. The airplane, a Russian Ilyushin, holds 17 tons of stuff and 20 tons of fuel. The decision to fly is dependent on weather, visibility and winds. And of course that the airport is open; a few years ago, the airport was closed for 10 days due to strike!
The plane will land on blue ice. This runway is created by wind warming the top layer of snow/ice as it comes over the mountains. This sublimates the ice into blue ice. It is a glacier that is slowly making its way to the ocean. They lose 20 cm of surface glacier per year. Traditionally, the wind on the runway is 30-40 knots.
Union Glacier is the new base camp and because of its location, the runway is a bit more consistent than the old Patriot Hills. This has to do with the direction of the runway, the surrounding hills, and a more consistent safe runway.
They moved the actual base camp eight kilometres away from the runway in an area where the wind eddies and that means it is less windy at camp. But around the camp there are a lot of crevasses. In fact they lost one of their ‘big snow cats’ – a snow machine – into a crevasse earlier this year and it took a couple of months to get it out, so, we are not allowed to go a-wandering. Camp is at about three to four thousand feet altitude.
We met the rest of the group tonight over drinks – and if all goes well we will be heading out tomorrow. In fact, they are predicting an 80% chance that we will go – though past experience tells me not to hold my breath. (Last time, we spent six days on call to get to the Antarctic.)
We camped out with Dino’s Pizza and beer in Diego’s room for dinner and now are off to bed.
Weather: mostly cloudy with intermittent heavy rain
Today, we went out to an original Spanish Fort about an hour outside of Punta. With Dr. Diego Delgado as our translator, we were able to get a lot of the history of the region. We passed Hudson Island, famous in Pinochet’s time for housing prisoners and the disappeared. We were able to follow the outline of Tierra del Fuego as it arched along the coastal road following the Strait of Magellan.
The Fort itself was built in the 1800s for the Spanish who colonized and protected the strait. The major route for East West shipping was along the Strait of Magellan as passage across Tierra del Fuego was far too dangerous. Punta prospered during this time and fell into some decline after the Panama Canal was opened and trade routes shifted.
We got back to the hotel around 2 and headed into town for some last minute supplies. The team then congregated at the Shackleton Bar. We met all three guides and two of our group – Ian and anotherindividual. There were lots of introductions – a really good group. Two members of the team were delayed, one individual has lost a piece of luggage; and three more are to arrive late tonight. We ate a late dinner with the group.
Tomorrow, we have our briefing with ALE. We need to be packed and ready to go – gear goes to the storage area tomorrow so once its sent its sent. We then start on call for the flight as of the 4th.
Very, very early wake-up call (2am EST equivalent) and over to airport. Needless to say we were over our baggage limit!
Flight was uneventful for some, but Dr. Delgado did the doctor thing for a sick passenger.
All the luggage arrived and Michel said ‘I guess we have to do the trip’ to which the response was F___!
After a 4-hour direct southern flight, we arrived in Punta Arenas, which, is farther south than James Bay is north. This is the height of summer. Given the challenging and unforgiving climate, summer is brief, but wow is it colourful. Trees are stunted in height and windswept in appearance. Small hills line the coast with homes built in the scrub.
Grabbed a cab into town with a couple of guys doing a bike trip!
Hotel has a casino attached – a brand new place. Wasn’t here the last time we were here six yrs ago. Overall, the town hasn’t changed much.
We did a wander about the ghost town (!!!) – just us and a bunch of packs of wild dogs……. and of course kissed Magellan’s foot for travellers luck. New years day so everything is closed. Lunch at the hotel cafe.
Afternoon spent laying out gear for Commander Keith – he will decide what you do and do not get to bring. Some my fluffy slipper, blow dryer, hair gel and sweatpants i.e. comfort clothes – will be staying in Punta. And wow does he cut a swath through the gear – no to this, yes
that’s a must, ‘what were you thinking’, ‘what IS that?’
All in good humor and now gear thinned to fighting weight. It is starting to feel very real!
It felt like an almost day 1 …..mostly because we avoided two near catastrophes.
1) Michel was nearly stranded in Montreal under feet and feet of snow and made the connection with about 10 minutes to spare. Shockingly, all of his luggage actually made it to Santiago!
2) Last minute tech issues nearly sank us but we are good and we can’t thank Tom from ExplorersWeb.com enough for the last minute advice at all hours of the day and night yesterday. Man, you rock!
It is 80 degrees (30 centigrade) sunny and gorgeous. Our guide, Dr. D. Greig one of our heart failure fellows, is here on his Christmas break. He h
as rented a van and we are off for a tour!!! Lunch at a traditional Chilean restaurant. Found out that Chile is actually known for their Pisco Sours.
Santiago has a population of 4 million. We saw the tanks and cop cars that they used to quell a rebellion in 1973. The tank shoots water and the cop car: tear gas. Thankfully, there’s no revolution tonight.
We think we are going to be experiencing a bit of a thermometer joke over the next few days -10 in Toronto, +30 in Santiago, +20 in Punta and -30 in Antarctica… Tough to yo-yo like that!
Santiago is pretty quiet today as they are preparing for the New Years Day Celebration. They have closed the centre of the town. We did a walkabout and had a look at some of the old town – beautiful. Apparently they have different styles of “cafes” here. There are the type that we are used to, where you get a coffee…..and then there is the other type where the doors are smoked and the waitresses wear very short skirts. We went to the first variety. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to shop – I do like to support the local economy where I’m able.
Boys had a bunch of local beers and we ate at the Airport Hotel. We are up in six hours for our next flight to Punta.