A Travellerspoint blog


3. Jumping Off Point: Puerto Arenas, Chile

I'll keep my head down...

sunny 55 °F
View Five Million Penguins and Me on paulej4's travel map.

In Lima, Peru, at 2:10am, I hop onto LATAM 639, an A320, to Santiago, arriving at 7:40am. I sit again, this time for three hours, before boarding LATAM 293, an A321, for the final three-and-a-half-hour leg to Punta Arenas, Chile where I am scheduled on the ground at 2:00pm. My journey this far: 24 hours. Punta Arenas is GMT -3; Kansas City is GMT -6 so 2:00pm at my destination is 11:00am in Kansas City.

At another time, I might have opted to spend a day touring in Santiago. I was here years ago and found it to be a wonderful city. I left 36 hours before a severe earthquake struck--The Russell Luck. I am not touring Santiago on this trip; not now. Back on October 18, an "uprising" occurred in reaction to government-imposed economic measures--subway fares were raised by 4 cents. This was the last straw for students. Demonstrations escalated into protests which, in turn, escalated into civil unrest incorporating occasional violence. Quoting Wikipedia: "As of 26 October, 19 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested. Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters by security forces, including torture, sexual abuse and sexual assault."

Then, on October 27, things settled down a bit and the government lifted the state of emergency. The situation, which I have been monitoring, has continued to improve in Chile. But, on November 12, things got ugly in Punta Arenas when "hundreds of people took to the streets to express their anger."

Me? I'm just passing through Santiago and intend to keep the lowest of profiles. I'll assess Punta Arenas upon arrival and after consultation with hotel folks. Certainly, there is nothing to worry about once I get to Antarctica; penguins have no subway system or economic concerns of any sort.

Punta Arenas, Chile, (‘Sandy Point’ in English) is the southernmost city in the Americas. Started as a penal colony in 1848, it sits on the Brunswick Peninsula north of the Strait of Magellan. A gold rush drew immigrants from Croatia and Russia until the early 1900s and the area became a major sheep farming center. The city—and the region surrounding it—has its own time zone: UTC-3.

This is a city of just over 125,000 people—making it the largest city south of the planet’s 46th parallel—who seemingly love to live beneath red-painted red metal roofs. The area hosts weather known as a subpolar oceanic climate meaning temperatures range from average lows in July (their winter) of around 30 degrees and average highs in January (their summer) of about 57 degrees. It snows a lot from June until September; it is windy all year long. For the last thirty years, Punta Arenas claims the dubious honor of being the most populous place on the planet most impacted by the thinning ozone layer.


It is for me—and for many others—the literal jumping-off point for an Antarctic expedition. I arrived at Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport (three gates and two luggage belts) and was met by a greeter from my expedition company and, along with others also booked on this expedition, shuttled twelve miles to the Hotel Dreams del Estrecho. My schedule calls for a day’s rest and exploration before joining my fellow travelers headed for the southernmost continent: Antarctica.

It appears that it might be a good idea to be cautious here. A couple of weeks ago, 24 people were arrested for looting at the El Arte de Vestir store on Chiloé street, about four blocks from my hotel. A few days earlier, an arsonist set fire to the AFP Habitat (a bank) branch at the corner of Magallanes and Colón avenue, about eight blocks away—I think. The Google Maps app is fuzzy about Magallanes. That was the same day that peaceful marches of “more than ten thousand people” took place. Apparently the Unimarc supermarket and a Bata store were also “ransacked.” That could be the Unimarc across the street or another one; the local news outlets are not specific. I’ve been in well over 110 countries but not in one where the locals were actively rioting.

Two of my fellows, Dianne and Lauren, create a quick friendship and agree to meet for dinner. Outside my hotel window, the cruise ship, Celebrity Eclipse lies at anchor, near to the beginning of a Cape Horn itinerary. It seems odd to me that they would come this far and not take the final leap toward the seventh continent.

Dianne, Lauren and I gather up another couple, also headed for Antarctica but not on our flight or ship, and head for La Luna, a recommended spot two blocks up O’Higgins street from the Dreams Hotel. The baked crab soup was wonderful and the conversation fun. Our companions are from Salem, Oregon and are booked with Quest. For the record, there is no sign of public dissatisfaction along our short route. Only friendly folks and other tourists are around

After the short walk back to the hotel, I fell into bed around nine after a long long day.

Posted by paulej4 04:09 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

4. Antarctica; On Ice

How much do you know about the seventh continent?

rain 50 °F
View Five Million Penguins and Me on paulej4's travel map.

All but 2% of Antarctica is covered by a 1.2 to 3-mile-thick sheet of ice. It is the coldest, driest and windiest place on this earth. The last source I read reported that the lowest temperature ever measured here was -135.8 degrees. Ninety percent of the planet’s freshwater ice (and seventy percent of the total amount of fresh water) is here. If the ice sheet melted, scientists say it would raise global sea level about 16 feet. That would swamp our condo in Florida.

The ice shelf, that amount of ice that extends beyond the landmass beneath, is about the size of France. In March of 2000 a chunk of it broke off. That chunk was roughly the mass of the state of Connecticut—170 miles long and 25 miles wide. Satellite measurements over the past 23 years show that the thickness of this shelf—which like a safety band holds the land-based ice in place, is rapidly decreasing. Many scientists say that may mean that Antarctica itself may soon begin to shrink at a dangerous pace.

There are two active volcanos here; one is far beneath the ice. I will, I understand, be near both of them and, given the events on White Island, New Zealand, this week, that will, I hope, cause us to give them a wide berth. I certainly won’t be taking a Zodiac to hike the caldera, of that you can be certain.

The Gamburtsev Mountain range here is 750 miles long with the highest peaks reaching to around 9,000 feet. Beneath the ice is the freshwater Lake Vostok…about the size of Lake Ontario. There are about 200 such bodies of unfrozen water below the ice. I have a hard time understanding exactly how an under-ice liquid lake can exist until I ponder the ice that freezes over the Great Lakes. Perhaps the principle is the same.

Until 1820, nobody knew Antarctica was even here. Russian explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev aboard their ships, Vostok and Mirny, are said to be the first humans to lay eyes on it. They didn’t make landfall (or even icefall); that honor went to a team of Norwegians 75 years later in 1895. In January of 1979, Emile Marco Palma became the first baby born on the continent; only ten more babies have been born here since. Emile turns 41 next month.

Antarctica is a continent; not a country; no country legitimately lays claim to any part of it. Legally, it is a de facto “condominium”* governed by parties to the Antarctic Treaty System (50 nations); no military or mining activity can be conducted here, nor can any nuclear waste be stored here. Even so, various historical claims currently exist on Antarctica by France, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Germany, Argentina and Chile. Nothing is ever simple.

*A condominium is defined as (1) the place where I live and (2) as a political territory over which multiple powers formally agree to share equal dominium and to exercise their rights jointly without dividing it into national zones. Besides Antarctica, the other geographic condominiums are Moselle (between Luxembourg and Germany), Pheasant Island (between France and Spain), Brčko (between Bosnia and Herzegovina) and The International Space Station. I’ve been to none of those.

No other place on earth borders four of the earth’s five oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans (the Arctic Ocean is the fifth).

And, of course, it is, along with the Arctic, the land of the midnight sun. While I am here, the sun only briefly sets--at around midnight--to quickly rise again around 2:20 am. While the sun is technically “set” for those two hours or so, it remains twilight. Solar noon—the time the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, about 49 degrees—occurs around 1:15pm. Since 90 degrees would place the sun directly overhead, imagine that 49 degrees is just over halfway “up” the sky at mid-day. On the same date in Kansas City, at noon, the sun is at 28 degrees, just over a quarter of the way “up” the sky. Thought of another way, I’m in summer here while Kansas Citians are in mid-winter there. To confuse things even more, the average December temperature here ranges from a low of 31 degrees to an average high of 38 degrees. Back home, the December averages are 26 low and 44 high; both a bit colder and a bit warmer with an average day length that is much shorter: approximately 7:30am-5:00pm vs 2:20am-Midnight; very different.

It is difficult to acclimate to such long hours of daylight. The North American body is accustomed to the sun setting and night falling. In the Arctic in our summer and in the Antarctic in our winter, that just doesn’t happen. So, when it is time for bed, the cue that we all follow—darkness—is missing. That makes bedtime seem arbitrary and uncertain. Since there is no TV to watch, the evening news or the late-night talk shows—other cues—are also absent. It is disorienting more than disconcerting.


There is no worry about sunlight as I arise on this Friday the Thirteenth actual first day of my journey. I pull back the Dreams Hotel (First Hotel Pic) curtains to see rain. We have the day here in Punta Arenas at our disposal with only a couple of obligations. We show up at the Cabo de Hornos Hotel (Second Hotel Pic) around 1:00 to be outfitted with our boots; I take size elevens. These insulated rubber calf-high boots are a necessity for embarking and disembarking Zodiacs and hiking. Then, there is a mandatory safety briefing at 5:00, also at the Cabo de Hornos. And, last, there is a Group Welcome Dinner tonight at the Jose Nogueira Hotel (Third Hotel Pic).

I feel a bit like a travel agent being sure to sample all the hotels here. Why the boots, the briefing and the dinner are at hotels other than the one in which we are housed is a mystery.

As the weather cleared, I decide to walk the city to get my steps in and get my bearings. I see both preparations for civil unrest and the result of it. There is political graffiti everywhere. The view from the hill, directional signs and the monument to the Goleta Ancud cry out to have their picture taken. The Goleta Ancud memorial is dedicated to the 1843 voyage for the purpose of claiming sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan for Chile. They brought a lot of supplies which accounts, I believe, for the remembrance of goats and chickens. Punta Arenas is a place to be prepared to evacuate from tsunamis, learn to poledance, ponder history, protest politics, drink coffee, eat, walk and enjoy. I did some of those and opted to sit out others.


After a wonderful safety briefing and an even better welcome dinner, accompanied by new friends Lauren and Dianne, seated with a mom and dad from London and their two sons, one ten and one fifteen, where lively and enlightening conversation prevailed, we walked back to the hotel passing by what can only be described as riot preparations. Water cannon trucks and other similar vehicles sat on a blocked-off side street. As we rounded a corner, a street protest began to develop where even the dogs were stopping traffic. We determined that we ought to be at someplace else but ran into an eloquent young man who spoke excellent english. He used a word that we, or at least I, had not as yet heard: revolution.
More tomorrow.

No matter how bad it may be where you are, know that it is potentially worse elsewhere.

Posted by paulej4 17:44 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

12. The Russell Luck Fails?

No Kevin! NO KEVIN!

sunny 55 °F

Homeward Bound! My flight plan:

3:22pm-6:47pm Punta Arenas to Santiago LATAM 292
Layover: 1:53
8:40pm-10:25pm Santiago to Lima, Peru LATAM 530
Layover: 3:05
1:30am-6:55am Lima to Houston United 855
Layover: 5:20
12:15pm-2:26pm Houston to Kansas City United 4201

John Lennon quoting Allen Saunders: Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. Today, Life Happens.

United and LATAM, the two carriers in charge of bringing me home, started communicating early.

9:58am Text: Your 1:30am flight from Lima to Houston is delayed because an earlier delay impacted your plane’s arrival. UA855 now departs at 3:18am on December 21. (It had originally been scheduled at 1:30am. That didn’t present much of a problem because, as you can see above, I had a 5:20 layover in Houston. With this delay, I still have a 3:30 layover. Plenty of time for customs and immigration.

9:59am email: Your flight to Santiago is delayed. LATAM 292 will now depart at 4:10pm and arrive Santiago at 7:35pm. Now that’s a problem. Before I had just under two hours to connect in Santiago. Now I have just over one hour. I must clear customs and immigration in Santiago. That will be tight.

1:33pm Text: Delay update: Your 1:30am flight from Lima to Houston is delayed further because an earlier delay impacted your plane’s arrival. UA855 now departs at 4:00am on December 21. Still manageable. We’re sorry for the extra delay and are working to get you on your way. Now I have a 2:50 layover. Should still be fine.

3:48pm Text: Delay update: Your UA855 flight from Lima to Houston is still delayed, but it’ll now depart at 3:30am on December 21. Ahh; things are getting better. My Houston layover will now be 3:20.

4:10pm email: Your flight to Santiago is delayed further. LATAM 292 will now depart at 4:25pm and arrive Santiago at 7:50pm. That’s a critical problem. Fifty minutes to make an international connection will be impossible. However, the nice gate agent tells me that I will actually have two hours. I assume she knows something about the Santiago to Lima flight: It must be delayed as well. She insists that since it is a full flight, I must check my rollaboard. I explain about the short connection and how she doesn’t want me to become disconnected with my bag. She says, no, go see that guy over there for a luggage check. I turn on the charm with him and say “Please” about five times. He relents. I roll aboard and stow my bag in the overhead bin as I always do.

4:45pm. We take off from Punta Arenas.

8:10pm. We arrive in Santiago. My flight from Santiago to Lima is on time at 8:40. Thirty minutes to connect? I'M SO BUSTED.

8:15pm. I find a LATAM courtesy counter. “We will get you a hotel.”

Willie Nelson: "Nothing I Can Do About It Now."

8:15:20pm. “No. That won’t do. Let’s find me another way to get to Kansas City that doesn’t involve Lima at all,” I say. Pulling out my iPhone I refuse to leave my place in what is now a lengthening line and quickly see on the United app that it has a non-stop from Santiago to Houston leaving in two and a half hours. The app shows that they have one unsold business class seat. The agent is visibly disappointed at this news. "But what about your baggage?" she asks. I never check a bag unless, well, let's just say that I don't check a bag unless I absolutely must. I can only surmise that it would be much easier for her to give me a hotel voucher and send me on my way to a nice bed in Santiago than to get on the computer and snatch up that seat to get me out of here. She says, “I will send United an email. Please sit over there.” I am really not enamored with that plan so I turn on the charm. This being South America, I decide that I can actually overplay it and not be accused of being overly familiar. It is at times like this that I remember how much I owe Dentist Hal and Linda Lee for improving my smile all those years ago. It seems to work. She calls over a supervisor who begins to work the computer and, voila! Muchas Gracias Senior; "De Nada." I’m off to immigration where the line is, well, very very long.

10:45pm. I am comfortably ensconced in seat 7A on United flight 84, non-stop to Houston. Arrival will be around 5:15am. There is no earlier Houston to Kansas City flight—you can be sure that I checked—but I am still on the 12:15 to Kansas City, arriving into B4’s loving arms promptly as scheduled at 2:26pm.


5:00am.734016b0-23ee-11ea-8a50-a70a8022c1d7.jpg I clear immigrations (if you don't have Mobil Passport from our dear friends at TSA, download it to your phone; it is faster than Global Entry) and customs and make my way to the United Polaris Lounge for a shower and a change into clean clothes--the last I have. Everybody is friendly and welcoming, none more so that Betty who assigns me to shower suite #1. Happy Holidays as I make my way back home to B4.


Travel is an adventure. Of course, I mean the Antarctic expedition was an extraordinary adventure. But, I also mean the expertise that comes from experience which equips one to treat disaster as an opportunity to outwit the system: 613,917 miles on United, 1,256,236 miles on Delta, 3,447,499 miles on American, (that's 213.55 times around the planet) 2,203 nights in Marriotts (that's over six years of nights); well over 112 countries visited, quality time spent now on all seven continents—you get the picture—teaches you that anything is possible. If a mishap can happen, it will and it has probably happened to me. I know a thing or two because I've seen a thing or two.

And then, of course, there is The Russell Luck. Tonight, fresh from surviving a near miss, I shall buy a Powerball ticket. If I win, there will be one more entry on this blog.

large_MyDinnerWithAJ.JPGAnd to think, without the amazing weather and without Tate, Eric, Jake, Bella, Dianne and Lauren (and AJ in this shot) and all the rest of my amazing travel mates, I could have been Kevin. There was one night in Rock n' Roll Randy's Lounge where one of our Chinese expeditions had commandeered the microphone--it could have been like this:

Posted by paulej4 05:49 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

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