Punta Arenas, Chile
So the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. arrived far too quickly and I was soon ensconced in a taxi headed towards the Santiago airport and my 6:00 a.m. flight to Punta Arenas. The flight was uneventful and I arrived on time at 9:15 a.m.
The folks from Antarctica XXI were there to meet me to take me to the hotel for the night. If we got the go ahead from the weather folks at Freei Station on King George Island, we would be flying to the Antarctica the next morning. I checked into the hotel, was fitted for special boots we had to wear for landings in Antarctica and by 10:30 had nothing to do. With a day to kill in Punta Arenas, I wandered around the town THREE times all before noon. Yep it is that big! (Although they have a killer seafood market and a pretty awesome little cafe where I had a terrific cafe late.)
What struck me about Punta Arenas as I wandered around was how vastly different it was from not only Santiago, but other parts of South America. If I didn’t know any better, I would swear I was in northern Canada. The land was mostly flat, and the homes were non-descript wooden one and two story homes with V shaped slanted roofs. No Spanish architecture here. The grass was brownish and the wind chill made it frigid despite the fact the sun was out and it was a balmy 5 degrees celsius.
There was also a military base here, but mostly the town was a stopping point for visitors interested in traveling to Patagonia and/or the magnificent Torre del Pine. There were hikers, backpackers and adventure seekers everywhere.
After another walk through the town square (where local artisans were set up selling their wares), I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then checked out the local North Face store. By now the lack of sleep was catching up to me so I headed back to the hotel and had a nap before our first trip briefing at 3:00.
The briefing was incredibly all inclusive. The Antarctic XXI staff ran through the do’s and don’ts in visiting the Antarctica, showed us a couple short vids, answered questions and by 4:00 we were on our own again. I took another walk around town. By now, the wind had died down and it was actually quite pleasant, albeit still chilly. I snapped a couple photos of statutes that were tributes to the sea and the explorers to the area, wandered down towards the waterfront and finally headed back to the hotel to get ready for our group dinner at 7:30. (And yes, it was still VERY light outside here near the bottom of the world.)
The group dinner was pretty fabulous. It was held in a refurbished old mansion (now a hotel) and was absolutely gorgeous inside. We had drinks and appetizers in this grand room with pictures of the former owners. Then it was on to dinner in a gorgeous glass enclosed atrium. It was a gorgeous setting.
Dinner was delicious and my dinner companion, from California, Florida and NYC, were fascinating. And despite the fact we all came from different backgrounds and areas, we all had one thing in common. We all LOVED to travel. It was really cool to be around so many people who have shared similar travel experiences to me.
With dinner close to being over, I was now running on fumes. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open, but I was jolted wide awake when the staff informed us that we had been given clearance to fly to Antarctica on Thursday morning!!! Right on! Downside? Wakeup call would be at 4:45 a.m. Yikes! Two days in a row of ungodly wakeup calls. Hey! I thought I was on vacation. However, given the option of having to stay in Punta Arenas another day waiting for good weather or getting the heck out of dodge at an early hour so that we could go to Antarctica seemed like an easy choice.
So early to bed from me and onwards to the White Continent!