Journey to the End of the World

Group photoIMG_0011luggage tags_ready to go

Approaching Patagonia from 10,000 feet, and our bags, which were marked with these nifty Antarctica labels

We’re here in Punta Arenas!  Or, at least some of us.  On May 8th, at 5:17 several of us departed from Providence RI, embarking on a 24 hour journey to Punta Arenas, Chile–the southern tip of South America, bordering the Straight of Magellan.  Our itinerary was Providence –> Atlanta –> Santiago, Chile –> Puerto Mott –> Punta Arenas involving several long flights, 2-4 hour layovers, cramped legs and sore necks, small packages of peanuts and pretzels, tomato juice, passports, and all of the joys of international travel.  For those of us traveling from Providence, our 24hour journey went relatively smoothly.  For those of us leaving Boston, not so much (many have been stuck in Dallas overnight, and may arrive in Punta Arenas this evening, or the next day) :(.

I was the lucky individual deemed fit to transport our precious phytoplankton cultures across international borders.  I’ve been growing them for weeks in the lab, preparing them for the journey.  These cultures will be used as food for our krill as we track their metabolism and feeding rate in on-board experiments.   While we have permits from several organizations authorizing us to bring these species into Antarctica, it’s a bit nerve-wracking traveling with a cooler filled with twenty-five 50ml vials of liquid…sketchy!  At least they’re less than three ounces.  I was only stopped once by customs in Santiago.  Customs agents pulled my bag aside for inspection.  “It’s just seawater,” I explained–mostly true, as the phytoplankton can be considered a integral part of seawater.  To which we heard them respond to one another in Spanish: “They’re bringing water to Antarctica!” as if this were a perfectly reasonable explanation.  We moved swiftly through.

Once in Santiago, we were met with a most hospitable DAMCO agent, whose name was Jimmy.  He shepherded us through the convoluted border-crossing logistics.  Those Americans amongst us paid our reciprocity tax ($160.00),  got our passports stamped, and breezed through customs.  Then Jimmy led us to his most comfortable office decked-out with comfy leather chairs, fizzy water, wifi, TONS of Antarctica paraphernalia, and pastries–what hospitality!   Of course, Jimmy and the group were compelled to pose proudly beside the large stuffed-animal penguin mascot for a photo shoot (to be posted soon!).

So, it’s great to be in Punta Arenas.  Quite a relief, really.   We await the arrival of the rest of our group, who will make it here shortly.  The next few days will be full of ship set-up and exploration of the town.   Our journey to the end of the world continues!

-Kerry Whittaker

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