My first stop on the long way back to the civilisation, after leaving Antarctica, is Punta Arenas in Chile.
After 5 days of fairly rough sailing on the RSS James Clark Ross, we arrived to Punta Arenas in Chile. I was expecting everything to be so exciting and new and unusual, but what I found was… actually remarkably un-strange. I thought I’d become so used to living away from the real world, cars, money, people, noises, water, grass, animals, TV, fast internet and so on, that it would all be a shock. It wasn’t at all.
We left Rothera in the evening on Saturday and sailed pretty much straight into a rough weather. Needless to say, for the first 24 hours, I didn’t feel great and spent most of that time in my bunk in my cabin.
The cruise took the guts of 5 days, and except for one of those, the sea was fairly rough throughout. We didn’t see much, as we quickly hit the Antarctic Convergence zone, where the cold water surrounding Antarctic continent mixes up with the warmer water from more moderate latitudes, which results in a fair amount of dense fog. As this was also the end of a science cruise and the scientists on board were still working processing some of the data they collected, I put on my Data Manager’s hat, and helped a bit with the data processing and cleaning as my contribution to the very important science they do!
On day 5 (Wednesday), in the morning, we entered the Strait of Magellan from the East and sailed through towards Punta Arenas. We finally arrived to the harbour at 1400 Chilean Time, docked up, cleared the customs and went into town!
Punta Arenas is a really nice little town and I suppose is a good first stop after my time in Antarctica. There are many cafes, bars and restaurants here and the food and drinks are absolutely fantastic, and not expensive at all! The people living here seem to be happy and content, and everyone is really nice and pleasant. I’m practicing my very broken Spanish, and I’ve realised that as I’ll spend the whole month in a Spanish speaking country, this should give me an opportunity to brush up on Spanish. I’d really love to speak it much better than I do now.
One of the first things I’ve noticed in Punta Arenas is the packs of stray dogs around here. I don’t know much about their history here, or how come there’s so many of them around. I’ve never felt threatened by them and if anything the ones I saw do look relatively happy and well fed.
The weather is a bit difficult here as well – it’s certainly not as warm as I expected. It seems to be changing very quickly, and one moment you can have a nice sunshine but the next minute it will be raining heavily. We also had a day of proper hurricane force winds! It should be much warmer when I go further North, to Santiago de Chile, next week.
Later in the afternoon, on the day of our arrival to Punta Arenas, another research ship came in a docked on the other site of the pier – this was the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s R/V Atlantis. As we were neighbours for the next couple of days, the crew from Atlantis came in for a tour of the JCR and the following day a few of us went on the tour of their ship – what an absolute pleasure!
I didn’t realise it earlier, but as I came on board the Atlantis, I’ve been told that it carries the Alvin, a miniature submersible vessel capable of taking three people (a pilot and two scientists) to a maximum depth of 4500m for up to 9 hours long dive. We even got the opportunity to see it and to climb into it!
We also took the opportunity to go for a day trip to Isla Magdalena, a small nature reserve island inhabited by Magellanic Penguins. You can never get enough Penguins, so off we went.
Isla Magdalena is about 2 hours boat ride out from Punta Arenas and you can buy tickets in many tour and travel offices around the town. We were lucky enough with the weather as the sea state in the Magellan Strait was really calm and there was not much wind and a good bit of sunshine. We saw plenty of birds on the way out (the ever present Cormorants, some Petrels and a few Skuas), as well as some large marine life as well (either seals, dolphins or whales – too far out to see properly).
The island itself is literally teaming with life. It’s dominated by the Penguins, but there are also other birds there – again, Skuas, Sea Gulls, Petrels and others. The Penguins must be either used to us, humans, or they simply don’t feel threatened at all. The whole island is really their domain, and people are only allowed on a designated footpath that takes them up to the light house. At the same time, Penguins are not restricted in their travel in any ways, so they just wander over to wherever they want – quite often crossing the footpath and literally causing traffic jams. You can get really close to them, and they don’t seem to mind at all. It was a great day out and well worth the time and money.
My next stop is Santiago de Chile in a couple of days. I’ll be staying there for a few days and I’m planning to explore the city a bit and also go to some other areas around it. I’m also booked on a bus tour that takes you a bit off the beaten track and visits a number of interesting locations to the South of Santiago, all the way down to Puerto Montt.