Well, folks, we’re on our way. We hopscotched our way from Seattle to Dallas, Dallas to Santiago, and Santiago to Punta Arenas, and I’ll be honest with you: I’m feeling a little punchy. Hannah (the other graduate student from Jodi’s lab on this trip–she’s entering her third year, and she’ll be the team lead of our project on station) likened our extended day of sleep-deprived travel to the feeling of being underwater all day, and I couldn’t agree more. My head still feels sloshy, my ears can’t decide whether or not they would like to remain “popped,” and every action, even the tiniest movement, just feels that much harder–like the air’s gone a bit viscous, just a little more reluctant to let me move through it.
Aside from this minor fatigue, though, our trip proceeded without incident. In Santiago, we were met by a USAP (United States Antarctic Program) representative named Jimmy, who ushered us through immigration and customs with the practiced ease of a choreographer who’s run this show a thousand times. As someone who’s muddled through the steps alone in many countries, I cannot tell you what a luxury it was to have someone like Jimmy. Usually, I move through border patrol like a disgruntled Sim who’s many mood meters keep falling, desperately wanting to eat/sleep/find a washroom. With Jimmy talking to the various agents, explaining in Spanish why we were checking a large tub filled with scientific equipment, the whole process–landing in Santiago to checking in for our domestic flight to Punta Arenas–couldn’t have taken longer than half an hour. I could have wept.
We arrived in Punta Arenas a few hours ago, after flying over some truly spectacular mountain scenery which I could barely see from my aisle seat. (Don’t worry, though–Hannah got some great pictures!). Once again, we were able to relax and let USAP do the “heavy lifting”–literal and figurative. (Good Lord, is that my sense of humor when I’m travel-loopy?? Eegh.) They picked Hannah, myself, and maybe another eight or so participants up from the tiny Punta Arenas airport, gave us instructions for where we needed to be in the next few days before embarking on the ship that will take us to Palmer. After they gave us packets containing these details and other useful information, they shuttled us to our respective hotels in town itself.
The landscape is all greys and browns and dark greens, none of which stand out as the dominant hue, but rather all elide into each other. The vegetation isn’t particularly lush, but it is hearty looking. If I had to describe my first impression of the nearby countryside, I’d probably call it “scrappy.” Like, if these scrubby, gnarling trees could speak, I’d imagine them spitting out the gritty patois of a short but stocky boxer from 1930s Brooklyn, fists raised and ready for a fight.
Also striking is the cloudless sky, which has held steady at a crisp, baby blue from our mid-afternoon arrival through the time of this writing (it’s about 6:45 PM local time now). It’s a color I usually associate with early mornings, just after the sun has fully risen. It’s a fresh, bracing blue–but perhaps I only think so because the air itself is so deliciously cool here after seemingly endless hours of stuffy, recycled airplane ventilation. Punta Arenas feels like a refuge and a relief after the first leg of our long journey, and I am grateful for the time we have to rest here–before the real voyage begins.