Punta Arenas, Chile

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
By Jim
Posted on 02/19/10

Flying into Punta Arenas, Chile, on the exposed, southern tip of Chile, is often a seat-belt tightening enterprise. Known for its high winds, the pilot loops around such that the plane is directed into the prevailing wind, and takes a general aim for the air strip. Kate, Ruth, Chuck and Maggie, all seated in front of me were likely thinking what I was thinking, “I hope this pilot knows these Punta winds!”. The tires squeal and bounce as we touch down, and the pilot quickly teases the plane down once again, fighting to secure us to the tarmac before the winds return us aloft.

This was Kate and Ruth’s first visit to the Port City of Punta Arenas, Chile. So it was fun to see it anew through their eyes. Many of the buildings are painted in pastel colors, and there is a touch of European architecture in the stately government and military buildings, the catholic churches, and some of the elegant homes of past land owners and shipping magnates.

Our first task was for Chuck and Ruth to drop off our hand-carried algal samples at the ship, where they could be secured in a refrigerated incubator for the transit to Palmer Station. This accomplished, they joined us to check into our hotel. The Hotel Noriega is an old mansion that was converted into a hotel and sits majestically on the corner of the town square. Handsomely landscaped, the square is home most days to an artisan market. But its greatest claim to fame is its imposing statue of Magellan, with several Fuegans (indigenous people in the region before European colonization) sitting as his feet. One of the Fuegans sits such that his foot projects outward from the square concrete base of the statue, within easy reach, and it has become a ritual for those heading to sea to rub his foot to ensure a safe return to Punta Arenas.

The following morning, Kate, Ruth and I headed off to be given our National Science Foundation United States Antarctic Program (USAP) clothing issue at the USAP warehouse at the base of the city dock. The three of us headed across the town square, stopping at the statue for a photo of Kate and Ruth dutifully rubbing the Fuegan’s foot (I rubbed it too!), and then walked on, downhill, to the waterfront, weaving our way through shops, restaurants, and warehouses. At the clothing warehouse, we ran into Chuck and Maggie who had just completed their clothing issue, and took a moment for a photo of everyone posing with the mannequin dressed in standard issue U.S. Antarctic garb.

Soon, Kate, Ruth and I were each issued a cloth satchel containing our standard issue clothing for working on the Antarctic Peninsula. Inside the bag were socks, goggles, boots, rain pants, wind pants, long underwear, a red parka, fleece jacket, caps and gloves. And as Chuck, Maggie and I had been to Palmer many times before we knew to have Kate and Ruth also check out some addition items including fisherman gloves and plastic sea boots (both for working in the zodiac boats), and extra cold weather gear including a balaclava and a warm ear-covering red cap called amusingly enough, a Yazoo Cap! I encouraged Kate and Ruth to be sure and try everything on to make sure it fit. This was their only chance to trade something back in for a better fit. You definitely don’t want to be working in the field in Antarctica and not have everything you need clothing wise – nor something that is not a good fit. There is no local Target store nearby to make an exchange.

Our clothing satchels stuffed to the hilt and stowed for transport to the ship, we walked back to the hotel to gather our personal luggage together for pick-up and transport to our ship, the RV Gould. Later in the afternoon we attended a meeting aboard ship and were assigned our cabins for the voyage. A final group dinner in town at the popular restaurant “La Luna” provided a wonderful backdrop to celebrate our pending departure and two of our birthdays simultaneously, Maggie’s and my own! No, we are not divulging our respective ages (but I will admit I am older).

In the morning we had time for one last walk about town and then set sail at noon for Antarctica. As I am writing this, we are approaching the northern end of the Antarctica Peninsula, having enjoyed a reasonably smooth crossing of the Drake Passage (yesterday a bit bumpy – today a wonderful flat “Lake Drake”!). No whale sightings yet, but we have seen lots of black browed albatross, storm petrels, giant petrels, and more recently, cape petrels, all following our ship. This is always a marvelous way to be welcomed back to Antarctica! And in the case of Kate and Ruth, welcomed to Antarctica!


  1. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Kevin Peters on 02/19/10

    UAB team-
    Good luck and have a productive and safe season. I look forward to being on this end of the updates this time around. Keep the entries coming and we will keep checking for them.

    1. Posted by Jim on 02/20/10
      Thanks Kevin! All is going great here at Palmer Station. We'll have a new blog up on Sunday... so be sure to follow along!
  2. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by O'Leary Family on 02/19/10

    We are Happy to hear you made it to "The Ice"
    We wish we could go south for the winter.
    Have a great season!
    The O'Leary Family

    1. Posted by Maggie O'Leary Amsler on 02/20/10
      Thanks for the wishes though I know my kind of south for the winter is not what you have in mind! Hope the Chicago winter treats you well and that all is warm and happy up there!.
  3. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Gigi and Mike Dardeau on 02/19/10

    Hi Ruth and Kate! We know you will be well taken care of in
    the deep south. Hurry back "home" to Mobile when you can and we'll get you to take your hiny's to the Tiny
    Diny to warm you up!

    1. Posted by Kate on 02/20/10
      Hi there Mike and Gigi. We've just arrived at Palmer station and we're itching to get in the water. Thanks for checking in on us, we'll keep in touch.
  4. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Nancy and Tom McDowell on 02/20/10

    Great to see this post and pictures, and everyone alive and well.
    Keep them coming. What an adventure. Nancy McDowell (Ruth's mom)

    1. Posted by Jim on 02/22/10
      Great to hear from you Nancy! Delighted you are enjoying our posts and knowing that we are all alive and well. We are indeed! And for me, an old antarctic explorer (OAE), watching your daughter, Ruth, experience Antarctica for the first time is like getting to do it all over again myself! What a joy.
  5. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Terri Reece Schoenrock on 02/21/10

    Thank you so much for the updates! Your stories are wonderful. I am very happy for all of you, and your adventures. We have the local schools, including Mackenzie's and Zack's, and a couple in Anchorage, following you. Love, Terri (Kate's mom . . . :)

    1. Posted by Jim on 02/22/10
      Hi Terri! Marvelous that you find our stories so wonderful. We try to capture the excitement and thrill of the expedition. Visiting such a remote and stunning place definately makes it easier! I am particularly happy to hear that MacKenzie's and Zack's schools are following along! Hey all you students! Nice to meet you and a big penguin greeting from "the ice"!
  6. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Kennedy Cutter on 02/23/10

    Hi my name is kennedy and i'm from ms. wendy Connolys 6th grade history class she told us that one of her friends was on the trip named kate and so far i've read a lot about you. I was wondering.... Why do you rub the foot of Feugan?

    Kennedy Cutter
    11 years old
    Half Moon Bay CA
    Sea Crest School

    1. Posted by Jim on 02/24/10
      Hi Kennedy! The reason that one rub's the Fuegan's foot is a tradition that began with sailors who were departing to sea. They believed that if you rub his foot it will bring you good luck and you will return to Punta Arenas, Chile in good shape! Needless to say, everyone in our team rubbed his foot! Vigorously!
  7. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Anthony Gentile on 02/26/10

    Hello Dr. McClintock!I am Anthony Gentile, I met up with you that day in your office a few months back. You and Ms. Ort seem to be emailing a lot back and forth, I always walk into class and another picture or email! How have all of you been? I hope everyone stays safe, has a blast, and collect a lot of information! I hope to join you and your colleagues one day in Antarctica!


    Anthony Gentile
    HHS Class '10
    AP Environmental Science Student


    1. Posted by Jim on 02/27/10
      Greetings Anthony! We are indeed staying safe and enjoying the "discovery" element that makes science so exciting in what is arguably one of the last frontiers on our planet. I sense that you will indeed make it to Antarctica someday. It will be the trip of your lifetime, that I can guarantee.
  8. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Anthony Gentile on 02/27/10

    Hello again! I am definetly on board with you on the fact that Antarctica is one of the last frontiers. I would love to help protect the plants(what few there are) and animals of the Antarctic. How does one get to go to Antarctica? Thank you for being so open to me!

    1. Posted by Jim on 03/01/10
      Anthony - one can get to Antarctica on any number of tourist cruise ships these days. There are about 30,000 - 40,000 tourists a year now that visit Antarctica. Others come down to study science, such as ourselves. This requires writing grant proposals and having them evaluated by fellow scientist all over the country. Only the very best are selected to be supported. The National Science Foundation administers this program and provides the logistical support necessary to work in such a challenging and distant environment.
  9. The Ice
    Posted by Laura Perry on 03/01/10

    Hi, Dr. McClintock. I hope you are having a very nice time on The Ice and are learning a lot of things. I am wondering if you noted any effects from the earthquake in Chile this past Saturday. I really enjoy being able to look at the photographs you and the others have posted. It's all very interesting. Thank you.

    1. Posted by Jim on 03/01/10
      Hi Laura - It is great to hear from you! We are indeed having a great time here, and there is so much to learn everywhere we turn. We were under a tsunami watch due to the earthquake in Chile, But we never saw any change in sea level. I hope you will keep checking in with us as the field season progresses!
  10. View from Antarctica
    Posted by Dave Richards on 03/04/10

    Hello UAB team, I could just imagine what's going through your hearts and minds as you start your Antarctica journey. Reading through your blog, I could sense that more than the sights of The Ice are the new discoveries and learning that you will acquire. Get the best out of your Antarctica experience. Thanks for sharing your adventures and activities. Through the years, Antarctica has become a place of interest for many people of different countries and continents.

  11. Re: Punta Arenas, Chile
    Posted by Anthony Gentile on 03/07/10

    Thank you Dr. McClintock! I saw your picture wearing the Hoover toboggan. I thought that was a great picture. Thank you sir! I would love to chat with you when you get back!

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