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UAB in Antarctica

After a combined 13.5 hours of flights and 10.5 hours of layovers – all the while wearing KN-95 masks – I finally arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile around 4:30 PM local time, along with my fellow LMG-bound friends, whom I had met on the way. After checking into the hotel and having dinner at the hotel restaurant, I went straight to sleep. It had been over 24 hours since I’d been able to sleep without a mask on and in a bed.

Montage of three images: penguins on a town beach, buildings with colorful murals, and Jamie posing in front of a statue.

The next day I got up at 10 AM for the first round of covid tests. I was still somewhat groggy – it would have been 7 AM in Birmingham, and I was still in a bit of a sleep deficit from the journey – so I had a protein shake for breakfast and went back to bed to nap until lunchtime. After lunch, I walked around the city a bit with one of my new friends. We watched the crowds of cormorants by the beach, admired the many murals, and visited the main square to rub the toe of the famed statue and to appreciate the last trees we’d see for several months. Later that night, a couple of us wandered down to the beach to try to catch a glimpse of the green comet which was supposed to pass overhead. Unfortunately, there was too much cloud cover and light pollution to make it out, so we just walked along the beach instead.

We started off the next morning with another round of covid tests. Nothing else was scheduled for the day, so for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have much to do. I’d spent the last several months preparing for the trip while still working in the Watts lab 30 hours a week. I’d gotten all my lab work done to physically qualify for Antarctic deployment, bought the required polar sunglasses and thermal underwear, filed my tax return, gotten my laptop battery replaced, completed and attended online training modules and meetings, arranged for my work responsibilities to be covered, and packed away everything I’d need at Palmer for the next three months. I decided to use this last day at the hotel to take a break, enjoy the last few days of being able to stream Netflix and Spotify, and soak in the sights of this charming coastal city.

Since all our covid tests came back negative, we were finally cleared to transfer to the ship, though we were still required to wear masks throughout the cruise. We checked out of the hotel, tried on and inspected all our extreme cold weather gear, and boarded the Laurence M. Gould. We mustered in the ship’s lounge for orientation, then headed down to the galley for our first meal on the ship.

Crew walking to the Laurence M. Gould at dock - ship has a orange hull and tan structures.

Having grown up in Alabama, I couldn’t bring myself to drink unsweet tea, so I filled my cup half with lemonade and half with tea. The next couple of meals someone would ask me what I was drinking, and by the end of the cruise, several of us had jumped on the Arnold Palmer train. Although I’m sure some of the others decided independently, I like to think I started the trend.

Though I had already known many of the cooks and crew were Filipino, I was still pleasantly surprised to find nilaga was one of the lunch foods on my first day. Each day thereafter I looked forward to finding out what other Filipino foods would be served – as it turned out, I also got to eat kare-kare, sinigang, and tinola. Although they were somewhat different variations compared to how my mom and I cook them, it was nice to have a little taste of home even from so far away.

In between lunch and dinner, I unpacked some clothes and essentials for the next several days, then explored the ship. I saw a glowing rainbow in the distance and took it as a good omen. At the end of the day, I finally settled into my bed, safe behind the geriatric rail (though I wouldn’t need it yet) for my first night aboard the ship.  Check back soon for the rest of my journey to Antarctica.

Another ship far away across a calm, clear sea, white clouds higher in the sky, a rainbow and streaks of rain lower on the horizon.

Bunk beds of light colored woods with a ladder, yellow curtains, and messy bedding.