Location: Punta Arenas, Chile | - 53.1638° S, 70.9171° W | Temperature: 40°F / 4.4°C
“The worst part of a polar expedition is over when the preparation has ended and the journey begun.” — Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer
Three flights, four airports, 30 hours, and 6,170 miles down. Another 637 miles (and a couple long days at sea) to go before we reach Antarctica. But first we have 48 hours in Chile's most southern city, Punta Arenas.
I've actually been here before. The last time I visited this blustery corner of the world, I was traveling with my dad during my study abroad semester in Chile. I was 21-years-old, just under a year from finishing my photojournalism degree at Carolina. As the wind howled around us, I snapped some photos of the port, while Dad pointed across the water and said, "Check out that ship — I bet it's going to Antarctica."
He was right, of course. And now, nine years later, I'm getting on that ship.
I wish I could say the sight of a massive research vessel bound for the southernmost continent ignited a burning desire inside my 21-year-old self — Antarctica! I want to go there!
But that wasn't the case. It was like walking among the rockets at Kennedy Space Center - cool to see an other-worldly thing up close in person, interesting to learn a little bit about it, but totally out of my realm of imagination to think one day I'll do that.
Life is unpredictable to say the least.
On Thursday morning, we walk over to the warehouse to complete our final wellness checks and pick up our extreme cold weather gear. The USAP representatives take our temperatures and we all sign forms stating we have not had any symptoms of severe illness in the last month. On the ship, we'll be living in extremely close quarters, so it's imperative that everyone is healthy.
We head downstairs and each pick up a bag full of gear - Serrell boots and rubber rain suits, along with extra pairs of gloves, bibs, hats, and waterproof pants. All the gear is old, worn, and just a little bit salty, but we are grateful to have it.
In the afternoon, we visit the statue of Ferdinand Magellan, located in the main square of Punta Arenas. Every person who sails from Punta Arenas to the great white south, rubs the large brass toe for good luck. We want all the luck we can get so we go a bit further with hugs and kisses.
That evening, we feast on a delicious dinner of homemade pizzas and giant salads at La Mesita Grande, then head back to the ship for our first night of sleep on board. When we wake up the next morning, a perfectly blue sky and abundant sunshine greets us - the weather could not be more perfect.
As we leave port, I walk around the second deck with my new roommate, Michelle. This is her first journey to Antarctica as well, and we both can't contain our excitement and happiness.
The finality strikes me. We won't see South America again until the end of March.
Curious about the blog title? A pagophile is any living organism that thrives in ice. Pago is a word of Greek origin, meaning cold, frost, freezing; fixed or hardened.