April 19, 2009
Woke up to the spectacular view of the Andes Mountains out of the plane window coming into Santiago, Chile. Yeah! Making my way! A group of about six of us assembled to meet with our Agencia Universalies of South America (AGUNSA) host to help expedite our way to the next plane to Punta Arenas, Chile. One of the scientists from the University of Hawaii got her hard case bag jammed in the overhead bin, so mechanics had to come and retrieve it. She is part of the whale research team and had a hydrophone (underwater microphone) in the bag - how cool - travelling with real scientists carrying hydrophone equipment in their bags! Great stuff. I was beginning to realize the expanse of territory our group covered - University of Hawaii, University of Alaska, Duke University, Colorado, Italy, University of New Hampshire and Canada. And these are just the ones with me currently! Fascinating!
Flying into Punta Arenas - my final destination - set home the realization of the change of seasons I was entering. The leaves on all of the trees are golden yellows and reds and the temperature was noticeably lower. Time to pull out the jacket!
The town is full of history, as it has been a stopping point for travelers in the 19th century around Cape Horn before the Panama Canal was constructed. It is Chile's first permanent settlement of Patagonia. Statues of explorers and names like "Shackleton's café" and even my hotel "Jose Nugueira" named after an explorer. The hotel was once the 19th century home of Sara Braun.
Finally I get to meet face to face with the scientists, Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Sidell, with whom I have been working for months leading up to this adventure! Meeting the other members of my team was fabulous, too - Lisa Crockett and Jeff Grim from the University of Ohio, Kristin's graduate student, Irina Mueller and Dr. Sidell's graduate student, Jody Beers. Catching up with them about our travels was great and finding out where I was to report the next morning for "ECW" or extreme cold weather gear at the AGUNSA office. I also met Pat Halprin from Duke University that I would be working with on the whale tagging expeditions. He described his interest as an eleven year old in Antarctica and getting his parents to take him to National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration presentations when he lived in Washington, D.C. He built a scaled model of Palmer Station and even wrote a proposal to NSF join a mammal research expedition headed by Laurence M. Gould (after whom our ship is named). He was rejected, but received patches from the expedition and stayed in contact with some scientists to be able to join an expedition when he was eleven and still has the letter in which they stated he would not be able to join. Good thing this did not discourage his interest! A good lesson in perseverance for my students!
I also discovered the famous Magellan statue is located directly across the street from our hotel in the park where I have to go and rub the toe for good luck crossing the Drake's Passage. I will be protected by Saint Brendan (my friend and marine science teacher at Fairhope High School, Stephany Hannon, gave it to me before leaving because St. Brendan is the Saint of Ocean Voyages and Marine Scientists and we had it blessed by Father Morley at my church, St. Francis) AND the Magellan statue lore. I keep hearing rough stories of the passage, so it will be interesting!