We are back posting in the journal. We devoted the little free time we had for preparing the PolarConnect live event that we had today. The event was recorded, so if you want to see the event, no longer live, check the main page of the expedition for the link. It might take a couple of days to be posted.
We also encourage you to go back on the journal and check for new postings. We wanted to keep adding them in chronological order, but due to the illness that spread on the group and the need to communicate we were no longer going to Antarctica, we jumped ahead and posted some things before posting others. You might have missed, for example, the one from February 19, working in the lab. Now to the current post!
We decided to get out and explore the city while we waited to hear the final announcement on the fate of the expedition. We now know, as you do, that the trip to Antarctica has been cancelled, but we've decided to share what we were up to during that long wait. Students, teachers and researchers kept getting sick. The healthy clan explored Punta Arenas, while the ill made a pilgrimage to the clinic to get their hydrating IV. Here is the blog I started during that time.
We are delighted to see Luke feeling much better today, so much that he has decided to join us for a walk around the city. Elías said it was great we were willing to go out while we wait to hear the final announcement for the Antarctic trip. He is concerned that the healthy people might be bored if we remain at the hostel. On the other hand, part of the goal of this expedition is to learn about different cultures. Getting to know the city and its people will help achieve this goal.
Punta Arenas is a very unique city. I was surprised to learn that many indigenous groups lived in Patagonia before the europeans' arrival. Sadly, the collision of this two worlds was not that different from other parts of the continent, and now there is no 100% indigenous person alive. The native tongues are being preserved in old recordings, as they are no longer spoken. The city's boom in the 1800 was due to its strategic position at the end of the world. Ships navigating between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans through the Estrecho de Magallanes (Strait of Magellan) created a cosmopolitan and wealthy city. Lots of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the British Islands arrived here. Their influence is present even in the cemetery, considered a cultural icon of the region. There are a lot of lavishly decorated mausoleums.
The old residences look very colonial british to me. They are built with lots of metal sheets, both in the roofs as well as the walls. When I asked about the use of galvanized metal sheets to cover the houses I was told that they resist very well the elements. I wonder why I have not seen this type of construction anywhere else if they are so good.
The main plaza is gorgeous, with a monument dedicated to Magellan. You have read in other blogs here that the legend says that those who kiss the foot of the sculpture will be able to return to Punta Arenas. We did this on our first night here, way before the virus struck us, but I thought I needed to describe the plaza as well.
As you can see, not everybody was feeling ill at the same time. It was fun to see the interactions among students, and I learned a lot from talking with researchers, teachers and students from Chile.
Anna With fewer scheduled activities, we had much more time to hang out with our new Chilean friends. One of the nights, the teachers all went out and we students stayed in the hotel to chat, share Girl Scout cookies, and share music that we like. It was interesting to see the similarities between a night in with the Chileans and a night in with a group of my friends from the States. Estrella and Felipe were off to the side talking politics, people were sharing stories and making fun of each other, and Reynalda and I talked about the responsibility of the scientific community to do applied sciences that help people. Even though none of us speak perfect Spanish and none of them speak perfect English, we had almost no difficulties understanding each other, and being able to connect so deeply was a powerful experience.
Big palaces are found along near the main plaza. Similar to some iconic buildings in Paris, they speak of Punta Arenas's prosperous past. One of the most famous ones is the Sara Braun Palace, a beautiful residence now turned into a hotel and restaurant.
We trekked the city and reached the highest point on a nearby hill. We found a fascinating view that allowed us to see better the residential areas that we had not seen. A fun and easy walk. We came across the first Anglican church in Punta Arenas, now also famous because Shackleton signed its visitor's book.
At one point, while Luke and Lynn, along with the other people who had shown symptoms, where being checked by the doctor, Anna, Claire and I went to one of Chile's best picada. A picada is a small restaurant where people have a very quick bite. This particular one serves small sandwiches, with chorizo, chorizo and cheese, just cheese, or chorizo and mayo. The only drink is sort of a banana smoothie. Claire said that "the United States is missing something" after tasting the tasty drink.
Edgardo, besides being a fun person, is extremely kind and knowledgeable. I enjoyed his conversations around, science, culture and more. Same goes with the rest of the INACH people and other researchers, who were all very patient with our questions and very knowledgeable. Elías, Reinier, and Jorge (all form INACH) and Marcelo (from Universidad de Concepción).
Punta Arena's importance in world commerce disappeared as soon as the Panama Canal was built in the 50's. Currently, agronomy, mainly beef, lamb and wool, tourism, some fossil fuel production and fisheries are the main sources of income for this remote and beautiful city, filled with amazing and welcoming people.
At the end, we even had a couple of hours to go skating with Paulina and Gaby, two of the Chilean students.