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25 February, 2000

Travel from Miami, Florida to Punta Arenas, Chile

Question 6: How many time zones have I traveled through on my way to Chile?

Last night at 11:30pm we left the Miami Airport where I met most of the rest of my scientific team. Now there are 6 of us with huge piles of luggage. It is an all-night flight (9 hrs) to Santiago, the capital of Chile. The seats were a little wider than in domestic airlines, but it was still cramped. I always enjoy watching the sun rising above the horizon of clouds--it was beautiful. Soon we could see the tops of the Andes Mountains poking through the clouds.

At Santiago we were met by Jimmy, an AGUNSA representative, and cleared customs and immigration and transferred our huge supply of luggage with his help. AGUNSA is the Chilean organization that takes care of ground coordination for all United States Antarctic parcticipants in Chile including transportation, places to stay, and moving us through the airports. They also manage the cargo and supplies for the research vessels in Chile.

Our last stage of airline travel was a 4 1/2 hour flight with LanChile all the way to the southern end of the country. Huge mountains were visible the entire way, including the Torres del Paine in the national park we will visit before we board the icebreaker for Antarctica. At Punta Arenas our luggage was heaved into the backs of two small pickup trucks and into a couple of vans with us. We were dropped off at our hotels with only the small pieces of luggage we need for sightseeing; the rest are stored at the AGUNSA warehouse at the port.

Punta Arenas is on the Straight of Magellan. Originally a profitable port town helped by the maritime traffic created by the California Gold Rush, the area lost some influence after the Panama Canal opened and fewer ships had to round Cape Horn. In the late 19th century (1800's) the Patagonian region became a center for wool and mutton production. There are still huge sheep farms, estancias, today. The region's economy now also depends on trade, fisheries and oil development.

The town is laid out on a grid system of one-way streets on a slope going down to the ocean. Chileans drive on the right-hand side of the street as we do in the US. Most of the buildings are two to three stories tall with lots of bright colors on the walls and on the metal roofs. The town is a mosaic of color! The local building style outside of town is almost always a single story with white siding and a colorful corrugated metal roof.

Seafood is the usual local restaurant fare. There is salmon (mostly farmed), white fish, eel, crab and a variety of bivalves (like clams) and gastropods (like snails). There is also some beef and lamb, but seafood is the most common. The language spoken is Spanish so I am working a bit to make myself understood. The currency is Chilean Pesos; about 500 equals one US dollar.

Answer 5: There are no "Northern" lights there, since we will be in the southern hemisphere. Instead of aurora borealis (boreal means northern) there will be aurora australis, "Southern Lights". The phenomenon happens all the time at both ends of the earth, we just can't always see them.

Punta Arenas

Santiago airport; Coca-Cola is available anywhere in the world!

Science group and luggage at Santiago airport, checking in for flight to Punta Arenas.

Chilean coins and 500 peso bill (=$1) compared to a US quarter.

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