Archive for the ‘travel’ Category


Santiago Jimmy

November 1, 2010

Ted writes:

I’m en route to Punta Arenas, to begin the second LARISSA glaciology field season. Our goal is to retrieve a snowbound weather and physics observation station. The plan is to hitch a ride on the British Dash-7 airliner to Rothera, meet a U.S. aircraft there, and fly out to the notorious Site Beta (home of the 60 mph blizzards, ice fogs, and foot-per-day snowfalls). Then find the station using a kind of metal detector, and start digging. Simple. Except the station is thirty feet tall.

We need to put as much cargo weight as possible on the first Dash-7 flight south, so I’m carrying four massive bags of gear by myself two days ahead of Jennifer and Martin. When I got to Santiago, I was supposed to meet Jimmy, the Chilean representative for the company the US (and British) Antarctic program works with.

My schedule as booked was absolutely awful. I departed on Saturday afternoon, flew all night to Santiago, but then the earliest flight available to Punta Arenas was not until 1 am on Monday. The only apparent option was to spend 18 hours at the airport; and because the layover was more than 12 hours, I was told, the bags would need to be re-checked — doubling the excess baggage charges. And back-to-back red-eye flights. Are they trying to kill me? But the Internet showed no seats available, none, before the 1am LAN flight to PA.

My first clue about who I was dealing with comes as I walked off the plane. Jimmy was standing in the jet way holding a sign that says “Theodore”. We walked about 200 yards before I saw the next greeter waiting for their client. Jimmy is about 5 foot 4, a little portly, wearing a nice suit and a red tie. We bolted through the first phases: Jimmy walked fast and worked fast. We stepped to the front at Passport Control, then rocketed the four black cases through customs inspection. It was like traveling with Obi-Wan Kenobi—a wave on the hand and we were past the guard; a quick joke with an army officer, and we stepped around another checkpoint; a nod to the inspector, and we moved to the front of the line at security. “These are not the bags you’re looking for.”

Jimmy appeared to know about sixty percent of humanity. His hand was out, shaking, his eyes flashed a smile, he was waving at people who were waving back throughout the airport. Women offered their children to him, and kissed his cheek; he was joking, chatting, promising and being promised, working nearly everyone we passed.

Santiago’s airport is a huge long vaulted building and it was packed with people. A national holiday comes on Monday, and this is a country with a lot to celebrate (the rescue of the miners, the surging economy, and the rapid recovery from the earthquake of last February). Lines of travelers woundnd hundreds of yards, like a giant caterpillar with suitcases. But we were running on Jimmy power now. As we stepped into the tail of the baggage caterpillar, a kiosk opened up next to us, and we simply turned, and were first in line. The man is not just connected, but connected and lucky.

But still I had underestimated him.  I was standing there with my four huge bags, tired, a bit grungy from the first flight. Jimmy was trying to work out something, something amazing, and in the chatter of Spanish between Johnny and the attendant I thought I heard them discussing the possibility of an extra flight.

Jimmy was now in peak form, holding a polite but intense conversation with the manager, the chief attendant, and the attendant at the new window. They were looking at me. I tried to straighten up. They look at the bags. I brushed the scuff marks off. I smiled. More conversation in rapid Spanish. I was just hoping I don’t have to give up one of my sons at this point.

Jimmy turned to me, winking. “You’re on that research ship that is sailing tomorrow morning, right?”(Ah.) “Yesss (-ish).”  This is critical science gear for the ship? Yes! Well, it would be, if it were going on the ship–it was last year, for sure. Simple present-tense/past-tense swap.

I’m now on the plane for Punta, with 247 lbs of “critical research vessel science gear” stowed in the baggage compartment, leaving a full 14 hours early and happy as released Chilean miner. I believe I’ll be kissing Jimmy, too, next time.


Waiting for flying weather

December 5, 2009

Ted, Rob, and Erin write:

We had another flight delay today, because of poor flying conditions along our route. We will try again Sunday for a flight to Rothera Station and we hope to hit the ground running when we arrive. At Rothera Stations, we need to test the radar equipment, look over the field equipment, and help load our cargo into the ski plane.

In the meantime, we decided to explore a bit of the local countryside and rented an auto for a short back road tour. As luck would have it, we not only found a spectacular vista, but also stumbled across a great spot to have a meal and good conversation: Estancia Rio Verde. Estancio Rio Verde is located northwest of Punta Arenas, on the shore of the Skyring Sound. Many thanks to our new friends, Fernanda and Rodrigo, who offered good food and good conversation.


More preparation in Punta Arenas

December 4, 2009

Rob, Ted, and Erin write:

University of Alaska glaciologist Erin Pettit arrived Thursday evening after two days of travel from Alaska. With Erin’s arrival, our team is now complete and we’re ready to head south. A slight weather delay is expected, pushing back our departure from Punta Arenas by a day or two.

Friday morning, while Erin was visiting the AGUNSA offices for her extreme weather gear issue, Ted worked on correspondence with various members of the British Antarctic Survey, while Rob looked into procuring additional electrical adapters, extension cords, and (most importantly to Rob) coffee for the field camp.


Punta Arenas, Chile

December 3, 2009

Rob writes:

We arrived in Punta Arenas last night around 10 p.m. local time. Carola, a representative from the support group, AGUNSA, met us at the airport and arranged transportation to a local hotel. It was good to finally take a break from traveling. We had about 28 hours of airports and airplanes since leaving Denver, and we were ready for a little sleep.

Ted and Magellan

Ted Scambos rubs the toe of a figure on the Magellan Statue, for good luck

This morning we walked through town on our way to the AGUNSA warehouse at the seaport. We made sure to pay homage to the statue of Ferdinand Magellan. For good luck in Antarctica, you must rub the brass toe of one of the figures on the Magellan statue. If you travel through Christchurch, New Zealand, you have to go find the statue of the famous polar explorer Roald Amundsen and rub his nose. That statue of Amundsen has what is possibly the shiniest nose of any you’ll see!

Further on, at the warehouse, the equipment manager, Octavio, outfitted us for the wilds of the Antarctic Peninsula. Many thanks, Octavio!

After gathering various odds and ends, we strolled down the pier for a spur of the moment visit to the British Research vessel RRS James Cook, one of the newest research ships on the sea. Built in Norway, the James Cook operates worldwide, from the tropics to the edge of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, enabling cutting edge multidisciplinary research. The Chief Officer, Richard, showed us around the very modern vessel, pointing out the research facilities and the impressive engineering spaces.

Later this afternoon, we’ll be out gathering last minute equipment for the field (a pair of field glasses or binoculars and some treats from the local market).


Santiago, Chile

December 2, 2009

Rob and Ted write:

We just arrived in Santiago after a long flight south, almost 10 hours and 7,583 kilometers. During the night, we had a spectacular view of a towering thunderstorm—some of the most intense lightning we’ve ever seen. We were watching for “Sprites,” upward propagating electrical discharges high above the clouds that have some quite distinctive shapes (see

With the rising of the morning sun, we had a good view of the mountain range east of Santiago, and a smooth descent into the airport.

Upon arrival, we were met by representatives of Agunsa, the company supporting our travel through Chile. Jimmy and Jose were ever helpful as we stumbled through the airport crowds. They helped us find a Starbucks and an Internet access point. We are now relaxing with coffee and getting a few last minute images of our survey site (provided by Bryan Blair of the NASA LVIS IceBridge project).

We leave for Punta Arenas is in a few hours, and we’re looking forward to getting a break from air travel.


Dallas-Fort Worth Airport

December 1, 2009

Rob writes:

Ted and I have completed the second leg of our journey. (The first leg was a drive from Boulder to the Denver International Airport, courtesy of our dedicated colleague and friend, Jenn Bohlander—thanks Jenn!) Speaking of legs of our journey, we still have a few more to go: Dallas to Santiago, Chile, then Santiago to Punta Arenas, Chile. From Punta Arenas we cross the Drake Passage to Rothera Station on Adelaide Island, and then we have one more flight to the Beta site where we’ll establish our base camp. From here, the planes get smaller and smaller (Boeing 777 to Santiago, Embraer to Punta Arenas, DeHaviland Dash-7 to Rothera, and finally a ski–equipped Twin Otter to our camp site to conduct the study).

We flew to Dallas on American Airlines, and we’re now waiting to board our plane to Santiago, Chile. Ted and I changed a few dollars into Chilean pesos: $54.00 is about 24,000 Chilean pesos,  so we have an impressive stack of 1000-peso bills.

As we travel, we’re still working on final preparations. We’re laying out our initial plans and going through our lists of equipment one more time. We also managed to look at a few images of our field site while on the plane.  We’ve just had a chat with Erin Pettit, another member of our field team, and she is ready to depart Alaska for Punta Arenas. We hope to see her by Thursday.

We’ll check in from Punta Arenas with an update and a few photos.

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