Antarctic Fox
The log of Rachel and Kevin Fox's trip to the Antarctic Peninsula in the Summer of 2008-9
Leaving, on a jet plane
December 23-25 - Van Nuys, California - San José, Costa Rica - Santiago, Chile

It was 8:30am and after an evening's rest we were up, re-packed, and my mom and sister dropped the two of us off at Van Nuys Airport for our charter. The private terminal at Clay Lacy vs the Southwest terminal at San Jose are a study in opposites. Clay Lacy is completely empty except for the receptionist. San Jose's Burger King line was 25 minutes long. Clay Lacy had little cookies and free wi-fi which I used to quickly grab the last episode of 'How I Met Your Mother - Season 2' off of iTunes.

Over the next thirty minutes our party arrived group by group, each arrival resulting in more smiles and hugs. And bags. We met the pilots on the tarmac, stowed all the bags in the aft, and took our seats for the journey.

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Our neighbor Cyrus has a travel philosophy, loosely paraphrased: Don't fret too much about packing, because anything beyond your passport and a credit card is a 'nice to have', but is not essential because anything that you need, you can get wherever you find yourself.

Antarctica is the exception to the rule. If you forgot it, you'll probably just have to do without it. This, coupled with the total unknown of what our day-to-day life would be resulted in Rachel and me packing enough DVDs and iTunes videos to last a two-week snow-in, and enough books downloaded into our Kindles to match [side note: I love my kindle so much. It's supplanted my iPod as my most-vital traveling gadget. Which books to bring? How about all of them?] Along with the urge to overpack came the necessity of keeping our checked bags under 20kg (44lbs) because of a weight restriction on one leg of the flight. After careful packing, pruning, and repacking, it turns out that my technology is roughly equal in weight to all my clothes, expedition and otherwise.

Meanwhile, back in the plane, we settled in for our six hour flight to Costa Rica. Our in-flight meal was composed of food that the group had picked up the evening before at Stanley's and Art's Deli. Bagels, matzo-ball soup, and chicken quesadilla. Sure beats dry-roasted peanuts. :-)

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Sunset as we landed just a few hours later for refueling in Costa Rica served both as a reminder of how far east we'd travelled and how short the days were in the Northern hemisphere. The sunset was beautiful and the air was tropical. We took a van from the tarmac to the main terminal for a chance to use real bathrooms and then it was back on the plane for the next hop: another six hour flight to Santiago, Chile.

Arriving in Santiago we spent 20 minutes being processed by a deserted customs center (the benefit of arriving at 4am) and we were off to the hotel where, in the face of a schizophrenic thermostat, we pretty much failed to sleep.

The next day (okay, later the same day, really) was Christmas Eve (Feliz Navidad!) and we had a great time meeting my cousin Ingrid's Chilean host family. Ingrid spent a quarter in Santiago as part of getting her degree in Spanish and came down a few weeks early to revisit with her Chilean family and friends before continuing on the trip.

After everyone else had wound down, Sara, Brian, Heather, Rachel and I went downstairs and had a fantastic Christmas Eve dinner at the hotel's restaurant. We amused ourselves a great deal with our own company.

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A beautiful, sunny 80 degree Christmas morning, and we had a few hours before we had to leave on the next leg of our journey to Punta Arenas, so after checking out of the hotel we spent a few hours getting a look at a beautiful — but very empty — Santiago. Word of caution: Starbucks in Chile don't serve Chai. :-)

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The three hour flight down to the southern tip of South America was absolutely beautiful. Volcanos, glaciers, rainbows and clouds. It was clear with every passing mile that we were finally well and truly distancing ourselves from the urban world.

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Arriving in Punto Arenas at about 9pm we met our naturalist, Rob. A Kiwi and, as we were soon to find out, an incredibly funny and knowledgeable person. We quickly checked in to our hotel and Rob led us on a walk to a local restaurant for Christmas dinner.

Established by a directive from the Chilean government 165 years ago, Punto Arenas serves as a shipping and outfitting outpost at the edge of the Straits of Magellan. The town lives and breathes nautical history. Countless antarctic expeditions have set off from here, and the city gained relevance as a coaling station, refueling cargo and passenger steamships on their way between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans prior to the completion of the Panama canal.

This was where Earnest Shackelton's men first rejoined civilization after their rescue in 1917, and on our bus ride from the airport, we could see the Ushuia being repaired in dry-dock. The Ushuia ran aground on an uncharted rock only a month ago while traversing the same Antarctic waters we would soon be visiting. All 122 passengers were rescued without incident, but it served as a tangible reminder that this was no Caribbean cruise we would be embarking on tomorrow.

Today, Punta Arenas retains a lot of its rustic nature, and this was evidenced on our walk by the barks and cries of dogs a few blocks away as we walked through the darkening twilight. Keeping an eye out, I soon saw what could only honestly be called a pack of wild dogs trotting down the street, alternatively nipping at each other and attacking the wheels of cars as they slowed at stop signs.

Thankfully, they never turned down to our block, but as I would learn later there is actually a problem with these dogs confronting pedestrians on the street, and locals grab rocks and throw them at the dogs so that now all one needs to do is reach down to the ground when a dog starts to approach you and it will run away.

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After we finished our midnight dinner we did a final repacking to leave behind the things we wouldn't be needing in the Antarctic, and went to bed at 2am to catch four hours' sleep, because the next morning our adventure would begin in earnest, with our first surprise.

Read the next chapter: Day 1: The Herc


Table of Contents:

Introduction: Telling the Story posted Jan 10, 2009

Day 0: Positioning posted Jan 12, 2009

» Leaving, on a jet plane posted Jan 12, 2009

Day 1: The Herc posted Jan 15, 2009

Day 1: Penguino posted Jan 16, 2009

Day 2: Chicken posted Jan 17, 2009

Day 2: Leopard posted Jan 19, 2009

Day 2: Snow Day posted Jan 22, 2009

Day 2: Shipwreck posted Jan 26, 2009

Day 2: Totally Tabular posted Jan 27, 2009

Day 3: Gentoo Cute posted Jan 29, 2009

Day 3: Lichen Shag Glacier posted Feb 3, 2009

Day 3: Palmer Station Visit posted Feb 9, 2009

Day 4: Icy Penguins posted Feb 11, 2009

Day 4: Adelie Awesome posted Feb 15, 2009

Day 4: Leopard Seal Attack posted Feb 17, 2009

Day 4: Kayak posted Feb 19, 2009

Day 4: Vernadsky Station Visit posted Feb 23, 2009

Day 4: Vernadsky Sunset posted Feb 25, 2009

Day 5: Antarctic Circle posted Feb 27, 2009

Day 5: Polar Plunge posted Mar 5, 2009

Day 5: Mouth of The Gullet posted Mar 13, 2009

Day 5: Ice Camping posted Mar 18, 2009

Day 6: Flamingos on Ice posted Mar 20, 2009

Day 6: Mountain Climbing posted Mar 24, 2009

Day 6: Ice Textures posted Mar 26, 2009

Day 6: Antarctic New Years posted Apr 2, 2009

Day 7: Crystal Sound Icebreaker posted Apr 9, 2009

Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1 posted Apr 17, 2009

Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2 posted Apr 21, 2009

Day 8: Bird Watching in the Fish Islands posted Apr 23, 2009

Day 8: Icee Day - Part 1 posted May 5, 2009

Day 8: Icee Day - Part 2 posted May 11, 2009

Day 9: Port Lockroy - Base A posted May 20, 2009

Bonus Chapter: Baby Penguins! posted May 21, 2009

Day 9: Antarctic Humpback Whales posted June 3, 2009

Day 9: Dallmann Butt Sliding posted June 11, 2009

Day 10: Birthday Whales posted June 23, 2009

Day 10: Hannah Point Part 1: The Birds posted July 15, 2009

Day 10: Hannah Point Part 2: Elephant Seals posted July 22, 2009

Day 10: Deception Island - Part 1: Walking on the Moon posted Dec 11, 2009

Day 10: Deception Island - Part 2: The Martian Chronicles of Oz posted Dec 15, 2009

Day 11: Emperor Penguins posted Jan 8, 2010

Day 12: Black and White and Pink All Over posted Aug 4, 2011

More chapters posted every few days...



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