Sunday, November 2, 2008

The lucky toe

Punta Arenas, Chile.

After meeting up with the Feather Link research team in the Santiago airport we boarded the last plane that I hope to see for a while. Three hours later we arrived in Punta Arenas. The first thing that you notice when you get to Punta Arenas is the incredibly strong winds. The land is mostly “pampas” (grasslands) and there are low, wind swept trees that look a bit more like bushes than the trees we are used to in New England.

We took a taxi into town to drop our luggage off at the office of our chartered boat company and headed to a restaurant for lunch before picking up some supplies at the local grocery store. Along the way we passed a statue of Ferdinand Magellan in the town square, where legend has it that if you kiss the toe of the Ona Indian seated below Magellan you will return safely to Punta Arenas. The toe is polished to a shine from years of passing travelers, and each one of us rubbed it for good luck as we headed to the docks.

Our boat, the Chonos MV, was waiting for us and we all climbed aboard and found our sleeping quarters. My room was essentially a small closet with a sink which felt surprisingly cozy once all my things were unpacked and organized.

After being given clearance to leave by the harbor master late in the evening, we pulled out of Punta Arenas in the darkness and headed into the Straight of Magellan. Our first destination is a southern rockhopper colony located on Isla Terhalten, a small island on the southeastern end of Tierra del Fuego. There we hope to get accurate counts of the penguins and obtain blood and feather samples that will help to establish the overall health of the colony. The journey will take 3 days and take us through the temperamental waters of the Beagle channel and into the beginnings of the Drake Passage. Right now the only thing I can see through the darkness is the disappearing lights of the city of Punta Arenas, but I have a feeling that when the sun comes up tomorrow I am in for some unbelievable sights.

Buenos noches,
- Caitlin


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