Rubbing Magellan’s Toe: Getting to know our Port of Departure, Punta Arenas

January 9, 2011, 16:30 local

Punta Arenas is located in the Strait of Magellan in southern Chile, and is well advertised locally as one of the southernmost cities in the world. An old peeling and weathered McDonalds poster at the pier closest to the Melville boasts—Punta Arenas, “Home of the Southernmost McDonalds.” Many passengers on our flight from Santiago named Antarctica as their ultimate destination—some for the purpose of recreation and others for research. This is certainly the farthest south I have ever been, and I’m enjoying the experience of getting to know a new city.

We arrived here in Punta Arenas on Thursday evening after 24 hours of travel, and our plan is to depart on Tuesday, January 11th. Upon arrival, I noticed that Punta Arenas has a low cityscape with a mix of old and new architecture. Strong winds year-round seem to prevent the area’s vegetation from growing very tall. The Melville’s location offshore provided for an ideal view of Punta Arenas. (Because of the high demand for space at the pier, the Melville was anchored in the strait, about a five-minute boat ride from land, for several days, and returned to the pier last night.) From the distant view, it is evident that the city is established on a hill, with the majority of development at the bottom of the hill closest to the water, while the top of the hill remains natural and undisturbed. Temperatures have averaged around 55˚F while we’ve been here, accompanied by primarily overcast skies.

On my first night in the city, several Bigelow scientists took me to a statue prominently displayed in a park in the city’s center. This statue is of Magellan, the explorer and namesake of the strait on which we are currently located, and several Amerindians. I was told to rub the toe of the statue for good luck on our voyage, but how did I know which one to rub, you may wonder? One toe is a shiny bronze color that starkly contrasts with the rest of the statue, and seemed to me like the obvious choice. However, I was not deceived! I was fortunate enough to have an expert with me, who revealed that the correct toe was actually hiding on the other side of the statue, with little evidence of any attention from visitors seeking good fortune. So just to be safe, I rubbed both toes! Hopefully that means we’ll have especially good luck on our journey.

So here we remain in our port of departure, Punta Arenas. Most of our time thus far has been dedicated to setting up the equipment that we already have here on the ship, and we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rest of the instruments and equipment so we can prepare for departure! Ultimate destination: Cape Town, South Africa.

– Annie

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