Friday, June 03, 2005

Chapter 1 - Miami to Punta Arenas, Chile

Chapter 1

“Jay is your responsibility! If he isn’t showing up to eat, you should be letting me know!!”

All I can think of in the back of my mind as Jack is reaming me out is “Pound sand, Jack.” He’s acting as though I am Jay’s babysitter. For Christ’s sake, Jay is a grown man. He’s only my cabin Bunkie while I’m on the ship. He told me right from the beginning when we were flying out of Miami that he didn’t take the trip down to Palmer well. He has been down to Palmer three other times and if he stayed in bed the whole trip, he told me not to worry. That was his way of dealing with the sea-sickness.

Jack has already gotten on most people’s last good nerve, so I am letting his rookie comments go in one ear and out the other. Most of this crew going down to Palmer are rookies. Very few OAE’s, or Old Antarctic Explorers as Mark Melcon, better known as Commander, has said.

I don’t feel the greatest myself, but I’m not puking my guts up or anything. Anything with sugar seems to calm my stomach, so I’ve been on the cookie and cracker diet since we got out of the Straits of Magellan and into the open waters of the Drake Passage. It seems like weeks already since my departing Miami.

Lisa, our admin assistant in the office in Paramus had told me that I would probably see a couple of people on the flight enroute to Chile, but Jay was the only one she could think of. Sure enough, when I was getting ready to get something to eat, that is when I ran into Jay Fields. It was convenient that I ran into him at the airport in Miami. It gave us the chance to exchange notes about the job and about Palmer Station in general.

We landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina around 08:30 a.m. for a one hour layover. Then another four more hours to Santiago, Chile. We arrived in Santiago around 13:00. The weather was cooler than Fort Lauderdale with temps around fifty to sixty. At least the sun was shining as we stepped off the plane. The area around Santiago didn't look much different than the eastern range of Colorado from the airplane.

We were met at the terminal by ITT’s agent named Jimmie. This guy walked up to me while I was in line to get my passport checked and asked if I was "Dabid Guyus". I said I was and he introduced himself to me and told me to follow him. He took me around the lines to an open booth on the far left. There he quickly explained in Spanish the situation to immigrations and my passport was quickly stamped.

Jimmie helped Jay and me with our luggage at the carousel and then took us to his car a newer Chevy wagon. In the airport parking lot, it seemed many of the cars were either Nissan, Toyota or Chevy's. For as quick as we got through customs,
Jimmie really knew his way around the Chilean system or had relatives in the right places. Turns out it is a little of both.

The ride into the city was relatively uneventful. Jimmie boasted about his great American car and by American standards drove like a maniac. He frequently crossed over the center line and honked at bicycles and pedestrians to give them a forewarning of his approach. The scenery, did, in fact remind me a lot of eastern
Colorado: semi barren with scrub trees and bushes, but the soil was a golden color.

It was a Sunday afternoon, so the streets were fairly empty and we arrived at the hotel quickly. I was really tired from the flight, but more interested first in checking out the market area. Saw some hand carved and hand painted round boxes, but I couldn't see buying this to drag it around. Besides, I couldn't speak Spanish and didn't have pesos in hand. The wife did speak English and said, "One fifty," but I declined.

I walked further down the square past two military people on one corner and found my way to a crowd of people. They were all gathered around a street comedian who was doing his act in drag. At first I wasn't sure this character was male. He was dressed in blue jeans with a yellow tutu type get up and had his shoulder length hair partially dyed blonde with the rest black. He bellowed out something in Spanish like a love song type ballad and clutched his hands to his face. Then his song drew him across the crowd to a guy sitting in a chair. He quickly wisked this guy off his feet. Dancing and singing lovingly with him in his arms. This poor sod couldn't do anything more at this point than blush a deep red and dance.

This affair continued with others in the audience and the crowd really seemed to enjoy him. I laughed also, not at the lyrics, but at the way the guy did his act. He was sincerely entertaining. Not to mention that he was the highlight of my day
thus far. I desperatly needed some sleep if I was to meet Jay in the lobby at six that evening.

I met Jay in the lobby at six, and we ended up eating at the hotel. By the time we finished, it was close to ten and he was tired again. I was too, but wanted a nightcap before bed. I had a Royal Guard, which reminded me of the type of beers I had drank in Germany. A nice change from the American stuff back home. I tried speaking with the bartender, but he only understood Spanish no ingles, no aleman. I now knew how some of my Ami friends in Germany felt. I never realized how much I took my speaking German for granted until I couldn't communicate in Spanish.

Eight thirty came too early. In a whirlwind, Jimmy got us out of the hotel and out to the airport in his usual manner honking at the pedestrians and bikes, always left of the center line!!

We smoothly cut a path to the Lan Chile counter and made sure that we got the seats we wanted. Soon we bade our goodbyes and walked out to the 737 enroute to Punta Arenas. Jay and I sat across from one another, but neither one of us were too
energetic. I had fresh oysters with lemon. Nothing at all like I remember oysters I had had in Chicago. Of course, these were fresh. Jay then tells me later, "Oh, you probably shouldn't have eaten the oysters. You don't know what kind of parasites you may pick up." Well, too late now. If I don't got it now, I will
have it soon!

We had an interesting little stopover in Puerto Montt that made me somewhat embarrassed to be an American. One naiive American tourist pulls out his camera and starts taking pictures of the military planes on the runway. The guards quickly confiscated the camera and pulled him into the terminal. Someone should forewarn people that this type of activity is a no no in most countries outside of the United States. Americans tend to think that our freedom is something that we can take with us around the world like a plastic credit card. I'm sure that he got his camera back, sans film and after a major wrist slapping.

Punta Arenas. A kind of dingy little port town on the Straits of Magellan. The day was overcast and rain followed in the early evening. An agent or driver took us to our hotel and didn't say but two words to us. At least we were getting closer to our destination.

Los Navigantes wasn't quite as plush as the Galeria in Santiago, but it was alright. I was ready for a couple of hour nap prior to venturing out to conquer the far southern hemisphere. It was a Monday evening and rainy and drizzling. Picked up a few postcards and wrote those out that night. For a small town, they certainly had a number of small shops.

The highlight of this day was walking into a store to buy a couple of chocolate bars. The owner came from the back and I asked, "Habla ingles?"
"Habla allemen?"
"No, Habla Greek?"
I could only smile and reply ,"no." That's ok, we made do with pointing. But he made me feel welcome inspite of our language barrier.

Tuesday, October 18th. Outta bed around eight thirty to have breakfast with Jay, then up to the agents at COMAPA. Saw the Polar Duke for the first time last night. She was on the far side of a docked Korean fishing boat, Whew!!!

We walked across the decks of the fishing vessel to see the Duke today and I ran into the ship comms guy today. Haven't seen him since we were picked up at Newark last month. Mike left the next day for Valpariso to meet the Duke in dry dock at that time.

Nothing going on that evening, so had more chances to bum around. Went to the post office to mail out postcards. Two Englishmen in front of me offered to translate, but I declined. It is better to struggle through and learn what I can of Spanish. I did get the proper postage too. Don't know how much more free time I will have now. We are to move into our rooms on the Duke tomorrow.

October 19, 1988: Moved onto the Duke and met scientists Maggie and Dave. They will be on the ship most of time, but will making a stopover in Palmer during their tour. Went out to dinner that night and experienced fresh Centolla, king crab. Very inexpensive and very good. I could live on this kind of diet.

October 20: Received my issue today. Carhart winter work coat, three pair of gloves; one rubberized and two insulated, flannel shirts, work type pants, wool socks, long underwear, hats, insulated boots, you name it, it is there. Packed it up in an old military dufflebag and tossed it in the truck. Today, I'll help Vince and Carlos distribute issue for the others who will arrive later.

Around 14:30, they all arrive. We gave out issue until six. We are supposed to meet the others at the restaurant we ate at last night, but never made it. Two of the guys who arrived, Jamie and Jose, along with Carlos and I went out for a few beers. They hailed a cab and we went over to change money for them at some legal black market cambios, then headed up to Los Navigantes for a beer. We had a few and then Carlos' wife and little one came over.

Carlos' wife was a beautiful Argentine with medium brown hair and captivating hazel eyes and very fair skin. She was definitely not Chilean, since most of the Chilenos I have seen have jet black or brown hair and brown eyes and darker skin. His little
boy looked just like his wife. The little guy had quite a colorful English vocabulary of four letter words, for a four year old!

We migrated over to another hotel bar at the Cristobal. Brian Wilson showed up there with his Chilena girlfriend and her sister Jackie. She was supposed to be a set up for Jose, but they instantly hated one another. By the end of the meal, Jose and Jackie were not on friendly terms and Jackie asked Brian to invite me down to their end of the table to squeeze Jose out.

I didn't understand much, but Brian ended up being my translator for the night as it turned out. I was then asked to go with Brian and the two sisters and graciously accepted. I felt obligated to go, and what the hell, I was only here for the night.

First we went to a cafe in the city. It had a very European atmosphere with a DJ playing current music, cafe curtains in the windows and a carpeted floor like the Newcastle in Kalkar, the bar we used to frequent in Germany. The girls frequently waved to aquaintences across the room and one of Jackie's male friends came up and talked with us for awhile. Brian acted as translator and we all chatted a very
casual conversation. I really was surprised how many of the younger people here smoke. That was another similarity to Germany.

Soon we were leaving with Jackie's friend driving to points unknown. Brian said we were going to a friend of Jackie's on the other side of Punta Arenas. So the five of us piled into a Chevy pick up with no muffler. This clown was doing California stops through the center of Punta Arenas. Next thing we know, we're there: Dorthea's (an entertainment center primarily for the gentleman persuasion). Ok, so far I'm taking things in stride, but in mixed company?!!

Jackie rings the bell and her friend answers the door. One kiss on the cheek for all and soon we are sitting in the "party room" with some Chilean guy passed out on the couch across from us and a few Korean or Japanese visitors (probably from the fish ships on the docks that have been unloading groups of frozen packed fish for three days) balancing out the bunch.

One might say that the majority of the entertainers were not too appealing if not alittle scary. If I was ever tempted to leave before the entertainment began, now was the time. But I would endure somehow. I am struggling to keep on a polite face at this point.

Jackie and Brian insisted that I have a beer. I say insisted because I was made to feel guilty for declining. Besides, do you think I wanted to end up passed out due to unknown causes with $150 American in my wallet? Maybe I was just alittle paranoid, but who can blame me after Mike told me the story about the poor drugged American sailor whose CO barely saved him from being kidnapped and dumped with no money in some gutter in Valpariso. Supposedly his beer was drugged when he got up to dance. But this is Punta Arenas, not Valpariso and I was with other Americans. At any rate, I'm a stranger in a strange land and I wasn't about to take chances.

I know that Jackie wanted me to make moves on her, but she was a bit too snooty for me (with not too much to be snooty about). Besides, her friend, as much as she pushed him away, was hitting hard on her and she loved it. I was ready to go to sleep anyway and we all soon left. Mario Andretti of the southern hemisphere almost got us killed by nearly sideswiping a parked car, but I got out at the Mobile sttion when he filled up. I thanked them all for an interesting evening and made my way to the docks around the corner. The Polar Duke looked beautiful all lighted up in the cool austral spring air and the water was calm and quiet.

Friday, October 21 1988: Well, I guess we leave today sometime around three. Got up at eight thirty as we had our safety brief and emergency practices. Rode out in the emergency life boats. Looks like a big orange plastic bubble in the water. Bobbed around in that for half hour or so. Then we were released around 10:30 to be back at 13:30. We pulled out of the dock at 15:00 on schedule. It was kind of sad to leave. I just started feeling familiar with the town.

The waters were calm, the sun had come out by afternoon and everyone was kind of geared up and ready to leave. Carlos and his wife saw us off. His son got into the car on the dock and was honking the horn and waving. Truly a scene out of Loveboat, only thing missing was confetti and streamers.

We hit some rough waters as we came out of the Strait of Magellan and then ducked into the safety of the Beagle Channel. At the moment, we are going through the Beagle Channel. It really is a beautiful sight. The tall mountains on both sides
are covered with pines and snow. Some of the niches inbetween the peaks harbor glaciers which glide gently down to the waters edge as if to sip the water.

As we cruised passed Ushuaia, Argentina (the world's southern most city), two Argentine military jets rush overhead to check us out. The border dispute still seems as active as ever in spite of the papal decision of how many years past? We should be entering the Drake Passage around five this evening.