Thursday, November 19, 2009
I'd forgotten how much Spanish I'd forgotten.
Still, there's a special kick to navigating a foreign city on your own. (Last night I escaped from the torture that is modern air travel. About 36 hours of cramped seats and crowded airports. Almost makes you yearn for the days of scurvy and storms that would have brought you to the Strait of Magellan by steam and sail a few generations ago.)
Anyway, like almost any place I've been, locals are surprisingly accommodating of unilingual Americans. Punta Arenas is a friendly port city that makes a go off of shipping, sheep and scientists. Lots of wool and fleece and glacier glasses. I arrived to weather I had left behind: soggy and about 15 degrees above freezing. I couldn't see the sun, but it appeared to set very late.
I come courtesy of the Marine Biological Laboratory which has put National Science Foundation bucks to use in a science writing fellowship that will take me and two other journalists to Palmer Station on the Antarctic peninsula. My main patron, of course, is The Kansas City Star, which has sprung me free for a little over a month and agreed to pick up the cost of sending me south a few days early in hopes of tagging along on a NASA DC-8 flight over the last continent. (That's still iffy. Maybe on Saturday if the skies clear.)
And most significantly, I'm here with the blessing of a family that's let me miss Thanksgiving and a very special birthday in pursuit of a frigid wanderlust.
Picked out a bag of loaner polar clothing at Raytheon's port-side warehouse this morning. (Apparently summers in Antarctica are cooler than in the Midwest.) I'd show you a picture of all the gear, includes something called a red yazoo cap that looks like it sounds, but it's already been set aside for storage on the ship that will tow me farther south. They actually had comfy boots that fit my oversized feet. But, alas, no gloves large enough for a Sasquatch. (Luckily, I brought my own army surplus gloves and overmitts.)
If weather clears over Antarctica, I'll fly on a NASA ice-measuring plane over the continent tomorrow night. Weather and a strike at the airport have that trip in jeopardy for the moment. If that flight scrubs, maybe Saturday -- or not at all.