11.30 AM: After travelling for over 20 hours from Cusco to Lima to Santiago to Punta Arenas, we finally arrive at the Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport. I am fairly delirious at this point, but at least the weather is nice. Get picked up for the hotel by Antarctica XXI’s bus, along with a few other passengers. On our short drive to the hotel, we pass by the picturesque coastline of the Magellan Strait.
11.45 AM: Surprisingly, Punta Arenas has a fairly bustling downtown area – was not picturing this before. We arrive at Hotel Rey Don Felipe, but it’s too early to check-in, so we go to try on our boots and then head out to lunch & explore.
1.00 PM: Lunch at La Marmita, known for their amazing seafood (though I suspect most seafood is omnom in this seaside town) based on a recommendation from Pascale, our Antarctica XXI rep in Chile. It’s a very cute, boutiquey restaurant full of colorful knick knacks and the most entertaining waiter I’ve ever encountered. After lunch, we walk around downtown before making our way back to the hotel. We notice a shiny North Face store on the way – good strategy North Face.
5.00 PM: Orientation, where we try to cram 60 people into a room only meant for 30. Basic guidelines and what have you, nothing too interesting here. Learn that travelers on this trip are from all over the world (unlike Tauck tours, which consist of mostly North Americans). Japan, France, Italy, Australia – you name it.
7.30 PM: We have dinner and cocktails at the historical & beautiful Hotel Plaza downtown. There was a father-son due from Japan – poor kid was PTFOed almost the entire time, since they just flew in from Japan that day (36+ hours of travelling). His father told us that he lets each of his children choose a trip location when they turn 12 years old. Previously, they chose New York, Miami, and Africa. Naturally, Antarctica is the only way to one-up Africa. I wonder how his son chose it – when I was 12, I sure as hell didn’t know Antarctic travel was possible. We also met a gentleman from Rome who tried to go on the trip last year, but got owned by the bad weather in Europe. This time around, he arrived in Santiago three days early to avoid the same fate (v. smart, considering the snow + air travel backlog we had just seen on TV). Now that’s determination.
9.30 PM: Get our first taste of southern summers as we head back to the hotel – it looks and feels like 5PM outside, even though it’s already half past 9. Prep and pack once we get back – early day tomorrow, with a wake-up call at 2:45AM to meet in the lobby at 3:45AM! Flying to Antarctica requires a solid 6 hour block of good weather – lucky us, that means we have to fly out at 5:30AM. But hey, better early than late :)