I’ve recently returned from a trip to Antarctica and the Patagonia region of southern Chile. This is my first trip since my round-the-world trip in late 2019 and traveling has certainly changed. After filling out multiple forms for the Chilean Ministry of Health regarding my vaccination status and verifying the type and date of my three vaccinations, I got the okay to go to Chile.
I was required to have a PCR test within 72 hours of departing the United States. Originally, I was scheduled to leave Kansas City on Sunday, January 16. I got a PCR test at our nearest community health department on Thursday, January 13. It was negative. I wasn’t sure whether the 72 hours was from the date of the test or the date I got my results so I scheduled another test the next day at our local hospital. Another negative test. Meanwhile, my flights were cancelled on Saturday due to weather in Atlanta, my connecting airport. Delta rebooked my flights for Monday. When I arrived at the airport about three hours early, Delta refused my test because I wouldn’t be departing the US within the 72 hours from the time the test was administered. They sent me to an Urgent Care location about ten minutes from the airport for an antigen test. Got it…negative…and headed back to the airport. All good.
I had a two hour connection in Santiago, Chile for my final destination, Punta Arenas, Chile but I was required to get another another PCR test at the Santiago airport. Everyone arriving in Chile is required to get this test. Transiting the Santiago airport and going through the necessary procedures was difficult. Lines were long and even though I got pushed to the head of the PCR test line, I couldn’t make it fast enough. I missed the connection and was booked on a later flight that day. Most of my fellow travelers on my trip required 3 1/2 to 4 hours to go through the required procedures.
The company I had booked my trip with had arranged for a hotel in Punta Arenas prior to boarding our ship for our trip to Antarctica. Before boarding, we were bused to the port were we were required to get another Covid-19 antigen test….negative again. Chile is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and everyone wears masks. Getting into a restaurant requires your temperature being taken at the door, your name and phone number for contract tracing, if necessary, and be masked. Plus only two people are allowed to sit at a table.
Our ship, the Greg Mortimer, was built in 2019. It is owned by Aurora Expeditions and is named for the company founder. It’s a beautiful ship with two viewing platforms that come out of the bow on either side.
This ship holds 120 passengers and a crew of 95. There were only 76 passengers onboard for our trip. Due to Covid precautions, we were divided into four groups of 19 or so. Each assigned a color…red, blue, yellow, and green. The red/blue group ate together in the dining room first one day and then alternated with the yellow/green group the next. Masks were worn all the time with the exception of when we were in our cabins or in the dining room. The two groups very rarely were together. Otherwise, whether we were hiking or in zodiacs, we wore masks. Also, we were assigned table mates and ate with the same people every meal. There was no moving from table to table to meet and visit with others. Also, there was an empty chair between everyone. All food was served by the staff whether buffet for breakfast and lunch or a la carte at dinner. There was no helping yourself in the buffet line. The food was very good by the way! Everyone onboard was tested five times. After the first test, about 3 days into the cruise, three people tested positive and were confined to their cabins. I was tested a total of 10 times between my first test at the community clinic at home and my final test before I departed Chile for home on Feb. 4.
The ship moved multiple times as we cruised along the west coast of the Antarctic peninsula. We made numerous landings and used zodiacs among the icebergs. On shore the primary attraction was penquins…gentoo, chinstrap and adelie. Also ashore were fur seals, crab seals, Weddell seals and tiger seals.
We look at seals in my next post.
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