Antarctic Adventure Travel

Many Happy Returns

At the hotel I am met by Fay and Sue who are waiting to take me to the airport. Right to the very end, as befits an organisation that is operating at the bottom of the world, they are providing a service that is almost out of this world. They are both great and I appreciate their efforts so much. They give me my South Pole certificate and an Adventure International T-shirt and cap.

On the way to the airport we pick up Rebecca Johnston, a film screenwriter also travelling to Santiago. Another coincidence! Becky has written the screenplay for Seven Years In Tibet, the world famous epic book written by Heinrich Harrer. The film is being shot in Mendoza, Argentina, after suddenly being denied shooting rights in India. Becky had, one day previously, said adios to her boyfriend who is climbing Mount Vinson; he would have been in the group that were arriving at Patriot Hills as I left. I mention my many contacts with Heinrich Harrer and that he has written a recommendation for my last book, Zen Explorations in Remotest New Guinea, printed on the back cover. Even more coincidences then arise; Becky used to work with Ridley and Tony Scott, two film directors with whom I work very closely. As we check in and before we say our warm goodbyes, Fay insists I acquire a Punta Arenas certificate which confirms I have journeyed through the Southernmost City of the World.

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At the departure gate there are crowds of travellers waiting to board and it’s a melee of chaos. There are in fact two flights to Santiago, both leaving from the same gate and within 15 minutes of each other. One is with Lan Chile the other with Ladeco. The people waiting for either aircraft are completely mixed up and there are no announcements on which flight is leaving first. Those without a little Spanish have no chance. They’ll probably be there manana. In fact Ladeco is scheduled to go first, then Lan Chile is ticketed before it and those who have their passes are taken on a coach to board. I’m sure that several miss their actual flight. I only work it out by constantly checking at the front desk and not accepting any information given without rechecking several times. Becky just follows my lead and when we are finally asked to board I call her over and make certain she gets on the coach to the aircraft. We have lots to talk about and spend most of our flights to Santiago huddled together sharing and exchanging stories.

We have a short stopover at Concepcion and Becky immediately gets up to leave as she thinks it must already be Santiago. I go after her and pull her back and she’s very relieved that I’m there. She easily could have got off and missed the continuing flight onwards. As a memento she gives me her special pass to the film set of Seven Years In Tibet. I don’t have one of my books with me, so give her a Joseph Conrad book of adventure short stories. When we arrive at Santiago airport Juan my driver is waiting, we drop Becky off at her hotel and I continue on to mine. Then I discover I’ve left my precious McMurdo Antarctic hat on the plane. Hurriedly I phone Ladeco and they promise to find it and have it left for me at the BA check-in desk in the morning. After my earlier experiences I am doubtful, but there’s nothing more to do. many happy returns

The next morning there’s luckily still a little time left to explore more of Santiago. I couldn’t leave without visiting the Fundacion Pablo Neruda, Casa Museo Isla Negra, once the home of one of my favourite poets. The house was built facing the mountains and is called La Chascona in honour of Neruda’s wife, Matilde Urrutia. At first he called it Medusa due to his infatuation with this Chilean beauty with reddish, curly hair, but eventually he decided a more Chilean expression would be more appropriate. Neruda wrote to Matilde, in the way only he could, ‘I call you curly my tangler, my heart knows the doorways of your heart.’ The bars of the windows have the head of Medusa, as well as the initials of Pablo Neruda and Matilde Urrutia, intertwined with breaking waves; the sea and the elements always moved him to poetic expressions of intense feeling. I pick up several of his books and a line jumps out from one of his many love poems, ‘The moon lives in the lining of your skin.’ I buy that book of love poems and several others and quickly take a number of photos. The atmosphere of this, his last home, is utterly entrancing but I daren’t delay any longer. I’m lucky to find a taxi quickly and it’s a rush to the airport to check in, just on time. It’s unbelievable but my Antarctic hat is waiting for me at the BA counter. The only stopover is in Rio de Janeiro and to make certain I don’t lose it again I decide to put it on. In the sultry heat of Brazil, it must look a little strange to be wearing something on my head proclaiming my connection to the coldest continent in the world.

But some like it cold.

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