Oh, yes—it’s an action-packed time here in the Lindblat/Nat Geo ballroom!
The expedition leader is named Lucho. He’s a Latino and I foolishly assumed his name would be pronounced LOO-koh. But no; Spanish being such a fundamentally decent language, it’s pronounced exactly as written. LOO-Cho. Huh.
Lucho stood up before the dinner buffet this evening in the Miami ballroom and gave us a peek at the hoops HE’S been jumping through. The nation of Chile has been establishing protocols for tourists pretty much every hour.
For instance: When we arrive in Puerto Arenas, they want us to deplane in groups of fifteen. Or maybe twenty; the number is changing frequently. That’s so their health inspectors aren’t overwhelmed. Our flight time was moved; instead of leaving at 9pm tonight and flying for nine hours, we’re now leaving between midnight and 12:30; it seems clear that’s so we land while the health inspectors have already had their morning coffee. Drink up, boys; we want you nice and happy.
We get to Punto Arenas and go in batches into the airport, where we are given the third COVID test in three days. The previous two results will be closely examined; Chile decided this evening that they wanted those results in digital AND in printed formats (yesterday it was just digital), so the Lindblat people have been running around like mad printing off COVID test results to hand out like dance cards at a cotillion. Plus please take a screen grab of everything, so you have photos as well as emails and printed copies. We are wearing belts, suspenders, and duct tape.
After the third COVID test, we need to wait for those results. Chile assures Lucho that those results will be in within two or three hours; Lucho did not roll his eyes but it was implied. We had a nose-skewering today at about 1PM; I just got my YAY! NEGATIVE AGAIN! results about half an hour ago. That’s six hours.
Chile was willing to allow us to go from the airport to the ship, to quarantine for five days there. But today they said, no—you’d better quarantine at a hotel. In the telling, Lucho skipped over the part where we paid for 18 days on a cruise but perhaps got five days in a Punto Arenas hotel room and 13 days on the ship…instead he said he spent the afternoon calling hotels in Punto Arenas, which—he tells us—isn’t a very big place. There aren’t enough hotels to get us all rooms to quarantine.
Finally he found a hotel that would give us ONE room; I assume it was one BIG room… He paid the deposit. And THEN Chile said “No, you’d be better to quarantine on the ship.”
This is hot on the heels of the fact that Lindblad had rented hotel rooms here in the Miami Hilton for us passengers so we could quarantine alone while awaiting today’s nose swab results. We were supposed to be out of the rooms by 4pm, but when Chile pushed the arrival time of the flight, Lindblad had to negotiate with the Hilton to extend those times; I think they’re pretty much renting all these hotel rooms for a regular night, even though we’re all meeting in the ballroom at 9:45 tonight to be ferried to the charter terminal.
(Two big busses? Four small busses? Nobody knows; once the time got changed, no one is quite sure who’s going to be available to drive. Oh, it’s a hoop-jumper, I’m telling you. And Lucho NEVER lost his smile. Or the implication of a smile, since we are all very firmly masked.)
Best of all, Chile has announced that if one passenger (or crew, I guess) tests positive, then the cruise will be canceled for all of us. No use quarantining the sick person; we’re all forbidden to cruise. However, we also won’t be allowed to leave until we’re past infection—so we’ll be sitting at the dock in the ship.
That raised a lot of eyebrows. “Let’s just kill the person who tests positive,” one wag noted. “Pitch him over the side.” Lots of grey and grizzled heads nodded at that idea. “Yeah. We’ll do that.”
So my journey has barely begun and is already more action-packed than I would have imagined. The kind Lindbladian who walked me through filling out the affidavit told me that once he lost an apple in his hiking backpack; it had fallen into his sleeping bag and been bundled away. He flew from Argentina to Chile and when they got to Chile, they xrayed his bag and literally sirens and lights went off. In the US, we xray for shoe bombers; in Chile they xray for apples. He was taken into a little room and interrogated; he had to pay a $200 fee. “Chile is very serious about its agriculture. They like their wine. They are NOT playing.”
Apparently not playing with COVID, either.
The hoop-jumping really is impressive—and even more so given that the ship holds 148 passengers and only 70 of us have successfully jumped through our individual hoops. Lindblad can hardly be making a profit on this, and here they are renting hotel rooms right and left. They are trying very, very hard.
The small number of passengers, of course, is great for me. There are 14 naturalists/celestial navigators/cold water divers/photographers, etc. on board. That’s a ratio of five passengers per naturalist. I am going to score me some GOOD Tau time to learn about canoeing across an ocean guided by bird migration patterns!
As Lady Bracknell would say—this is a life crowded with incident!
I have no good photos yet. I’m in Miami, for cripes’ sake. Here’s a picture of the day’s itinerary before it went to shit. Most of this didn’t happen. Whee!