Inside The New York Botanical Garden

From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn

Posted in Bill Buck, From the Field, Science on January 16 2011, by William R. Buck

Ed. note: NYBG scientist and Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck is currently on expedition to the islands off Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America, to study mosses and lichens. Follow his journeys on Plant Talk.

January 16, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile

We were originally scheduled to set sail and head out to sea tomorrow, but I’m hoping we’ll oly be delayed by a day. Two more of our group arrived last night, Blanka Shaw from Duke University and Jim Shevock from the California Academy of Sciences. All day there had been conflicting stories in the news about whether or not the protesters (who are protesting against the government for raising fuel prices) would allow a bus to take airline passengers from the airport to the barricade nearest the city. Because of the uncertainty, Juan Larraín, a graduate student at the Universidad de Concepción (in Concepción, Chile, just south of Santiago, where the earthquake was the worst last year) and our main Chilean collaborator on the project, borrowed a bicycle from a friend and went out to meet the flight. There was a bus, but initially they would not allow Blanka on it because she was too young. Fortunately, Juan was able to get her on the bus, along with Jim, and all their luggage. We had then arranged for a local student who will be on our trip, Ernesto Davis, to be waiting with a car on the other side of the barricade. About 9:30pm they arrived at the hotel, and Juan arrived about a half an hour later by bicycle. Neither Blanka nor Jim have ever been to South America and were excited to be here. At the barricade, as they walked through with their luggage, they even stopped to collect their first moss in Chile!

Needless to say, Blanka and Jim wanted to see the town today, and so Juan and I acted as tour guides, despite the fact that we both still have blistered feet from our walk from the airport a couple of days ago. While walking around the city, we came across a demonstration march around the central square, with its statue of Ferdinand Magellan. What was so interesting is that the protesters were not just young people, as one often sees at demonstrations. Rather, whole families, from grandparents to young children, were marching with flags and banners. It was very exciting to see such multigenerational activism.

We have an unconfirmed report that tomorrow there will be a flight from Puerto Williams. A group of 30-40 biologists are trapped there because of cancelled flights. They had been there for an inauguration ceremony for a new biological station. I had initially been invited but because of limited flights to Puerto Williams (and then mostly 18-seater prop planes) and limited accommodations (one hotel and a few bed-and-breakfasts) I bowed out. However, a few friends, including Bernard Goffinet from the University of Connecticut, as well as a group of students, four of whom are scheduled to join our expedition, are now trapped there awaiting a flight out. Tomorrow we’ll see if they get off of Isla Navarino. Assuming they do, and assuming I can finally get my luggage (still at the Punta Arenas airport), we’ll depart on Tuesday, January 18, just a day late.

Just moments ago a new rumor surfaced. We heard that until midnight the road to the airport would be open, but after midnight it would be shut tight, not even allowing pedestrians to walk there. I’m sure it’s to pressure the main airline, LAN Chile, to stop flying people to the city because they would just be trapped in the airport, plus their employees couldn’t get to work. On the chance this is true, Juan and Ernesto have gone to the airport to try and get our luggage. I hope it works because I’d really like some clean clothes. Of course that would mean the Puerto Williams group are still stuck! We have even discussed renting a helicopter (around $2,000 per hour) to retrieve the luggage.

Stay tuned for future developments ….


Renato Gama said:

Hey Bill!!! I’m a student of Paulo Camara here in Brasilia!! I went to NYBG last year to get some copies of Irwin’s notebooks, don’t know if you remember that though…

Wow, great to know that you guys are there in Tierra del Fuego.. I have a special felling towards that region of Chile… :D

I’m going there in March to collect some mosses too!
Hope we get to talk before I go to Chile again..

Have a great expedition there!
Good luck with the protesters!!
Renato Gama.

Li said:


Inés Sastre De Jesús said:

Hi Bill,
Interesting way to start you expedition; it certainly adds a lot of color. I hope you do not get into tear gas like it happened to me in Ecuador back in the 80’s. Mis saludos to Juan! Best wishes, Inés

Ajit Pratap Singh said:

Dear Dr. Bill,
Its wonderful to hear about comprehensive bryophyte and lichen excursion in far and remote regions of America. But, I am worried to know about the protest on petrol issue going on there, and commence of the excursion along with it. The civilian protest and their hostileness brings sitaution very worst, because the protest is s collective manifestation of disperateness on the issues they look for. Ofcourse, the very excursion you all accomplishing procedened in the bee hour of their protest. The mob usually becomes more attentive towards people of high concern and distinct delegates, to impose their demands before concerned administration. Thus, try to escape in giving shade of your glimpse to them. The mob may be comprised of teens, youth and senior citizens, thus ofcourse, their deniel of Bus for Blanka Shaw seem to be very genuine. I’d suggest you all to avoid even small encounter possibilities to the protesters; if possible delay the excursion till it lit off, and be more attentive till you smell it. Once, I too had worst experience of this situations in far away and remote regions of my field work.

I very warmly wish a wonderful, happiest and profitable excursion to all. Convey my regards and wishes to Shaw, Shevock, Goffinet and other participants.

I look to receive and be aquainted more from all of you.

Ajit P. Singh

Colin Dillingham said:

Sounds like quite an adventure. Say Hi to Jim and Blanka and several of us are hoping they come to the California SOBEFREE bryo excursion near the end of March.
Colin Dillingham