Kiss A Foot To Prevent Seasickness

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logo by Malaka Gharib
Freeze Frame: Sights, Sounds And Science From The Bottom Of The World NPR science producer Jason Orfanon guest blogs as he journeys to the Antarctic Peninsula. Keep up with him on Twitter: "@jorfanon." And view the whole series page.

By Jason Orfanon

At the center of the main square in Punta Arenas, Chile, is a towering bronze statue of Ferdinand Magellan, the legendary explorer who visited Patagonia in the early 1500s. Below him, also in bronze, is an indigenous Patagonian, whose low-hanging foot has been rubbed to a shine by travelers headed out to sea.

  • In the center of Punta Arenas, Chile, is a towering statue of Ferdinand Magellan, surrounded by mermaids and indigenous Patagonians. A kiss to the foot of one of the Patagonians is believed to bring luck to those traveling through the Drake Passage.
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    In the center of Punta Arenas, Chile, is a towering statue of Ferdinand Magellan, surrounded by mermaids and indigenous Patagonians. A kiss to the foot of one of the Patagonians is believed to bring luck to those traveling through the Drake Passage.
    Jason Orfanon/NPR
  • Paleontologist Peter Ward (second from right) and paleomagneticist Joe Kirschvink (center) make a pilgrimage to Magellan's statue before setting off to sea.
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    Paleontologist Peter Ward (second from right) and paleomagneticist Joe Kirschvink (center) make a pilgrimage to Magellan's statue before setting off to sea.
  • Lauren Edgar, a researcher from Caltech, plants a kiss on the statue's toe. Moments earlier, one of her colleagues sanitized the toe with antibacterial gel.
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    Lauren Edgar, a researcher from Caltech, plants a kiss on the statue's toe. Moments earlier, one of her colleagues sanitized the toe with antibacterial gel.
  • A crew member of the Laurence M. Gould tosses a line in preparation for the ship's departure.
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    A crew member of the Laurence M. Gould tosses a line in preparation for the ship's departure.
  • On the bridge of the Gould, crew member Forest McMullen plots the ship's course. It takes nearly four days to reach Palmer Station from Punta Arenas, without stopping.
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    On the bridge of the Gould, crew member Forest McMullen plots the ship's course. It takes nearly four days to reach Palmer Station from Punta Arenas, without stopping.
  • Calm waters welcomed the Laurence M. Gould on its passage through the Straits of Magellan.
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    Calm waters welcomed the Laurence M. Gould on its passage through the Straits of Magellan.
  • A pair of Commerson's dolphins ride the bow wave of the ship. Dozens of the dolphins visited the ship on its way through the Straits of Magellan.
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    A pair of Commerson's dolphins ride the bow wave of the ship. Dozens of the dolphins visited the ship on its way through the Straits of Magellan.

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Local legend says that a kiss to the statue's foot will bring you good luck and calm seas as you pass through the Drake Passage's notoriously rough waters. According to some, if one passenger skips the smooch, everyone onboard will suffer the barftastic wrath of the Drake.

I didn't want to be that guy. So, with just a few hours before our ship was scheduled to depart, I ran to town to get a kiss in before it was too late.

There, I met a group of geoscientists from our ship, half from the University of Washington, headed by paleontologist Peter Ward, and another from CalTech, headed by paleomagnetist Joe Kirschvink.

They're studying the islands in the Weddell Sea, just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Some are looking at invertebrate fossils in the rocks to determine what the temperature was 65 million years ago. Others are analyzing the magnetic signature of the rocks to determine their age.

Together, this information will help paint a picture of what was going on in this part of the world around the same time that dinosaurs disappeared. It may also shed light on earlier mass extinctions in this area and could even provide insight into the role that climate change played in them.

With kisses firmly planted, we loaded onto the ship and finally set out to sea. Calm waters and beautiful weather awaited us all the way to the mouth of the Straits of Magellan, and a few dolphins even paid us a visit along the way. But the Drake still lies ahead, and we'll just have to wait and see if those kisses will really do us any good.

Coming up next: The Laurence M. Gould enters the roller-coaster waters of the Drake Passage, one of the roughest patches of ocean in the world.

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