by Staff Writers
Villa Las Estrellas, Antarctica (AFP) April 04, 2014
There is no crime or traffic and in this Antarctic hamlet paychecks can be much higher than on the Chilean mainland. Plus, the penguins are very cute.
But residents of Villa Las Estrellas also have to endure winters with howling blizzards and temperatures that plunge to -40 Celsius (-40 Farenheit) in winter, making it painful to even breathe outdoors.
And they don't get many visitors.
"Living here is entertaining compared with the continent," said Jose Carrillan Rosales, principal of the tiny Las Estrellas school.
"The hard part is spending many days indoors. For example, last winter we spent eight days without leaving home because of the wind and snow," he told AFP.
- Attractions include penguins -
Villa Las Estrellas is located at Fildes Bay on King George Island, located on the northernmost tip of the Antarctic peninsula.
The 30-year-old hamlet, population 64, has a post office, a bank, 10 houses, a miniature mall, a gym and a school for the six children who live there. It is part of the Presidente Eduardo Frei Chilean Air Base.
Most of the residents are relatives of the military personnel on the air base.
One attraction of living so far south is the exotic fauna, especially the long tailed Gentoo Penguins, which have bright orange bills and white stripes between their eyes across the top of their heads.
To survive in this remote town one must be highly organized: the local market opens just twice a week and stock is limited. Locals stockpile their own soap, toothpaste and shampoo.
Rosales, originally from a mainland town south of Santiago, has been in Las Estrellas for two years along with his wife -- also a teacher at the school -- and his two children.
He's happy living in the remote outpost.
"Life here is tranquil, you're not worried about theft, or with traffic," he said. He's also happy that he can be with his children "all day".
Life in Antarctica might be bleak, but plenty of Chileans would like Rosales's job. For a teacher, the pay can be five times higher than on the mainland.
"To come here, there is a nationwide contest," said Rosales's wife Maria Cristina Hernandez.
"The first requirement is for both applicants to be teachers and married to each other," she said.
Other requirements include a master's degree and at least one year of work experience.
Single candidates need not apply, she said, because there is only one house to live in.
The school opened in 1985, and since then 290 children -- sons and daughters of Chilean air force members and base support personnel -- have spent time in its classrooms.
-- Survival 'a challenge' --
Nine year old Josefina Opaso's father is an air force officer, and her mother works at the small shopping center.
"It's fascinating to live in a place that almost nobody can come to see," she told AFP.
"It's also a challenge because living here one has to go out well protected in warm clothes. Sometimes we can't go out because of the blizzards. It's the hard part of living here in Antarctica," she said.
Francisco Fuentes, 62, is manger of the sole bank -- BCI, or Banco de Credito e Inversiones -- in the village.
He has two grown children and a wife of 37 years, but left them on the mainland to become the bank manager.
Fuentes's customers can withdraw Chilean pesos, transfer money, exchange US dollars, and manage their investments at the bank.
"What I enjoy doing here are things I would never have thought of when I lived in the continent, like flying in a helicopter over glaciers," said Fuentes.
And his pay is also pretty good: about 120 percent more than what he would earn back north.
Beyond the Ice Age
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