There is a city where if you want to live there, one must first have the appendix removed. It is the Chilean Villa Las Estrellas. It must be said, for the sake of correctness, that it is a Chilean settlement in Antarctica, and therefore of a particular city in many ways, given that from a certain point of view it almost seems to live on another planet, such is the distance from “civilisation” .
Villa Las Estrellas was founded in 1984, during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, as a way to consolidate Chile’s presence in what was then called “the Chilean Antarctic”. Chile is one of only two countries (the other is Argentina) to have permanently established entire families in Antarctica. The other 24 countries present in the continent in fact have only research and military bases, with temporary personnel.
The weather conditions are so extreme that aspiring residents must pass a very thorough psychological examination to show that they are able to withstand the settlement for a long period of time. In the winter period, in fact, the area is buried under several meters of snow and the rise never arises: we must be satisfied with a maximum of a few minutes of twilight.
The need to remove the appendix is a precaution: Villa Las Estrellas has a sort of hospital, but it is more like a clinic attended by a general practitioner, and the nearest surgical hospital is more than 1,000 km away. A serious medical emergency (such as an appendicitis with complications) would require an emergency evacuation, but this is not an easy operation because at certain times the winds can blow at speeds up to 200 km/h, with temperatures that sometimes fall below 40 degrees below zero, and there are other extreme weather phenomena: all things that may make it necessary to wait days for an aircraft to land to pick up the patient.
“We need to be ready to keep a person alive for two or three days, the time it normally takes a plane to take off from here,” the settlement commander said. For this same reason, starting a pregnancy at Villa Las Estrellas is not prohibited, but it is undoubtedly discouraged.
Families that decide to move to Villa Las Estrellas choose to do so mainly for money: the Chilean government offers considerable financial incentives to the settlers willing to spend a few years in this remote community, and some find it difficult to resist.
“Family life in Antarctica is very calm and pleasant because we spend much more time together than before,” said journalist Macarena Villarreal, who lives in the city with two children and a military husband.