Can you imagine needing to have your appendix removed just to be able to live in your city? That’s exactly what the residents of Villa Las Estrellas, a small Chilean settlement in Antarctica, are required to do in order to live there long-term.
To be able to comprehend such a bizarre requirement, you first need to know a few things about Villa Las Estrellas. In short, this place is probably the closest you can get to experiencing life on another planet. It’s located so far away from human civilization and weather conditions are so extreme that would-be residents must pass a very thorough psychological exam in order to prove that they can live here for a long period of time.
In winter time, the whole place is buried under several meters of snow and the hours of daylight are replaced with a few minutes of twilight. The average temperature is -2.3 degrees Celsius, but they can drop to -47 in the winter months, making it nearly impossible to even set foot outside the container-like houses.
Villa Las Estrellas is currently home to over 80 inhabitants, mainly members of the Chilean air force and their families, with everyone over the age of six missing their appendix. The requirement to have the potentially-problematic organ surgically removed is a precaution. Because this icy town is located on the remote King George Island, 120 km off the coast of Antarctica, with the nearest surgical hospital over 1,000 km away, removing residents’ appendix lowers the risk of an emergency evacuation.
Villa Las Estrellas actually has its own hospital, but it’s manned by a general practitioner who can’t handle emergency surgeries, and with winds here blowing with speeds of up to 200 km/h, hail and other extreme meteorological phenomena, taking off in a Hercules C-130 military plane on a gravel runway can be quite difficult.
“We must be prepared to keep a person alive two or three days, the time it usually takes an airplane to take off from here,” Sergio Cubillos, the commander of the military airbase, told EFE. For this same reason, becoming pregnant in Villa Las Estrellas is not forbidden, but discouraged.
So why would anyone live in a place like this? Well, 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”. Families have been living there ever since, and Chile remains one of only two countries – the other being Argentina – to settle entire families in Antarctica. The other 24 countries present on the frozen continent only operate temporary research and military bases.
Nowadays, families who decide to move to Villa Las Estrellas and have their appendix removed – even children over the age of 6 – choose to do so primarily for monetary gain. The Chilean government offers considerable financial incentives o settlers willing to spend a few years in this remote community, and some find them hard to resist.
Despite the obvious hardships of living on a remote island just off the coast of Antarctica and having to give their appendix to do so, most of the residents of Villa Las Estrellas manage to find a silver lining.
“Family life in Antarctica is very calm and pleasant because we spend much more time together than before,” journalist Macarena Villarreal, mother of two, and wife of a military man, told EFE.
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