some logistics

25 Nov

[So this post is about some of the practicalities, as opposed to the beauty. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how spectacular a place Antarctica is and how immeasurably lucky I am to have experienced part of it. All the while, labouring at my work work, which needs to be wrapped up by Tuesday when I move out of my office.]

Right until about 45 minutes before we departed, I wasn’t sure whether I would make the flight to Antarctica. One of the gentlemen who had earlier cancelled changed his mind (again!) and was trying to fly in from London in order to catch the plane south which was due to leave at 9am SA time. The timing was going to be a bit risky, but with a good tail wind, he could have made it. (Our pilots were reluctant to delay the flight south as the weather forecast indicated that the weather would turn bad that afternoon.) Only when we arrived at the airport did we find out that his flight had been delayed by one hour at Heathrow. Which meant I was on the plane! Yippee!

We flew into an area of Antarctica called Dronning Maud Land. It’s situated due south of Cape Town and it took the Gulf stream we flew in on about 5 1/2 hours to cover the distance.

The White Desert camp is located fairly close to two scientific bases: an Indian (!) and a Russian base. The Russians (because they’re good at that shit) also run an ice runway every summer to ferry in scientists and tourists and other stuff. The red dot on the map above indicates more or less where all the action is. As can be seen, we were on the edge of the continent and about a 7 hour flight  (including a stop to refuel) to the South Pole.

The photie above was taken with just under an hour to landing. You can see the ice bergs floating in the southern ocean and I’m not 100% sure whether that is ice shelf or cloud in the distance. The solid ice shelf is about 80km wide before the start of the continent.

Just after this photo was taken we were urged to start putting on our layers of “cold weather” gear and our sunnies. We’d left CT on a beautiful morning clad in T-shirts, but as soon as the plane door opened, we had to be prepared for The Cold and bright white ice and snow.

Here is our “team” of lucky last-minute Antarctica travellers on the Novo runway. You can tell how awesome we feel by the size of our grins. It consisted of father-in-law Rick, brother-in-law Ali and three of Rick’s colleagues, one of whom we referred to as Austin “Danger” Powers (guess which one).

I am dressed in my oilskins! I couldn’t find any suitable ski-gear to borrow on such short notice, and most of what I own is in storage. I just layered up a whole bunch of (mainly borrowed) warmer clothes and used my oillies to keep out the wind. It was perfect!

So those Ruskys run a tight, if not kinda cavalier, operation.

Every year they have to test the ice and then they clear a runway that will be able to support a summer season worth of flights in and out of Antarctica. To the left of this photo you will notice the Gulf stream 3 that flew us into Antarctica. To the right, there are some enormous Toyota Hiluxes which are responsible for transporting people around Antarctica. People like us.

[Here’s another picture of the car. In case any of my readers are boys or otherwise into that kind of thing.]

The drive took about 20 minutes across the ice until we arrived at Camp Whichaway, the White Desert camp.

When you consider that everything has to be entirely removable, and that all that is left standing at the end of a season are the bases of the main tents and the guest tents, it’s quite an impressive operation.

The red and grey tents are the staff tents, the yellow ones are guest tents which were only used by one person, the canvas smaller tents are guest tents and the big one consists of a kitchen, a dining room and a lounge/library. They are so fabulous. The wooden square structure is where the toilet is housed.

Because it is (ordinarily) so darn expensive to fly down to Antarctica, the standard of hospitality has to be pretty ridiculously high: people who have loads of cash to spend on a holiday at the bottom of the world are used to the finer things in life. For this reason, each tent is exquisitely equipped with proper camper beds, fluffy blankets (although we were also all given -30 sleeping bags to sleep in), rugs on the floor and heaters.

There is always at least one bottle of  bubbles chilling when the guests return from any daily activity. Not to fear: I took full advantage of the bubbles…

The food was subliminal. Jennamay is one of my finest friends so I knew that the fare would be phenomenal. It was nevertheless loads of fun watching the other guests being blown away meal after meal with the culinary delights before them. In ANTARCTICA!?

Cook sister, cook!. Legend.

I’ll be back with more Antarctic beauty and some snippets of activity and laughter soon. To the A-mericans who read this blog: may you have a superb thanks-giving. To everyone: only one month to christmas. Woop! Woop!

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5 Responses to “some logistics”

  1. Jo 25 November 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Ok, NOW I think it would be kinda cool to go. (And I’m totally into the trucks and how they make all of that stuff work in cold weather. It’s insane when you think about it!)

    • stofnsara 27 November 2010 at 4:15 pm #

      SERIOUSLY one of the most wonderful experiences ever.

  2. mukuba2002 26 November 2010 at 9:02 am #

    i would love to know what your menus are like in the Antarctica

    • stofnsara 27 November 2010 at 4:14 pm #

      Mukuba: That girl is a legend. We enjoyed barbequed chicken kebabs, lamb cutlets, fillet and a subliminal teriyaki salmon. Accompanied by cous cous, wasabi mash potato, pesto pasta, steamed greens and delectable salads. For starters, she offered soups, tarts and carpaccio. Deserts were mind-blowing too: brownies, creme caramel, tiramisu… I’m salivating just remembering it all!

  3. bigBANG studio 30 November 2010 at 9:13 am #

    I CANNOT get over these pictures. Cannot. And the timing is so ironic; I’m trying to apply to a grant that allows artists and writers to spend several months at one of the field stations in Antarctica to do work…your pictures are totally inspiring me to get going with that application.

    WHAT an incredible experience! Can’t wait to see more pictures, and LOVED reading about all the logistics. More! More!

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