people of the south

21 Dec

I’ve been wanting to write one last post about Antarctica. Because (for me) it wasn’t all about the open spaces and beauty and delicious food and luxury. I am fascinated by people, so I was so interested to see how the bases work. The White Desert camp is not far from a Russian Antarctic station and the (a?) Indian base.

On our second afternoon, we saw an approaching ski-doo that looked like it had waaaayyy too many people hanging on to it. Sure enough, it was the Indians! They’d souped up their ski-doo such that it took an extra 5 people (or so) than the normal 3 (maximum) seater. Gotta love the Indians.*

They’d come to have their picture taken with Jenna. She’s quite famous cos there aren’t too many women stationed in ‘Tartica. Having Your Picture Taken With Jenna is (apparently) an important annual fixture in the Indian Antarctic Base calendar.

After Jenna was all snapped out, Ali and I insisted on having our pic taken with some of the team too. At first they were somewhat disappointed to have Ali in the picture, but then after we gave them beers and told them that Ali’s best mate is Gary Kirsten who coaches the Indian cricket side, then we were all the very best of friends!

The next day, instead of making a small journey to visit a penguin colony, a bunch of us elected to do the 12km trek from our camp, through the Indian camp to the Russians.

The Indian base wasn’t very beautiful. Nobody came rushing out to feed us rogan josh (or some other delicacy). The wind was icy-icy. So we moved on.

On our way the Ilyusion flew over us on its way back to Cape Town from the Novo runway. That second pic is my desktop setting at the moment. I just can’t get enough of it.

Trusty guide Stef quickly figured out that in South Africa we have a lot of rock and hills and stones. but we do NOT have a lot of ice and snow. With this in mind, he carefully selected our route to the Russians.

Arriving at the Russian base is fairly surreal. It’s perched on a hillock on the rock oasis and it looks a little like one might imagine an outpost on the moon to look.

One can take an informal ‘tour’ around an exceptionally chilly museum of Russian tanks from the Cold War.

The tanks are taken to the ice shelf by boat and then they drive them across the +/- 80km of shelf ice. Or so I’m told. It was pretty cool.

Then we came across a pole that looked like it could have been the South Pole! (It wasn’t, of course. The real south pole is a darn side more southerly and looks like a candy pole with a big round mirror globe on top with an enormous concrete American base next door where (I’m told) they don’t invite you in for tea or coffee if you have spent months crossing the Antarctic on foot (or otherwise).)

We didn’t recognise too many places. All of them seemed to be a jolly far way away and in the same kind of direction. Except, of course, for the arrow at the top of the pole and our Russian was far from sufficient to decide whether it pointed to the south pole or the other Russian base!

We hung around for a while, drank some tea (thank you, Russians, for giving us tea) and ate some chocolate (thank you, Stef, for carrying the chocolate for us).

Then we were driven back across the ice to our camp by the guy still wearing all his cold-weather gear in a heated car.

At first we laughed at him (“those Russians!”). Then we slowly and sheepishly put all our stuff back on because this guy might have know something about the risk of the car falling into a crevasse and having to lie in the ice that we didn’t know…

*Of course, if the South Africa base had been closer, it could have been either a South African or an Indian ski-doo… We also quite fancy transport that carries more people than it was originally intended to carry.

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One Response to “people of the south”

  1. Jo 21 December 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    Utterly gorgeous! I’m so intrigued by how people live down there.

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