Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Next up at the ice pier

Look who else is town:

The Nathaniel B. Palmer pulled into McMurdo a few days ago and today starts a 51 day cruise ending up in Punta Arenas, Chile. The ship is one of two research vessel/ice breakers that are used in the US Antarctic Program for conducting studies at sea and transporting personnel to field camps on the Antarctic Peninsula and to Palmer Station.

View from the bridge.

Another former Polie from last winter, Greg the Comms tech, is on board the ship as the ET, or electronics tech, and he gave me a quick run around the NBP. Greg is loving life at sea, aside from having no internet access, and promises that he'll put tons of photos on his blog Greg's Front Porch when he gets back.

Discovery Hut in the distance - stay tuned for the upcoming blog entry for more on Scott's Hut!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Good for morale

Sometimes you get a lucky break with a boondoggle while you're down on the ice. As my luck would have it, I'm here in McMurdo during a rare offering of "morale cruises" on the US Coast Guard ice breaker, the Polar Sea.

Now that the ship finished its work of cutting a roughly 20 mile long channel through the sea ice for the resupply vessel and fuel tanker to use next week, it can offer a day of these little pleasure cruises to folks down here as a little perk to boost morale after a busy season, or as in my case, to pump you up for the winter.

There were 2 trips, each taking 200 people and lasting for about 3 hours. We sailed back out the channel and as McMurdo grew smaller and smaller from the stern, we began to see more and more wildlife.

McMurdo Station from the water with Ob Hill on the right.

Seals hauled out on the ice.

There are two little Adelie penguins in the center of this photo. Really.

Minke whales were often nearby, including one that was so close I could swear we ran over it with the boat.

View of floating chunks of sea ice through a port hole in the bow.

Edge of the channel through the sea ice.

Looking for whales from the bow.

The Royal Society range.

Since it turns out that I'll be stuck in McMurdo for the rest of this week due to a lack of bed space at Pole, hopefully I'll have more opportunities to explore. By the way, does anyone know of a doctor who would like to work with me at South Pole? We seem to be short one...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Deja vu again

I'm back in Christchurch now and it seems like I never left this place. After arriving on Tuesday and trying to shake off the jetlag, we got our gear issued yesterday at the CDC, or Clothing Distribution Center, at the Antarctic program's campus at the airport.

This is it, my pile of stuff for a winter at South Pole, including 2 parkas, 2 pairs of boots, bibs, Carhartt jacket and overalls, numerous gloves, mittens, underlayers, hats, 10 pairs of socks, etc. This is always a fun process of trying on everything to make sure they fit, and which for me never do even when everything is small and x-small.

The CDC is also located right next to one of the biggest tourist attractions, the Antarctic Centre. For most of us, it's just the place to catch the bus to get back to downtown but sometimes there are wildlife sightings and these particular penguins are apparently not covered by the Antarctic Treaty because they love posing for pictures.

Erik is heading to McMurdo for the winter this time around while Mr. Penguin is going nowhere.

Dennis is coming back for his 4th winter at Pole.

And a former Polie who is close to my heart, Rob, going for his 4th winter too, this time at McMurdo.

We were scheduled to fly out this morning to McMurdo but sometimes you get a lucky break. Just before catching the 5:30am shuttle to the CDC, we found out that the flight was delayed by 2 hours. And I find this out after I down a stiff cup of coffee in an effort to wake up, so I wasn't able to get back to sleep for those precious hours of reprieve. We reported there at 8am, got geared up, sat dutifully through the mandatory orientation film, then waited around for a bit more before they announced at 10am that the flight was officially scrubbed due to bad weather at McMurdo.

Yes! This means that we get an extra day in Christchurch, we get paid for it and we also get a per diem! This is a good thing because last night while eating a fabulous dinner at Little India, we were all wishing we could stay another night so that we could have sushi at Sala Sala. Guess what's for dinner tonight.

And Christchurch is having the annual World Busker Festival, a huge gathering of street performers who are swarming the area where we're staying.

Everywhere you look, there are crowds surrounding someone juggling something on a unicycle or just walking around in a top hat and bright red pants. My favorite was a guy who had a pancake flipping act.

There seem to be quite a few people painted silver and standing on pedestals too.

Even Elvis is silver this year.

So I'm happy hanging out in the civilized world for another day before heading to the ice. We'll see what the weather does tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Another road trip

On the road again...Brien came to Tucson for a visit and I dragged him out to California for a quick road trip to see relatives. My main objective was to visit my beloved Aunt Ida, who has long been my inspiration to see the world.

She was the first, and only other person, in my family to visit Antarctica and she did it back in the 80s, long before I even knew the continent existed. My family always thought she was a bit wild and crazy for going to places like the Galapagos Islands or South Africa or Peru but I always thought she was the coolest person on earth and I wanted to be just like her. May I live to be 91 years old too and have as many stories as she has to tell.

After visiting Ida in LA, we then headed down to San Diego to see my brother Keith and his fiancee Irene (alas, I didn't get a picture of them on his Harley). We also we met up with the notorious Glen, a fellow Polie from our 2005 winter.

For those of you who know him, you'll be happy to hear that he's indeed alive, working a respectable job as a botanist and is not in jail. He's loving being back on his home turf and knows all the great places to hang out.

Brien and Glen at the South Beach Bar and Grill, home of the best fish tacos in San Diego.

And we finally got to see a koala. It wasn't quite the wilds of Australia, but it was still awfully cute for a captive. At least this little guy is in no danger of becoming road kill in New South Wales.

A real live koala at the San Diego Zoo

And it just figures that we Americans are no better than the Kiwis that I made fun of earlier in my blog. Why is it that no one seems to get it? At least the polar bear exhibit at the San Diego Zoo didn't actually group real live emporer penguins with the real live polar bears like the gift shop did. And by the way, we finally saw "Happy Feet"...very cute but I didn't know that the female emporers had cleavage and curves like that.

Now the three month vacation is nearly over. I head back to Denver on Jan 18 for training and orientation then start the migration south on Jan 21st. We'll lose a day and arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand on Jan 23 and if all goes well, I'll be strapped into a C-17 bound for the ice on Jan 25. After a few days at McMurdo for more training, I'm scheduled to fly to South Pole on Jan 30 but of course that's all at the mercy of the weather and we know how uncooperative that can be. Stay tuned...

Please feel free to leave comments! I had to add an edit feature to the blog because I'm getting spammed by Anonymous (who doesn't have the best English skills, I might add) and am sick of seeing ads for Vicodin and Viagra in the comments. If you post a comment, it will go to my email for my review first, and I'll post it if you're a real person. If you're a spammer, go away.

Oh yeah - I have no idea what happened to Jeff...maybe he's taken a vow of silence until the NFL playoffs are over.