Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

Many miles have been traveled since Fiji.  
We spent a few weeks in the states visiting family and friends in the Bay Area and Tucson and getting used to being back "home".  Now, we're in the transition of moving across country and settling down in New York. 
First step is figuring out the best way to move our stuff.  I've gotten rid of a lot of my worldly possessions over the years but was stunned to find out how much stuff I still have and can't part with.  So we went with an option that is halfway between professional movers and a Uhaul truck.  This mini shipping container, a "ReloCube", was delivered and it was the perfect size for the amount of stuff that we have to move.
We do the loading and they pick it up, put it on a truck, drive it cross country and deliver it to the new address where we unload it.
It's the perfect solution for us as Michael ponders what to do with my bike.  It all fit with room to spare but unfortunately there was not enough room for my 14 foot sea kayak which will have to stay in Tucson.
We're riding the rails for our trip to NY and turning the journey into a little vacation.  We have a nice sleeper car since we're spending nearly 74 hours total on the train.
One of the first stops was El Paso and our sleeper car is the one right next to the sign.
The depot was a nice historic building right next to the border of Mexico.
Thirty-six hours later, we got off the train in New Orleans to spend a few days playing tourists and to ring in the New Year.
Jackson Square had the usual assortment of artists, musicians and tarot card/palm readers.
Silver is very in.  There are almost as many silver painted people here as there are Alabama and Utah fans here for the Sugar Bowl.
This guys marionette was really singin' the blues.
For New Years Eve, Michael had a huge surprise for me - a limo ride to dinner!  And dinner was 40 miles away on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain.  We had a fabulous meal at La Provence, a restaurant run by a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America where Michael will be starting in a few weeks.   Afterwards, we came back to the city in time to join the thousands of revelers on Bourbon Street and to watch the fireworks show over the Mississippi as the clock struck midnight.  We even met up with a couple of Polie friends, Adit and Jason, through the miracle of cell phones.  It's a small world when you want it to be.

Tomorrow the journey continues with the leg to Chicago...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Parting shots from Fiji

Fortunately, there are very few hazards in Fiji other than the occasional falling coconut.
We ended up doing a whole lot of nothing while we were in Fiji, which was the main objective.  There was however nightly entertainment including crab racing night. 

Hermit crabs from the beach were rounded up and had numbers painted on their backs.  Each person picked a crab and had their name and number written down in a ledger.   The crabs were all gathered in a martini shaker and plopped down at the starting point.  The first crab to make its way outside a hand-drawn circle on the floor won that leg of the race.
The Fijians running the show had a smooth system of tracking the crabs and the races were done in heats leading up to the semi-finals and finals.  My crab, little #7, was promising in the first heats but proved to be no match against formidable crab #9.
Another night was Fijian feast night with a traditional lovo pit prepared to slowly roast the entire dinner underground.  A pit is dug out then filled with embers then fish, beef, chicken, pork ,cassavas, taro, potatoes, squash and veggies are placed on top, covered with leaves, tarps and dirt.
The whole mound is left to cook for several hours then unearthed just in time for dinner.  It was quite tasty!
And the entire staff at Oarsmans Bay performed traditional Fijian songs and dances.

It was an interactive experience as all of us guests were pulled from our seats to dance along with them.  Couldn't get any photos of that because I was dancing and having too much fun.
For the second half of our vacation, we moved to another island and another resort.  Nanuya Island Resort is at the Blue Lagoon, as in THE Blue Lagoon of the movie fame.
It was considerably more luxurious and we felt like we were living the good life in our treetop bure.
Not a bad view from the deck either.

Michael's birthday was a special romantic celebration at a private table by the beach.   We dined and had cake and champagne by lantern and tiki torchlight while listening to the waves gently lapping the sand only feet away from our table.
We had fun with the wildlife.  I was trying to observe this lizard on the ground without scaring it away when it came over to my foot and ran up my leg.  It seemed to like riding around on my back and shoulders.
I handed the little guy off to Michael and it nearly became camouflaged in his bula shirt. 
Yes, we are complete geeks but how cool is it to have wireless and drinks by the beach?  I mean, there's only so much reading and napping you can do in the hammock.  And when it got too hot, we were cooling off in the refreshing blue water.

The combination of the two different places we stayed at gave us a wonderful experience in Fiji. We soaked up some culture and made some friends at the first place and got some first class pampering at the other place.  Both were completely relaxing, warm, friendly and exactly what we were looking for.  Antarctica seems so long ago now that we are tan and well-rested. 

We're back in Christchurch now renting an apartment for a few days to relax some more before heading back to the states on Dec 2. The Christmas decorations have come out around the businesses downtown here and I have to remind myself that the holiday is coming up even though it's shorts and sandals weather here.  And I'm happy to know that I'm coming home for Christmas this year...just a few more days and I'm home for good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Village visit

One of the highlights while staying at Oarsman's Bay was a trip to Nacula Village.  The only village on the island is home to nearly all of the staff there and the residents were as friendly as the kind people we had gotten to know at the lodge. 

The kids especially loved having their picture taken as long as you showed them the results of the photo shoot.
The village is about a 15 minute boat ride away and the boat captain's family came out to say hello.
His daughter was shy but incredibly adorable.
This house wins the best decorated category and the woman who lived here greeted us with big smiles and very hearty laughter.

Almost everyone had laundry hanging out in the bright Fijian morning sun.
The last stop was the best - the village school.
It's a boarding school with up to 150 children attending during the school week.  
The kids assembled in the auditorium to sing for us and boy can they sing.  Not only do they sing on key with lovely voices, but they belt out the songs in full volume and with four part harmonies.
On the way back to the boat we passed by the outdoor gym.
I know we're just tourists but I'm glad we got to see a bit of real life in Fiji other than the guest lodges and resorts.  Our hosts at Oarsmans took delight in telling us all about the cannibalism that was a part of Fijian culture, a practice continued until just 80 years ago.  From the open kindness we've received from everyone here, it's hard to imagine that until recently, visitors were eaten instead of warmly greeted.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


We've gone from this:
Waiting to board the plane at South Pole on Nov 6

to this:

Finally, we're warm and tan in Fiji!  

Our final exit from South Pole happened only 1 day behind schedule as we boarded the first LC-130 of the season on Nov 6 to start the journey north.  Mercifully, we had only one night to endure in McMurdo before the final leg to civilization, reaching Christchurch, New Zealand the night of Nov 7.  

What a great feeling to breathe moist sea-level air again, to walk around outside wearing only a light fleece, to eat fresh foods, to see city life again.  Getting reacquainted with life again as we used to know it isn't too hard.    There's a certain feeling of elation mixed with disbelief as you see familiar sights again, things we didn't have at South Pole like cars, trees and children.

After a week in Christchurch, we landed in paradise!  We have 2 weeks to warm up in the beautiful Yasawa islands and we spent the first half on the island of Nacula at the Oarsman's Bay Lodge. 

This place was perfect...a picture postcard tropical beach, warms water, a reef teeming with fish only meters away and plenty of good fresh food.   The friendly hosts knew us by name and always gave me lots of hugs (I felt like I had half a dozen mothers fussing over me there). 

The staff drank the legendary kava every night and invited us to join them.  The drink made from a pounded root was supposed to have a narcotic effect but didn't seem to do anything to us neophyte imbibers except to make your tongue numb.  The locals who drank it every night around a convivial circle always seemed to have kava hangovers the next morning.

Our bure, or bungalow, came with a dog who never moved much from this spot.
After seeing just one sunset in Antarctica all winter, we celebrated each one in Fiji in style.

We've moved on to another island now, and a resort that has wireless internet, so more photos are soon to come!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Farewell South Pole

Well, this is it. The first LC-130 is on its way here and I'm getting on it. My room is packed up, my bags are palletized, I'm saying goodbyes and finishing up last minute work that I've procrastinated about for weeks.

Yesterday our satellite went down around the time that voting sites starting closing in the east coast states and predictions from exit polls starting making the news websites. Through updates emailed from Polie friends back in the states, news of the election trickled in. Our Comms staff here got updates from McMurdo over the HF radio which we used to update our own electoral map tracking results on our station scroller.

By the time Obama was called the winner by nearly all of the news sources, a large crowd was celebrating in the Galley. The celebration was filled with relief that he won and hope that we'll get our country back on the right track. We also had news that the weather forecast was looking good for both South Pole and McMurdo and that chances were very good we would be getting flights in the next day.

My last night here was a mixture of excitement, happiness and a little bit of melancholy. I've spent the majority of the past 6 years living and working in Antarctica. Life here has been a bizarre version of reality that seems so natural now and returning to the "real" world might take some adjustment.

I'm ready for it. I'm ready to face living back in the states again now that the future seems more hopeful. I'm ready to see my beloved family again and to be home for Christmas for the first time in a while. I'm ready to settle down in a home and to no longer call my self "homeless". Of course I've never really been homeless in the unfortunate way that thousands of people are struggling to overcome. I've been more of a globe-trotting gypsy and migrant worker by choice, blessed with generous opportunities and it's been a great adventurous lifestyle for me.

So what will happen to Homeless Heidi the blog now that Heidi the person is getting married and settling down in one spot? I don't know yet but I'll continue to do a few updates on the road so that Mom and Dad won't worry about me and I'll post some pictures from places that are much, much warmer than here.

It's been a fun journey and thanks to all of you who have been following the adventures. The plane is landing in one hour and I'll soon start the gradual migration north for the last time.

The 2008 Winterover Crew photo taken at Spoolhenge just before sunrise.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Southern support

Even though we're thousands of miles away from home, some of us are still trying to make a difference and to support our candidate for president.

We posed yesterday at the ceremonial pole and will send the photo to the Obama campaign via various channels. I'm holding the Arizonans for Obama sign and Michael is to my left. My absentee ballot came in on the first Basler and went out on the second one so hopefully it will make its way to AZ to be counted.
We're still scheduled to leave South Pole on what will be election day back in the states, although it will be Nov 5 here. We've only had the 2 Basler flights here so far and we're behind already on getting new folks in and old folks out. Hard to say what the weather is going to be doing in 2 days and if we'll get those LC-130s in here as planned. We'll see if we learn about the election results in McMurdo or here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A South Pole welcome

After another day of weather delay, the Basler finally made it here to South Pole carrying 17 new people. We've changed the appearance of the main entrance, Destination Alpha, just a tad:
Little did anyone know that during the winter we were taken over by pirates who made an unfortunate Polie walk the plank from the Observation Deck.
Even worse, they put the station up for sale and given the state of the housing market, it's probably now worth less than what the taxpayers paid for it.

The only person who can save the tired meteorologists who have been doing hourly weather observations around the clock is their replacement, Tim. He wintered last year and is back for more fun.

We're waiting for the McMurdo CSI team to come in to work this crime scene. Our scroller is now listing the population as "56 wankers, 17 hypoxic avengers and me". And it should grow again today as the second flight is scheduled for this morning.