Goan to Antarctica....

Goan scientist Helga do Rosario Gomes is en route to the icy continent, and is keeping her blog of the journey...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

McMurdo where our soft bellies give us away

Photo: McMurdo Station

Last year when sighted we McMurdo for the first time the Americans said it reminded them of an old mining town. The small hills were a dark red brown and some of the buildings were made of corrugated sheets.

We docked the Nathaniel Palmer at what looked like a harbor only to the Captain. To me it looked like we had slid on a slab of ice.

McMurdo doesn't have a single plant and you are not allowed to bring any either. A scientist got in trouble because his wife sent him an autumn leaf from their garden!

When trucks transported us to our spartan dorms we saw that the place was teeming with people. It was the peak of summer which is when Raytheon transports almost 2500 people to the station.

Engineers, carpenters, welders, scientists, cooks and helicopter pilots -- they all fly in from Christchurch. Later I heard there is a pecking order with lady pilots at the top!

Everyone eats at a giant mess hall and the food is very good and free. Salad bars, sandwich counters and a large buffet with hot food. It's a great place to people watch and these are no ordinary people! Everyone sports several earrings and long hair is de rigueur for both sexes as are worn to the bone overalls.

It's a major faux pas to wear anything new as we soon found out.

We also found out that although we had weathered the scariest of storms, severe isolation and -50oC temperatures, we were still considered soft as we rode a fancy ship.

Real men (and women) dropped from helicopters into the horrendous Dry Valleys and camped for days in tents, cooked their own food and never showered. They lugged their own equipment and moved around on snow mobiles looking for meteors.

As we walked around we noticed that a few wore green jackets unlike the rest of the unwashed masses in red. These were the lords of the South Pole, many of who worked at the neutrino detector Ice Cube, which is embedded deep into the pole.

The US also has a station right at the pole which holds 300 people.

With our inferiority complexes tucked at the back of our mind we set out to shop -- this can put anyone in a good mood. There is one shop at McMurdo and it holds everything -- alcohol, DVDs,
candy, and tons of T Shirts and sweatshirts for souvenirs. Everything has the penguin-Antarctic theme.

With shopping behind us we went in search of sprits. McMurdo has no restaurants (everyone eats at the mess) but it has three bars one of which claims sophistication by calling itself a wine bar.

Everything closes at 11 pm and when you step out you are hit by the blinding light and nothing to do! I peeped into a tiny chapel with probably the best view in the world -- vast expanses of whiteness and a range of almost perfect volcanic mountains.

A chaplain holds his mass and after that yoga enthusiasts trickle in for their class. Space is at a premium. We walk around and find a well stocked library and knitting group.

Photo: Scott's hut

A major sightseeing spot in McMurdo is Scott's hut. Scott, a British explorer would have been the first man to reach the South Pole but was beaten to it by a Norwegian named Amundsen. Scott and his group unfortunately perished on their way back. But his hut gives us a glimpse of the intrepid and courageous explorers whose passion for finding new worlds surpassed all else.

In the low hut we saw half eaten seals, carcasses of sheep from New Zealand, huge tins of powered chocolate and biscuits, their clothes and tools. Because the continent is so dry, these dead animals remain almost mummified. When we turned around and saw the monstrous Nathaniel Palmer with its hot showers and fancy gadgets we felt like wealthy tourists on a cruise liner!

Pretending to be locals we walk back up the hill for the next adventure that lay ahead of us. Returning to New Zealand in C-141 airplanes! We were cool or so we convinced ourselves!


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