Goan to Antarctica....

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

Friday, December 09, 2005

Stripping in front of Immigration officers

Photo: The Hercules plane that ferried us back to NZ.
Of course nothing is simple when it involves Antarctica.

When you fly from or to McMurdo it is mandatory that you wear certain articles of clothing in case your plane is forced to land in the ice. These are the heaviest and most cumbersome of pieces that were issued to us in Christchurch and include our parkas, ski pants, gigantic boots that almost toppled me over and the ugliest of mittens called bears' claws as they look just so.

You also have to pack your own survival hand luggage. Checking in means that you need to show up at the counter a day in advance wearing all the mandatory stuff.

Then you and your luggage get weighed together!

Shame on the man or woman who exceeds the quota for really there is no way of knowing if you are overweight or a bad packer. In this milieu both are bad.

The next day we were driven by Joaquim's roommate to the 'airport' which is actually a thick slab of ice where planes land and take off. It took us more than an hour of driving through fields of ice in huge Terra buses which if the ice cracks, can stay afloat.

Joaquim's roommate and our driver turned out to be an anthropologist who had infiltrated the McMurdo world as kitchen boy-driver to research how this community lives and functions.

We landed at the airport well aware that our wait would be long and our waiting room tiny. Many decide to play Frisbee to stay warm -- others just huddled around.

After more than two hours our plane arrived -- a huge C5 US Air Force plane not C141 as I had previously written. Although we had heard about the discomforts of this flight we were not prepared for what we saw.

A helicopter was stuck right where our feet should have been and the seats were simple hammocks.

After all these are planes that move troops and relief supplies. Our flight crew were air force personnel and they were good! They almost lifted me and stuck me between two huge geologists who I knew had to have been camping in the Dry Valleys because of their malodorous socks.

After our 'steward' set me down, he harnessed me with several belts all attached to various parts of the hammock -- there was no away I could escape. I was stuck in the middle with hundreds of passengers, my hand luggage on my lap and my heaviest gear on me! That's when all my dormant phobias rose to the surface in unison and I thought I was going to either die or scream.

Joaquim and Smelly Socks relieved me off my jacket and I felt much better until I saw that I was right next to the men's toilet -- a bucket with a curtain around it. Apparently the women's privy was better but how could I even get there?

Then a package sailed past me -- the stewards were distributing food by tossing it from afar. I don't blame them -- the aisles were full of feet and bags. My knees were locked with those of a lady zoologist!

When the stewards had to get somewhere, they just jumped over our feet with all of us cheering and clapping! The noise from the engines was deafening. Five hours later we landed in Christchurch which was at the peak of its summer.

It was impossible to stay a minute longer in those clothes. One lady participant stripped to her leggings right in front of the immigration officer. As an Indian raised to respect immigration officers, I waited until I had gone through Customs.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger Dr. Nandkumar Kamat said...

Enjoyed reading. May continue to read. Post expedition all these blogs can be compiled after editing as an e-book. Suggested title-Entarctica.
with best wishes
Dr. Nandkumar Kamat, Goa University

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Kiran said...

watch this site which has simmillar videos. www.canaravideo.com is very fast, good and has lot of indian cultural videos. it looks like indian youtube try this out.


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