Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Pluses, minuses, and penguins

Well, I'm getting down to about five weeks left. I've been meaning to list a series of things, in general, that I like and dislike about Antarctica. Let's start with the bad stuff first.

1) Light. I've never liked it bright. I use minimum lighting whenever I can, I don't like overhead lights, I don't like sunny days in general. Here, you can't get away from the light! 24 hours a day, and the sunglasses are never enough. After a day in the field, I look like I've been on a class A drug bender for a few weeks, with seriously bloodshot eyes and a dazed expression. I dream about my first starry night in Cape Town.

2) 72-hour-a-week shifts. We've been on them for two months straight, and it really makes you tired and less inclined to engage in recreation at the end of each day. You may have noticed that my blogs entries have become shorter when they started in early December! All work and no play makes Ryan .... something something something ...

3) Absence of (sushi, ale, fresh fruit, etc.). Getting a bit prima donna here, but there are some delicacies that I really do need.

Bright side!

1) Absence of any type of bug. Obviously includes the mosquito/blackfly variety, but also the common cold, and viruses like that. Nothing! I'm giving my immune system a 4-month holiday (which probably means I'll get every sickness under the sun in Africa).

2) Water. Know those ads you see for beer commericals, Evian, Aquafina, and so on? Horse piss, when compared to the water in my toilet. The freshest, cleanest water in the world. Too bad we have to shovel it all.

3) Food (exceptions above notwithstanding). Roasts every other night. Desserts every night. All on the house. One of Bas' mantras is "the more you eat, the more you earn". Not the basis of a healthy diet, but true nonetheless.

4) People. Most people here are in the right frame of mind. Not really here for the money; more for the adventure.

5) The things you learn. How to drive large tracked vehicles. All the knots you need to get through life. Ice climbing skills. How to build a 40 million GBP facility in a wasteland on the bottom of the earth.

There are probably more! But all told, the good clearly outweighs the minor inconveniences above.

On another note, I had another penguin trip on Sunday; almost against my will, because I needed to share my field assistant Rich with some top brass. They wanted to see penguins, and I wanted to install a GPS site. So we did both.

When we got to the bay, some young penguins were waiting at the top for us:

I went down first, and waited while Rich gave instructions on descending to the sea ice. Meanwhile, the young penguins were making their own way down, mostly by falling end-over-end. Having some difficulty! I caught the tail end of some very amusing falls on video, but I can't upload them to this blog. Believe me, I tried.

While down there, I got a great picture of a flying skua, finally:

...and an Adele penguin, who was clearly an interloper among all the Emporers. Not sure what he was doing there!

The young penguins are also starting to shed their fur-like feathers, making them look like angst-ridden scruffy teenagers:

I imagine it's the penguin equivalent of a bad case of acne.


Eva said...

How many hours of daylight do you have now?

Ryan said...


Tricia said...

When the sun sets annually, is the actual "sunset" from daylight into twilight into night roughly equivalent to a sunset in North America with respect to the amount of time it takes for a sunset to occur? Or, is the process shortened or extended? Re: viruses, etc. If we humans carry a host of little parasites and bacteria with us, how is it that all of you can escape any sort of virus? Or is it a matter that the quasi-quarantine effect of the environment limits the exchange of bugs? Finally, is there any truth to the rumor that appendectomies are "de rigueur"?

Dariusz Rejowski, Poland said...

What the purpouse of your stay in Antarctic: search program or other? How long you will stay there?
PS. Say Hello to your parents (Eva and Don) from me.

Ryan said...

Sorry, just saw these comments!

Regarding sunsets, I haven't seen one yet, but they'll be a lot longer - and quite a few "false starts", too, where it won't really set.

Viruses: well, I guess I can't escape them all, but the obvious communicable big ones - mainly the common cold - either comes and spreads around, or it doesn't, depending on what people bring. And this year, nobody brought anything. So we're good.

And no, the appendectomy thing is an urban legend. I think the doctors here could probably perform one here in an emergency, with the communication and medical facilities.

Hi Dariusz! I'm mainly here to monitor the shelf of ice that the British station sits upon. It will break off some day, and I'm building a system to alert us when this starts to happen. I'm here until Feb 27, this year; and I'm back next year and probably the year after that.

Dariusz Rejowski, Poland said...

So it is a part of international investigation to check what is efect of over heating on earth isn't it? How far next "people" from your camp? Do you have any contact with them - no electronic - but direct - meet somewhere in Antarctic. How many people in your camp?
Best for you..

Ryan said...

At the moment, there's 100 people at Halley - it goes as low as 12 in the winter. Global warming is part of the research, as well as ozone, ice, clean air, and much more. The next research station is Belgano - Argentinean. I think it's about 500km away. And planes go back and forth a lot - but I'm not on them!