Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Back to Reality

‘Well here we are, just the four of us...it seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.’
‘Not to me,’ said Frodo. ‘To me it feels more like falling asleep again.’

One of my favourite quotes, and relatively apt at the moment.

Time for a breather! Four of us from Halley are sitting in a hostel in Plettenburg Bay, on the south coast of South Africa. This town is a bit quiet, and this hostel has Internet, so I can fit in a blog entry, I think. Obviously it's been a busy time for me. But indeed, Halley has already faded into a bizarre dream-like past state for us.

But let's go back to last Wednesday and I shall recall the events.

Wednesday

Woke up at 3:30am. The base was already hopping, and the plane was being de-iced. We actually didn't take off until about 5:15am. But the weather was fine and the flight went relatively smoothly. Before we knew it we were at Sanae, the South African research base and our first stop on the way out.


Sanae is a pretty place - nice cliffs. It's a bigger base than ours, with less people. It had already finished its summer season, so we were greeted by a small team of 12 enthusiastic winterers. While refueling, we looked around their base, and swapped stories about melt-tanks and relief logistics. Then we moved on, leaving them to their lonely winter vigil.

A few hours later, we were at Novo, which is a Russian base with a large airport-ish facility. Novo is a terminus for the Aleutian, the regular flight to Cape Town which is shared by many countries. We didn't see much of the station; it was well-removed from the airplanes. However, we saw one item that made us green with envy:




This sucker was huge, with a four-stroke 1.6 litre engine and two tracks. However, as it transported us between planes, it still spun out on ice and we had to get off the sledge and push it. Guess horsepower isn't everything.

The Aleutian (actually not spelled that way; it's a Russian spelling) is an ex-bomber that has been fitted to take passengers. It's hot, uncomfortable, and has a very haphazard feel to it. This may be partly due to the portable toilets and laptop/projector present, to emulate a real commercial airline's facilities. Of course, our previous aircraft had neither of these luxuries, so we weren't complaining. And we could get up and wander around, even getting into the bomber's room below the pilots. Pretty cool.


Arriving into Cape Town was nice. The logistics company took us to the hotel - the wrong one, at first. The bus was just driving away when we caught the error and we had to chase after it.
The right hotel turned out to be compact but clean, and very well located. It was next to Long Street, where the bars are. So, even after practically no sleep, we went off to the bars to celebrate our arrival. After pizza at 3am Thursday - really good pizza - we finally went back to the hotel, and brought the long day of Wednesday to a close.

Thursday

With a 10am start on Thursday, we shipped off all our Antarctic kit in the morning, back to Cambridge. As I had the most experience of Cape Town among the 18 of us - and I can credit that to the expert tutelage of Doc Mark Blumenthal - I then took charge of social events on Thursday thereafter. We first went down to the waterfront and around downtown, and then out to Camps Bay, where we all hit the beach and blinded all the locals with the whitest skin possible - the kind of white you can only get by complete sun avoidance for several months! Early afternoon beach-sitting turned into late-afternoon bar-sitting, turning into another late-evening bender. I bailed out at 1:30am, but others kept going for considerably longer.
Friday

In the morning, several of us paid a serious penalty for our hijinx on the prevous evening. Not me, though - I didn't overdo it. So I was one of the few laughing at the hungover fellows who had to pack up and move - or, in Toddy's case, get on an airplane back to the UK. Those of us who stayed, moved to a great hostel called the Backpack. It's one of the top rated hostels in Africa, and is in a sprawling villa, downtown, with everything one could need. Including an in-house travel agent. My room was a single en-suite - really nice, but it was next door to the main desk and thus I was woken up every morning at 7am. And that's after a 5 hour time change in the wrong direction. Grr.

Those of us who were able, took a nice long walk along the Atlantic coast beaches. As the sun was setting, we came across what appeared to be either a Bollywood movie or a commercial. Mostly consisted of this lady dancing:



The highlight was this dog, which belonged to someone nearby and kept running into the set.



The angrier the crew got, the more they chased - and, predictably, the more fun the dog had.
Saturday

Table Mountain. I climbed it the last time I was here, but it's one of those things you can do over and over! This time, we started from Kirstinbosch, a botanical garden. It was a 4 hour trek without food - bad planning on my part. Nice views of Cape Town, though:



Sunday

Woke up to book a train ticket at an office open from 8-10 am. Very crowded, full of hundreds of folk rushing to get a train across to the east cape. Very disconcerting! One fellow was screaming at everyone how much he was in a hurry and trying to jump the queue wherever he could. I did get my ticket, though; a premier class room on the overnight train from Cape Town to Johannesburg. There are a variety of train options between the two - the most luxurious (or ludicrous) option is the famous Blue Train, which costs £550. Mine is less than a fifth of that price, but still quite nice.

After that, we took a taxi down the Cape to Boulders Beach, where there's a colony of African penguins. Significantly smaller than our Emporer penguins. But you could swim with these ones.
Think I'll leave it at this point, and pick up this next week later. I have a dinner I must attend!

1 comment:

Lauri said...

Yey, a Finn-flag! See, we get around...