Saturday, January 19, 2008


Our second day in McMurdo, Joaquin sent me and Steve an email, urging us to hurry so as not to miss Ladies Night at the telescope. That's right - ladies night, in a telescope, at the South Pole. Complete with junior-high slow dancing. Awesome.

By the time we finally boarded a plane, the party had already started. We landed around midnight, and Joaquin met us on the runway with a skidoo to ferry us over and make sure we caught the tail end. All in all, not a bad introduction to the culture here.

It is cold at the pole, but not uncomfortably so. When we landed, it was about -25C, with a windchill of about -40C. The sun was high overhead, and the air was sparkling with ice crystals. Coming off the plane, most people - unfamiliar with freezing temperatures - ducked their heads and made a B-line for the station. I stood around, took some photos, and drank in the crisp clear air for a couple of minutes before hopping on Joaquin's skidoo and hurrying off to the party.

Frankly, it's beautiful here. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea - there is no scenery other than the station & associated buildings; just clear flat white to the horizon - but with 24/7 daylight, the almost perpetual "sundog" (like a rainbow, but due to ice crystals, a bit smaller, and usually a complete ring) which encircles the sun, and everything glittering, I simply don't see how anyone would find it bleak here.

A couple of hours later, once the party had died down, I made my way back to the station for midrats (the midnight meal for nightshift workers), after which I went in search of my room and stuff. I spent the rest of the night unpacking and trying to settle in a bit. Thankfully, I avoided being stuck in summer camp, a collection of tents behind station to house the excess summer population. The summer rooms on station are pretty tight (there's a tiny desk next to my bed, and you can't leave the room without climbing over the chair), but remarkably well designed. I'd say they're cozy, not cramped.

I did learn one important lesson while unpacking: never carry your vitamin pills in a plastic baggie. The smell leaks out, and it's powerful. All my clothing (and, after unpacking, my entire room) smells overwhelmingly of that musty, slightly sharp, vitamin pill smell. I've now got them quadruple bagged and hidden in my laundry drawer, but my clothes still smell when they come out of the wash. Sigh...

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