Today seems like it will be our last day here in Antarctica. Tonight we will take our bags to the terminal and prepare to leave tomorrow morning, and although we may be delayed, I’m treating this like my last chance to experience this place. So far, we’ve had a great weekend. After we got back from the field on Thursday, I ran to my room, dropped off my stuff, washed my clothes, and took a shower. I didn’t think we’d have showers in the field, so I didn’t take any shampoo and regretted it as a I suffered through greasy roots for two weeks. I shampoo’d twice and even deep conditioned. I’ve never felt so clean and shiny. I swear my feet lightened by two shades after that shower, and there was so much sand in the drain it looked like a small beach forming. Getting to put on clean clothes afterward was just the cherry on top. Running water is an amazing thing that I will never again take for granted.
That evening we got to tour the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star. That was a neat experience, since we got to go up on the observation deck and see where the crew ate and spend time in the aircraft hangar. The stairs were a little scary though, seemed pretty easy to fall down them! Friday we got the whole gang back together (our geologists spent an extra day taking glacier samples) and celebrated the end of our field season and a job well done at the coffee bar here in town. We also returned all of our supplies to their rightful owners, resulting in a very satisfying lightening of luggage bags, although I did almost lose a GPS device. Yesterday we spent the day photographing science summaries that the National Science Foundation puts out, and I had a nice dinner with a bunch of new people before I had to go get homework done (grad school waits for no one). The semester started last week, but it’s been summer vacation here up until last night, essentially. I’m going to have a ton of catch-up work to do once I return.
This morning we took a tour of Captain Scott’s hut from the first expedition. The hut is an old wooden structure that’s been renovate and taken care of by the New Zealanders, who are very careful with their restoration. The inside of the hut is full of century-old seal pelts and old tins that to this day are full of uneaten dog biscuits, tea, and cocoa. (I guess they ate the dog biscuits last, even after they ate the dogs, because they were just that bad.) It smelled like a barn, probably because of the seal leather and hay inside, and it was very dark to boot. You almost needed a flashlight to walk around without knocking over cans, which would no doubt have been an international incident. Some of the expedition members had written their names on the wooden planks of the wall, which you could just barely make out. Most of the cooking stuff was in the same place, as was a small brick chimney in the center of the floor. Our tour guide and I got to chatting about all the National Parks he’s been to and the historic battlefields he’s toured, and we had a surprising amount of viewpoints about history in common given that he’s a firefighter who gives tours for fun. I’ve said it before, but the people here are constantly surprising and amazing. Just something about the way you can’t take anything about someone for granted here makes this a cool place to be.
Something I have noticed is that there is a ton of lingo to learn in McMurdo. Almost everything has a snappy name that someone made up for fun. It generates a kind of steep learning curve when you arrive and have to ask three times for someone to explain what the BFC is (it’s the Berg Field Center where they store gear like sleds and tents for field parties, but most people tell you it’s the “Building Full of Chicks” and has the best coffee). Some of my favorites are “bag drag” (taking your luggage to the drop off point), “skua” (either they mean the bird or the free thrift store here), “Highway 101” (actually an indoor hallway through the main building, Building 155, on which most of the important offices are located), and “OAEs” (Old Antarctic Explorers – used to differentiate between old hats and new guys). Nobody is mean about teaching you things, either – in fact, it’s a cool way to bond with people by asking them about something they can help you with without much effort. People love letting you in on the joke, and in turn you help new people navigate as well.
I can’t believe I’ll be going back home soon. McMurdo has a lot of the creature comforts I missed in the field like running water and beds with mattresses, but it’s starting to feel like it’s just a waypoint on my path home now. I think the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to appear, and without work to distract us, it’s easy to get impatient to be home and back in routine again. I am doing my best to stay in the moment and enjoy everything I have left to offer without getting too moony about leaving.