Our departure flight left Antarctica at 4:20am on Saturday, January 22. Way too early, but at least the flight didn't have any trouble landing on the ice runway.
|Waiting for the plane to unload|
|Everyone was more than ready to leave. Most of the passnegers were scientists who had finished their research but there were also several leaving for some R&R.|
The first half of the week, Larry and I spent in Sumner, a beach suburb east of Christchurch. We stayed in a hostel a couple of blocks from the beach and didn't do much other than eat, sleep, walk on the beach, and shop.
|Here I am cleaning the room at the hostel. It was a good sized room for a great price.|
|The beach in Sumner.|
|The lighthouse on the beach in Sumner.|
|Larry found a small cave under the lighthouse so that he could avoid direct sunlight. After five months in Antarctica, both of us had pale skin and had to be careful of getting sunburned.|
|Larry stands next to the lighthouse.|
|It felt so good to stand in warm sunlight and hear roaring water and cawing seagulls.|
The second half of the week, we stayed in Christchurch with a Kiwi couple named Ogi and Helen. Ogi originally comes from Serbia but has lived in New Zealand for the last fifteen years or so. We met them through a website called Couch Surfing which allows travelers to find free places to stay on their journeys.
|Even though I neglected to get a photo of Ogi and Helen, I did take one of their cat Bilbo as he was resting under the bushes in front of the house.|
On Thursday, we took the city bus to New Brighton, another suburb east of Christchurch, to take a walk on the beach. It was sunny when we got there, but clouds rolled in as the afternoon progressed. There was a sand-sculpture competition earlier that day, so we were able to see several interesting and fun creations.
|The New Brighton beach and pier|
|A view of the ocean with the coastline in the distance|
|TV and lounge chair sculpture.|
|A volcano sculpture.|
|A sleeping man that looks like an Easter Island statue.|
|Is this what Medusa would have looked like if she had been an underwater goddess??|
|On Friday, Larry and I went to a mall to see a movie and have coffee with real milk instead of powdered milk. On the way, we also found a cupcake shop. Mmmmmm... :-)|
On our last day in Christchurch, we took a walk through the Botanical Gardens to see the flowers in bloom. They were beautiful and so colorful!
|On our last night, we had dinner with Sarah Carlin, who worked with us in Antarctica. Sarah had finished her contract that week and was passing through Christchurch on her way to Australia where she would be spending a few days.|
|From the cockpit of the C-17, a view of the Transantarctic Mountains. Almost home...|
Arriving back at McMurdo felt very much like coming home. I guess five months at a place (with another eight to go) makes it feel like home. It's strange how this frozen, barren, inhospitable continent can become so familiar and comforting.
Here are two links, one video and one audio, that explain some of the science that takes place on the continent. The video link was sent to me by my friend Alan and the audio link is from NPR's Science Friday program at the end of 2010.
Some of you have asked me how trucks, vans, and other vehicles can operate in such a cold climate. Every vehicle has been equipped with an electric heater that keeps the engine from freezing, and every parking spot has an live electrical outlet next to it. When a vehicle is parked, the engine heater is plugged in and this allows the engine to start the next time it is needed. When a vehicle is started, it is supposed to warm up for at least five minutes (sometimes fifteen, depending on the vehicle) before it's driven. When a vehicle is parked temporarily in an area not near an outlet, it is left idling so that it doesn't freeze. Even with these precautions, these cars still take a beating in this climate.
More adventures to come soon! There is a flock of Emperor penguins that has gathered near the road between McMurdo and the runway. Tomorrow night, I'll be able to visit these penguins and take photos!!