10 November 2016

Final preparations, ‘MAGIC’ and farewells

On the first of November, I caught a plane to the UK, leaving behind a final busy week of interviews, preparations and packing. At the same time Laura was travelling by train from Inverness in Scotland, en route for meeting up in the evening at our accommodation in Cambridge.  The rest of the Port Lockroy team, Adele and Lucy, were due to arrive the day after.

Around 10 AM we all arrived heavily packed at the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust office in Cambridge. It was so nice seeing everyone again. We had a busy day ahead with final preparations and information; checking outdoor gear, boots, getting all the necessary documents and papers. In addition, we got an interesting tour to the BAS archives and even a bit of ‘MAGIC’ at the Mapping and Geographic Information Centre. We were all excited looking at the different maps, scales and details of Antarctica, and learning about the history from the archives. We want to thank Peter Fretwell and Ieuan Hopkins for all the information and our visit. We finished the day with an online check in, a lovely dinner with the Cambridge team, organising all our documents, and packing the bags.

After a lovely long shower and a delicious breakfast, we checked out, stored our bags and took the opportunity of enjoying a bit of fresh air and sunshine whilst waiting for our taxi to London Gatwick Airport. It was so nice that Fran, Lauren and Guy from the Cambridge team came to say goodbye. After stowing all our luggage, in total 2 backpacks, 4 duffel bags and 4 pieces of hand luggage, in the taxi, it was time for goodbyes and big hugs. The Cambridge team (of only 5!) have done a tremendous job getting everything ready before our departure and making a new Port Lockroy season possible - a sincere thanks! After our departure, Fran, Lauren and Guy kept waving until our taxi eventually disappeared from view. Our long journey south had started!

Operation Fran’

After arrival at LGW Airport, we found a place to sit down and have a drink. Lucy opened the work laptop bag to have a look inside, but something wasn’t right. To all our surprise, Lucy took out a plastic transparent box, clearly meant for glasses. There was no doubt about the owner, as the box was clearly marked with ‘Fran’. Fran had been looking for her glasses the day before we left, and had not been able to find them. They had just disappeared… After Lucy’s discovery, Laura sent Fran a short text: “Hi Fran, look what we found!” along with a pic showing Adele wearing Fran’s glasses whilst enjoying a delicious latte. Within a minute she replied: “Nice try Adele. There she was having this sympathetic conversation about failing eyesight. She’d tea leafed them!” We decided to return the glasses by mail. Luckily Adele and Lucy had found stamps and a suitable envelope. After Adele’s artistic touch of drawing a penguin looking for its glasses, whilst a leopard seal is wearing them with the comment: “Oh, everything is so clear now!”, we wrapped it, ready for sending, if it hadn’t been for the tiny letter box opening… It became our very own ‘Operation Fran’. 

After careful removal of the UK stamps, and after finding a suitable letter box opening at Madrid Airport, we just needed stamps. I got into a bookshop and gave it a try using my little Spanish conversation guide: “Un sello para Europa”. My excitement about the fact that the lady behind the counter had actually understood what I asked for, was quickly washed away with the answer: “No”. Now we had found a letter box with a big enough opening, but we had no stamps for sending it. So, the glasses travelled to Buenos Aires.

A 13-hour long flight, involving lovely conversations, a midnight dinner and even a free champagne toast for the four of us thanks to Laura and Lucy who had accepted their new seats without complaining, took us to the tropical Buenos Aires, with its 30 degrees outside temperatures, it was not exactly an Antarctic feeling! Although there was a post office at the Airport, they didn’t want to send the envelope-wrapped glass box, so we decided to try and return it from Ushuaia instead.

Ushuaia and a 'coded' steak talk

A short taxi drive took us and all our luggage to our home stay accommodation in Ushuaia. Everyone was happy to find more Antarctic style weather; light snowfall, a bit of sun and wind, with a view of beautiful alpine snow-covered mountains. We could feel Antarctica was coming closer! But first we would spend a few days in Ushuaia doing final preparations, buying last minute stuff and of course enjoying the things we will have limited access to during the next few months: showers and fresh food…

One evening, we each ordered a real Argentinian steak. Adele was longing for a “rare-steak”, but the look on the waiter’s face said everything; doubtful about Adele’s special choice, he shortly after asked: “Are you sure? A bloody one…?” Not long after ordering the steaks, our big twinkling eyes were looking at the dinner plates. My goodness, these must have been the biggest steaks I’ve ever seen. I guess that one steak would probably have sufficed for four normal steak dinners…

As we all ate our first bites of the juicy soft Argentinian steak, it couldn’t go unnoticed that there was a sudden change in our way of communication. It was of a coded kind: “mmh”, “mmmh”, which was responded in choir; “mmmmmh”, “mmh”. As time went by and the steaks started to reduce substantially in size, the coded words changed along with it: “oohhh”, “wphffff”.  After overfilling our fresh meat reserves for the next couple of months, we went happily and satisfied to bed, and I guess it’s obvious what we were dreaming about that night…

Laura and I paid a visit to a post office in Ushuaia for sending a couple of postcards, in addition to continuing ‘Operation Fran’. After a clear ‘No’ and some further communication trouble, it was decided: ‘Operation Fran’ will become an Antarctic mission; travelling south to our very own post office at Port Lockroy!

We also paid a visit to Ushuaia Port and a museum with some Antarctic history. Adele has not only been a local Ushuaia guide; she has also been preparing us for our arrival at Port Lockroy and given us loads of information about Port Lockroy operations. In addition to answering all our questions, which probably is a whole book by now. We are so grateful and lucky for having her as base leader! Sincere thanks from the three of us!

As you can imagine, 4 people walking together with the same branded Port Lockroy clothing, we weren’t totally unnoticed. We met and talked to several people, including expedition team members and visitors. And we even met with Lisa Kelly from IAATO for a lovely conversation over lunch. You could feel the excitement building up. Port Lockroy is becoming closer than ever!

After hugs and farewells, Adele and Lucy left on board Ocean Endeavour. We could see lots of tiny people outside on the decks as she started sailing from Port Ushuaia, and two of them must have been Lucy and Adele, so we waved all we could: waving, jumping and waving and I even did an improvised UKAHT-sign using my arms. Well, we wonder if they saw us, we’re excited to find out when we meet again at Port Lockroy! 

Laura and I will be leaving on board Academik Ioffe tomorrow, we are so excited and ready for our final leg of the journey; sailing to Port Lockroy after crossing the notorious Drake Passage! If everything goes as planned, we should arrive at Port Lockroy the 12thof November, but Adele has received word that the Neumayer Channel is blocked by ice on both entries… Who arrived first, when and how it went, follow the continuation in a couple of weeks!

- Hannelore -

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