Its wet in McMurdo. Wet, liquid water in pools on the ground. Wet heavy snow has fallen and the temperature must now be almost 40 degrees, that is to say, 40 above. The air is thick, the air is moist too. By contrast with Pole, the McMurdo atmosphere presses upon me like the fecundity of a tropical jungle. My body responds: released from asceticism, I am getting 50 percent more oxygen than yesterday. The thick sticky snow is like whipped cream rather than crispy flour.
Mactown looks almost quaint, covered with fresh snow and with icicles dripping from the corrugated iron roofs. A wooden bridge crosses some elevated pipes with a ski-resort flair.
I walk down to Scotts Hut: on the way, I pass the dock where the resupply ship "Green Wave" is berthed for unloading. Theres quite an opening in the sea ice and the reflections twinkle.
Nature presses closer: skuas circle overhead, I had seen seals on the drive in to town from the airfield, and then ..
Not only were they cute to meet all expectations, they also fulfilled the requirement felt by everyone who goes to Antarctica: the need to answer the question from ones family and friends: Did You See Penguins ? Just as the USAP provides food and housing and live TV for the benefit of McMurdo personnel, perhaps they also provide penguins carefully trained to look natural, just like Disneyland employees, but on payroll nevertheless.
But penguins or none, Mactown is still a town, with all of the bustle and clapboard siding and truck yards of its military roots. One heck of a view, to be sure. All of the popular media expectations of Antarctica. But not a space station floating on top of three miles of ice, like Pole.
We arrive from Pole on Thursday evening: bag drag at 9 PM for an 07:30 departure on Friday, back to even more warmth. Just long enough for a meal, a walk, a few hours sleep and off in the bus to Willy Field, from whence I had tried three times to get to Pole only a week ago.
Just a week but it seemed like a week in space. A week focussing on only one thing, only one responsibility: Do Your Project. No phone calls, no meetings, no reports. Food and housing provided, just Do Your Project. The hard work of doing the project seemed like a vacation: not a vacation from toil, but a vacation from stress. There were actually a couple of days when I had an hour or two with nothing to do. Of course, I did e-mail, wrote my journal, took pictures but imagine, an hour or two with no external demands.
Reality intrudes. When we get out to Willy Field, there are planes running their engines, there is a HUGE cloud of smoke hanging over the previously-white ice.
But that, after all, was one of the reasons I came.
Load the plane, put in earplugs, only sixteen passengers and a big unit of freight. As we depart, I look down at a glacier. Though seemingly solid, it moves and flows under the influence of inexorable forces. A different set of forces is taking me home, like a giant bunjy cord. The plane flies into clouds and Antarctica is gone.
Back to Tony's Antarctica Interactive Trip
Prepared by Tony Hansen, Garry Rose and Paul Babushkin. Last edited 13 Feb. 1998