Today was nice and quiet. I went up to the VMF to help take down the decorations and spent part of the morning there. It all came down pretty quickly, and we were done before 1:00pm. I ran some laundry, which is free for us here. Your clothing doesn’t get dirty from sweat, as you very seldom perspire in this climate, but the dust cakes on to you and you don’t really want to try to wear even your favorite T-shirt more than once without cleaning it. The outerwear that they issue to us when we arrived at Christchurch, NZ is mostly Winter weight Carhart overalls and jackets. They also issue heavy wool socks and thermal underwear, both tops and bottoms. Three types of gloves, leather mittens and rayon/cotton glove liners. They also issue the three types of hats: a balaclava, a regular stocking cap, and a skullcap with earflaps that looks totally ridiculous in any other environment except here or a chairlift in Aspen. I suppose if you can afford the lift ticket prices in Aspen or Vail, you can buy any ridiculous hat you want to and not think twice about how silly you look. But down here it is crucial to have at least one of those with you at all times. As I found out today.
I had the opportunity to leave McMurdo for the nearby Scott Base. It is the New Zealand Base of operation, and it has what they call “American Night” on Thursday. It’s a chance for them to open their doors to the Yanks, and sell some goods from their shop and beer from their bar. The variety of T-shirts, postcards and key chains is uniquely different than what we have at McM. Also, they seem to have a lot more of it. You would think they get a thousand visitors a day, but logic tells you they’re only real audience is us at McM. Their base has only 40 personnel at any one time, except at the end of the season when all of their remote locations shut down for the year, and as they return home through Scott Base, it’s capacity nearly triples.
The New Zealanders are affectionately called Kiwi’s. They are nicknamed after a curious New Zealand bird that’s looks rather like a cross between an anteater and a chicken. It’s about the size of a large rooster, but apparently doesn’t make as much racket when the sun comes up. It’s beak is shaped very long and thin and is usually stuck in the ground, sucking up ants. Flightless, and nocturnal, they have few natural predators in New Zealand, so they are every where, just relaxed and happy. They have rather ugly brown feathers that are so thin and long that they resemble fur until you get close enough to view them. I was fortunate to see all this because the tavern has one taxidermy example under glass. Poor little dude. At the very least he looked happy, there are worse ways to spend the afterlife than being the featured performer in a nice bar.
The New Zealand people themselves are very calm and welcoming. I was the only person on the shuttle going over at about 7:00pm, and was in the shop for about 30 minutes. After a very nice conversation with Alex, the shop keeper, I left the store and he immediately locked it up. I apologized, not realizing it was after hours, and he was so polite about saying it was no bother. I then said I was heading over to the bar and I asked for directions. “Just follow me, I’m working there next.” Like many people living in any small isolated community, Alex wears a lot of different hats.
I had just walked into the pub and was almost immediately drawn into a conversation with one of the Kiwis who was watching the pool table. He is New Zealand Army, and though I have forgotten his name, which I regret, I will not soon forget his kindness. We talked a lot about Rugby, Antarctica, and how he got assigned there, and how good the relationship is between his base and ours. We looked at the maps of his island home on the walls and he told me a bit about is home in Wellington, one of the bigger cities there. I told him a bit about Denver, and we got on fine as his friends gathered around after their work was done for the day. About 9:00pm I knew I wanted to get the ride back to McM, so I excused myself from my new friends to go and wait for the shuttle.
There were five other Yanks heading back with me, and all of us were wondering why the shuttle was late. The temperature was not terribly cold, but the wind was up and we had no desire to walk back at this hour. I didn’t have a coat, but I did have my backpack, and in it I had a heavy sweater and the funky little scull cap with ear flaps. Warmth wins out over fashion down here in a heart beat. And just minutes after I put on the cap for the long trudging walk back to McM the shuttle arrived. Yay!
I tell ya, I have been so lucky on this trip it just boggles my mind.
These carved wooden statues show off the native artwork common to the Maori tribes of New Zealand.
More next time.