Well let’s just say it has been a very eventful past two days for our team. Yesterday (Monday) at 4:45am we all received a call alerting us that our flight to McMurdo would be delayed 24 hours. We were required to check out of our hotel and transfer to a new one, “The Elms”, at 10 am. When we arrived at the hotel, Vas called a meeting for Michael, Thomas and Jared in order to discuss ideas on our camps set up. He wanted to confer with the two others who have been before to Taylor Glacier. Since there was nothing else planned for the rest of the day, I decided to tag along on Sarah and Carli’s (the two grad students on Sarah Aciego’s team) plans for the day. We pitched in to rent a car, so we could have a chance to see more of the country side. Shockingly, it was extremely cheap to rent the car-GPS included- it was only about 60 U.S dollars. Our desired destination was Akarao which is a small town located southeast of Christchurch, about an hour and a half drive. As soon as we left Christchurch, we were driving along winding roads through the mountains. There were pastures on pastures of sheep along the way. The scenery was incredible, with the largest diversity of plants that I have ever seen in a given area.
View approaching Akarao
Akarao is located along the harbor that is in the distance. Once we arrived in the town, we stopped at a local cheese shop to try some free samples, and then headed on into town to grab some lunch. We ate at a small café called the Harbar, which was very suiting because it had an outdoor porch that was perched along side the harbor.
The most exciting part of this adventure was after our lunch, where we decided to trek up one of the mountains along a designated hiking trail to get a better view of the surrounding area. It was not the most difficult hike, but it definitely had its challenges. In the end, when we reached the top I quickly forgot the tiredness that I had acquired along the way. The view was breath taking.
At the end of our hike, we headed back into town. I really enjoyed getting to bond with the other women that will be at our site. While I was gallivanting around New Zealand, the rest of our team was relaxing and catching up on work at the hotel. I was really glad that I got the chance to see the country side-even if it was only for a day.
After that lovely carefree day, the moment we have all been waiting for has arrived! We have made it to McMurdo Station. I set my alarm for 5:00 am in hopes that we would not get that dreaded call about a flight delay. When my alarm went off on schedule, I anxiously packed my bags preparing for the long day ahead of me. We all checked out of the hotel and loaded our entire luggage into airport bound shuttles. I weighed my bags to double check that they were under 150lbs, but I am pretty sure I was the only one who was concerned about that since I packed a lot more generous than the rest of my team. After passing off our checked baggage to the airport crew we all gathered for a briefing-which would be the first of many along this journey. Finally reality started to hit me, I was headed to Antarctica for the first time. I was expecting myself to be nervous, but I was full of excitement and nothing more. Our flight would be aboard a C-17, which I had been told would be one of the loudest rides of my life. As we went through security, they handed out earplugs in preparation for the noise. I had no clue what to expect at all. This was not the type of luxurious plane that we all typically travel on to our holiday destinations. This was a bit more rugged. The seats were along the wall, with no cushioning, and the cargo/crates that were traveling along with us were in the center-blocking our view from the other wall. There were only two ways to see where we were going-out the door windows or out by the cockpit. I was sitting next to Vas for the trip, while Ben and Michael were together. The seating did not really matter because once we started flying, it was way too loud to hold a casual conversation. It was a five hour flight, and then we finally made it to Antarctica. As we approached McMurdo, I was able to see out of the window and see the vast expanse of snow and ice covered mountains that lay below. This was the second time in 24 hours that I was left speechless.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally landed and were able to get off the plane. My first steps onto the continent will never be forgotten. It was a sight to see, all of the newcomers in their “Big Reds”, star struck, snapping as many photos as possible in the next few minutes.
After a short ride, we all arrived at McMurdo where we again had a short briefing of how things work around town. Hearing about all of the trainings that needed to be done, along with all of the things that needed to be done before we go to the field started to get very overwhelming. Everything was so new to me and there was no time to take a breather to catch my balance before I was informed of the list of things to do. Vas called a quick team meeting in order for us to all meet Jessy and Chandra, and to catch up on what they have been doing these past few days at McMurdo. Once this was all settled, I was able to go to my room which was very much like my room back at school. Everything here is set up in a dormitory style, where everyone has at least one roommate. I luckily am rooming with Chandra, so she can help guide me a little bit along the way while I am here at McMurdo.
We all met for dinner a few hours ago, and I got accustomed to the dining situation. It is all you can eat, with many different options. It is by far way better than the food that is served back at school, so there are no complaints from me! It was also some of the first vegetables and fruit that I have had since the beginning of this long journey, which was much appreciated. Finishing dinner in a timely manner, we all headed to the most exciting training, the recreational one! This way we now are able to traverse all of the trails and use any of the sporting equipment that we want, as long as we follow the safety guidelines and bundle up wherever we go.
Ben, Michael, and I took advantage of this the instant that we were finished and decided to hike up one nearby hill to get a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The slippery snow covered slopes were a bit more difficult to hike than your average rocky hill. After a couple slips and 45 minutes later, we finally reached the peak. This was what we saw…
What goes up must come down…so after some amazing picture taking we started our descent, which involved more sledding then walking down the hill. Ben’s favorite way to descend down the steepest parts was to slide down on his butt, which was quite comical. After a mere 15 minutes, we made it to the bottom, snow covered and beaming. This was a great way to mark the end of an emotional filled day. I will definitely sleep well tonight, and I am sure everyone else will too, but it will not last very long since our first meeting will be at 7:30am tomorrow.