Thursday, 26 February 2009

afterwords 1

Finally, our return journey to Brussels went smoothly. On Sunday morning, after the storm, the weather was quiet, with a broken sky full off very interesting clouds and a lot of sun. The weather forecasts were favorable for flying, so that we only had to wait for the Russians’ flight planning. Soon we were informed that we would fly to Novo today, to continue directly to Cape Town with the awaiting Ilyushin. Our only question was: when exactly? Several groups in different stations (Troll, Neumayer…) had been blocked by the storm. All of them needed to be picked up and flown to Novo today. For us it would probably be sometime in the afternoon. So we had time again. Together with Irina, I took down her Ceilometer (which measures the cloud height) from the roof of one of the scientific containers. It had perfectly survived the storm, but it was nevertheless filled with snow. As there will be no power during winter, we had to put all our instruments back into their boxes for storage. A definite sign that the end of our stay had come. I benefited from the nice weather to stroll around a bit, to say goodbye to the scenery and all the places which had become so familiar during the three weeks. I took the last pictures of the fascinating mountain wave clouds, staring northwards into the wide open snow/ice fields, wandering around in and outside the station. Together with Gigi I made my last skidoo drive towards the magnetometer site in order to check if the solar panel tower had survived the storm. It had… No sign of injury . Via the Iridium phone my Japanese colleague confirmed that all the time the system had measured and continues measuring without problems. Good feeling.

In the meantime our take-off time was still not fixed. We had time to wait. Late in the afternoon we were informed that we were to be picked up by the Lidia at 8pm. David, our cook, prepared a delicious Tiramisu as a goodbye present, and at half past seven everybody was on the sledges of the Prinooth to be driven down to the landing strip. The Lidia arrived and then the great farewell scene started between us 16 who flew out, and the bunch of 13 staying at the station. What a hugging, wishing all the best, last personal words… After all that, our luggage and cargo was stored inside the plane and we took our seats. When the Lidia took off it was the last turn for us over the Utsteinen area. Outside it already became dark and we were all quiet, both reflective and tired. However, after a while the good mood and life came back and the flight to Novo passed quickly whilst talking or taking pictures of each other.

We arrived around 9:30 pm, local time at Novo. What a wind there… Temperatures were not very low, only around –7 °C, but the wind was really strong. We unloaded our luggage onto a long wooden sledge and either a sticker mentioning “carousel” (for luggage claim at Cape Town) or “storage” (for further air cargo at Cape Town) was fixed on each piece. Andrei from Novo station drove the sledge with a skidoo directly to the Ilyushin and together with two others we went to help him to load our stuff onto palettes, below the open cargo door of the big aircraft. When that job was finished we were driven to the kitchen tent where all the others of our group already were. The tent was crowded; all the other passengers from Neumayer, Troll, Sanae were also waiting for the departure of the Ilyushin. Dinner was still available, which was very welcome. Outside the hauling wind was shaking the tent and blowing the snow. Nobody wanted to wait outside. Besides meanwhile it was dark outside, but overall visibility was still good and ther was no doubt that the Ilyushin could take off. However, we still had to wait until half past midnight before the Russians started to pick us up by groups of 12, and drive to the Ilyushin by sledge. This way boarding went fast and nobody had to stay for a long time in the biting wind. Finally we took off at 2:30 am. Everybody tried to sleep.

One or two hours before arrival we changed our clothes. No more thick trousers, fleece jackets, but T-shirts, sandals and light trousers instead – what an “uncommon” feeling. The arrival at Cape Town went smoothly; we arrived at our hotel around noon (the time difference is +2hrs compared to Novo). What a great feeling to take a real shower, after 24 days without this comfort! My, in the mean-time, grown beard also came off. After that we all went out eating together; everybody looked so changed suddenly . My flight back to Brussels was scheduled at 8 am next morning, so for 7 others too. The others had one or two days or even a whole week more in Cape Town. During the afternoon I took the time to buy some souvenirs to please my family and to have a last drink in the sun on the waterfront. I was surprised to find out that it was no problem at all to be exposed that rapidly back to +30 degrees, it was even very pleasant instead. In the evening our group ate out in a very nice seafood restaurant and afterwards again it was time to say goodbye.

It was a short night and early in the morning we arrived at the airport. We had 11 hours of flight to London-Heathrow, most of the time half-asleep. The flight to Brussels was shorter than our stay at Heathrow. Once again it was time for hugging and saying goodbye to each other at Brussels Airport. The Antarctic group now dissolved and everybody was returning to their family and their normal live. I arrived in my apartment shortly before midnight. Oof... This was finally the end of the journey that started 33 days before. Doris was waiting for me and I told her the first bits of my experiences and she in her turn told me the first bits of what had happened during my absence. My little daughter was asleep, so I only caught a glimpse of her sleeping quietly in her bed. The next day and the rest of the week I would have time for her.

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