Monday, 20 December 2010

The first day at the Station

Before we left on Saturday I visited the Kirstenbos National Botanical Garden near Cape Town. This fantastic garden is really worth visiting more than once. It is perfectly situated – in a natural amphitheatre where the Cape Town mountains form a perfect shelter against cold wind, but provide warmth and more than normal precipitation. The plants and trees you can see there are impressing. South Africa is the homeland of one of the Earth’s six main plant kingdoms.

After this visit I waited with the others in the hotel until we went to the airport. We left Cape Town Saturday night; the Ilyushin 76 took off at 23:30 local time. The machine was fully packed, about 10 tons of cargo and around 45 passengers with destination the different Antarctic stations in Dronning Maud Land – Germans, Japanese, Indians, Belgians and others. The flight took around 6 hours and we landed Monday morning at half past four, local time which is Greenwich Mean Time.

It was rather fair weather and the sun shining – uncommonly high already for this early morning for Middle Europeans. Wind was not strong. After unloading and repacking our cargo into the Basler-67, we left only two and a half hours later for Princess Elisabeth station. Everybody of us slept during the 90 minutes flight – tired from the Ilyushin flight and otherwise the cabin of the Basler is not pressurized, so that the oxygen content is lower. At Princess Elisabeth station the members of the team already there waited at the landing strip and welcomed us. The weather at Utsteinen was very nice – nearly completely blue sky, almost no wind and comfortable temperatures. At the sky some snow petrels swallowed along – nice to see.

That sunday I only took care of my cargo boxes and checked that the instruments had arrived in good condition. Towards the evening cloudiness increased and the wind became stronger and snow started to blow – you should be able to see this on the image, the slight white blur just above the ground.

So – what’s with living at the station: Sleeping is not anymore necessary in tents – however, who want to can do it. Maybe I will do this later. But for now, the comfort in the sleeping rooms is tempting enough – a real bed (no sleeping bags anymore), heated rooms, all stuff sorted neatly in the cupboard ;-) I sleep in one of the 4-bed rooms in the wooden annex of the station, sharing it with a colleague from Germany. In the main station, many things have changed – bath rooms and toilets can now be used for example. Water treatment is working and the bacteria responsible for cleaning up our waste water are scrutinized in a special lab.

It is really a good feeling to be back again. Seeing again this unique landscape with the Utsteinen nunatak and the variation between mountains and the flat white ice surface reaching to the horizon – this is really a very special place. In addition, the steady change of the interplay between the light, the snow and the mountains is so fascinating – at Utsteinen the eye will very rarely be bored. On the contrary to my last stay, now I will have sun (if there are no clouds) 24 hours. It is funny to see the sun disappearing behind the mountains west of the nunatak at around 22:45 and just 20 minutes later the sun appears back on the east side of the nunatak.

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