Friday, 17 January 2014

Return Saga

Almost three weeks of 2014 have passed, Christmas/New Year holidays are over, and the office work has started again. Finally, we flew out from Princess Elisabeth station around noon on 18 December. Two days earlier than planned. Bad weather has been announced from the 19/20 December onwards. Therefore, the Ilyushin took off from Cape Town already on 17 December in the evening. The new Belgian team for Princess Elisabeth station arrived just in time in Cape Town to catch this flight. Lucky for us, because otherwise we would have stayed longer at the station, as there was no ‘empty’ feeder flight foreseen in the budget from Novo to Utsteinen, just to pick us up. A next Ilyushin flight would have been surely after Christmas. All of us of our ‘outgoing’ group were happy to avoid the perspective of a delay of a week or more to return to Belgium. In the end, it was the fastest journey out of Antarctica I ever had: we flew out around noon, arrived 1 ½ hour later at Novo where we went immediately into the waiting Ilyushin, and one hour later the cargo machine took off. And in the late evening of 18 December we were sitting in Cape Town on the hotel terraces, enjoying a meal and warm temperatures. The earlier departure meant however that I could not finalise all points of my agenda, like installing in the aerosol shelter a webcam and a multiple plug for remote power control. The Brewer ozone spectrophotometer had to be packed safely in a cargo box for its way back to Europe. I did some last tests/heart operations on the nephelometer, but it was not possible to repair it and so I packed it also in its box for return. Now it is already at the company for repair.
So, until our flight to London/Brussels on 22 December in the evening, we had four days in Cape Town. Enough time to relax, to de-compress, to buy some souvenirs and to enjoy the good food in Cape Town and the nice sunny weather. I also did a day trip safari (during the former stays in Cape Town I always thought that once I had to do this). There are several parks and tour operators you can choose from. We went to a private game reserve which is around 2 ½ hour drive by minibus to the East of Cape Town. Private game reserve means, it is a very vast enclosed area, in an impressive landscape, where the animals are supervised and protected (against poaching), and where small scale tourism takes place (you can also stay overnight in comfortable lodges or chalets, however there is not much else than safari to do in this remote region). It also means that you are more or less sure to see the animals, compared to other parks which are open wild life. Our open-jeep safari took around 2 ½ hours and we saw them all – buffaloes, zebras, rhinos, eland antelopes, hippos, giraffes, elephants, and lions. The lions live in a separate compartment of the reserve where they may hunt the game living there. From time to time they get some additional food. And as they only hunt one/two times per week – they are most of the time lying lazily around (and are not interested in tourist meat). The reserve hosts also some white rhinos. You have to know that South Africa is the home place of almost the whole population of the white rhino and poaching with the only aim to cut their horns is a real threat. In 2013 alone, almost 1000 rhinos were killed by poachers (see
As said, now it is office work again in greyish and wet Brussels, and I am remotely controlling the instruments in Antarctica. At the station, it is Karel Moerman who supervises the instruments and who is doing all necessary maintenance tasks which cannot be done remotely. He is doing this extremely well and I can sleep quietly, knowing that the instruments are in good hands.