Weather wise, August can be a very hot month which makes this story a perfect way to vicariously cool off. Visualize what it would be like to board a plane or boat from the UK and land at Port Lockroy scientific base on Goudier Island that is still buried in four meters of snow from last December. That’s what four women who were selected from a group of 4,000 applicants faced when they arrived in Antarctica to manage the world’s most remote post office during summertime in the southern hemisphere.
To get an idea of the setting, in addition to the post office, there’s a gift shop and a museum that is frequented by visitors from 200 expedition ships that annually stop at the busiest place on this frozen continent. About 16,000 visitors are expected for the 2022/23 season along with explorers and scientists. It’s also home to a thousand Gentoo penguins, the fastest swimming penguins in the world with speeds up to 22 miles per hour. What a sight that must be!
Clare Ballantyne is the 23-year-old postmaster who is joined by base leader Lucy Bruzzone, wildlife monitor Mairi Hilton and shop manager Natalie Corbett. It certainly wasn’t the housing accommodations that attracted the ladies since they share a room with no running water or internet, take advantage of showers when ships are in port and have limited access to fresh food. Collectively they claim the motivation was to live and work in a place that is so vast and ‘unlike anywhere else on earth.’ That and being responsible for keeping scientific tabs on the whereabouts of the penguins.
Cheeriness goes a long way to solving problems quickly and making the most of the unique experience. For their bi-weekly day off, catching up on sleep is a priority followed by slow walks to enjoy the island’s pristine clear air and vast environment teaming with limpets, moss, starfish and krill. Photography is big along with reading and reflection.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators manages the tourism. There are codes to monitor waste and water, biosecurity and the worthiness of ships traveling in the polar region to protect tourists. Yet, so much of the Antarctic plains that are larger than the UK remain untouched.
For me, Antarctica sounds exciting to visit but not to live. I’m grateful my mom came to California from Nebraska when she was 18 years old. Her first time back was 50 years later when we went for a family reunion—I loved meeting relatives and am happy SoCal is my home.
Published by Orange County Register, August 10, 2023