Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pizza Night at the South Pole

In general I love being down here at the South Pole, but I suppose in fairness I am a pretty positive person, and I try to focus on the positive and look past some of the negative things that happen, not just here, but in my life back home as well. The reality is, however, that not everything here is perfect. The fact that we are limited to 2 two minute showers a week is one thing that comes to mind immediately.  Somewhat off topic, but the first thing I am going to do when I get back to Christchurch when I get off the ice is check into my hotel and take an hour long shower, or maybe two... It will be glorious! But I digress...  I generally avoid the more negative things that happen on my blog, because honestly, they are usually small and not worth talking about.  That being said the past couple of month or so has had a few annoying things happen.

The first big annoyance has been the Internet. We normally have three scheduled satellite passes that provide Internet for everyone on station.  The first is normally the fastest. However, even at its fastest it is slower than what most people have at home.  It is far too slow to stream most video reliably, especially when all 46 of us are fighting for bandwidth.  So Netflix is definitely not happening, but on a good day, it is usually good enough to handle your general browsing needs, well, for the 3 hours it is up.  Under the right circumstance, it could be used for a Skype video call, which is kind of important for me right now, but we'll get to that in a bit. The next satellite pass is significantly slower.  It can take several minutes to load pages if you are trying to browse the web.  There are even times when you will try to access pages, but they continually time out and just won't load.  Sometimes you can't even get through to your email. Funnily, this satellite is called "Skynet". If this was the sentient network that would try to take over the world (as from Terminator), then I wouldn't be too worried about it!  This satellite lasts a little bit longer, around 5 or 6 hours, but again it is barely usable.  The last satellite pass is somewhere in the middle. Mostly it will load pages, but it still takes time.  When I am on it, I still have pages that time out, but usually it works if you are patient. This pass lasts around 3 or 4 hours.

The point of all this is that we have limited Internet access here.  Things are slow, but lately it has been worse.  Our fast satellite has been down for the past week and was already not working properly the weeks before that.  In fairness, I don't suppose I can complain too much about that as I have slept through that pass over the past month or so, but I just finished my ham radio class here and I can't give the exam without that satellite.  We have to have proctors watching from the North, and that is the satellite that has the best chance of getting a Skype video call through at the right time. Hopefully, these problems will be resolved soon, but sometimes, I get the impression that we here at the South Pole are not a high priority for the satellite people up North.

The second big annoyance has been the kitchen work.  Since I have had some questions about how the food situation is here, I will elaborate a little on that first. The majority of the time, we get our food from our cafeteria, or galley as we call it.  There are three meals prepared six days a week, and a small spread for brunch on Sunday.  If you work nights or are like me and for some unexplainable reason end up on a night shift, there is a leftover refrigerator that is usually stocked with food for consumption after hours. The leftover fridge is also the source of food on the one day of the week the galley staff doesn't work, Sunday, unless someone else on station volunteers to cook for everyone.  The food is provided for us so we don't actually have to buy anything.  The exception is junk food.  If you want beef jerky, candy, coke or something else like that you mostly have to get that from our station store, but I think that will have to be a post for another time. Even still, there is always coffee, cookies, and chips out in the galley for anyone to have if they get the munchies in the middle of the day or night.

A little over a month ago, some of the maintenance crew started a planned overhaul of the kitchen, and it went on for about three weeks.  They had to do this during the winter as there are only 46 of us here now vs. the 150 or so people here during the summer. Normally, I really enjoy our food here.  We have some pretty good cooks here and they do an amazing job with the limited resources we have.  Keep in mind, most of our food is frozen during the winter, and much of it has been here for a while. The milk is powdered.  It's hard to find green olives.  There is rarely ketchup and almost never mayonnaise.  The very few fresh vegetables come from our small green house (thank goodness for greenhouse tomatoes!). That being said, for those three weeks, much of our food was cooked on our emergency stove and in some industrial microwaves. For the most part, the food was OK, but it definitely lost some quality. There were more than a few days when people would opt out of the main course and stick to the side dishes, as the frozen meat cooked in a microwave rarely came out quite as well as we would like.

There are a couple of reasons I bring all this up.  The first is that I have had a few people ask about the food situation here.  The second, and actually bigger reason, is to say that the kitchen work ended a week or so ago, and last Saturday, the logistics working group volunteered to make pizza for everyone.  It was probably the best pizza I have had in a LONG time. They mentioned that they were going to cook for everyone earlier in the week, and everyone was extremely excited when Saturday evening arrived, and pizza was had by all! I have to confess, I have been thinking about trying to exercise and get in better shape while I am here, but on that night... I ate so much I made myself a little sick.  It was great!

The truth is I don't really feel like I have much to complain about.  Things are not perfect here, but there are places and people who have it far worse. I do miss my family sometimes. I miss regular long hot showers. I miss humidity.  I miss deep fried buffalo wings and green olives, and probably a thousand other things here and there, but the truth is, I am still really enjoying my time here. I am living and working with a great group of people in an awe inspiring place, and I can step outside at almost any time I would like and have an amazing view of the night sky from one of the most exotic places in the world.  In truth, I will be ready to leave in six months and get back to warmer climates, again with long showers, but the truth is I know it won't be long before I am missing this amazing place, and the wonderful community we have made here.

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