Okay, as I said, this is going to take some adjustment. People had warned me about sensory overload when I got to CHCH, but didn’t say anything about McMurdo. I’ve had a great day (more about that later), but still feel completely wigged out. I’m going to try to describe it a bit, but bear with me: I feel very much like when-you’re-a-dog-it’s-always-right-now – I’m having a hard time maintaining focus. So. Weird things:
- The air. I was expecting this. The air is thick and wet. Like drinking warm cream after getting used to skim milk. You know those dreams where you can, inexplicably, breathe underwater? This is what it feels like – like you shouldn’t be able to breathe it in, but somehow, you can, and it feels good.
- Dirt. I mentioned this. Yeah, it’s all over, on the ground. The island is made of dirt and rock, and after the snow melts off in midsummer, it’s what you stand on. But it’s squishy – it feels like those compressed rubber running tracks. It comes up as dust that blows away in the wind as you walk.
- Birds. Things in the sky that are just flying around. And elsewhere. More on that later.
- It’s warm. Like, 32F. There’s liquid water on the ground, in puddles. Feels freaky, like the walls are melting or something.
- The people – there are tons of them. And they’re always moving around. It feels like a city, even though the total population of MacTown is around 1200. But compared to the tiny closed community at Pole (when I left we were around 180), this is huge. Imagine yourself standing on a corner in New York at rush hour. Really, this is what it feels like. Crazy. Especially the bit about not making eye contact and all. Wigs me out.
That being said, I’m astounded at how many people I know here – either met on the way down, or who spent time at Pole during the season. People keep coming out of the crowd, shouting “Pablo! You’re back!” and giving me big hugs. Probably a dozen times today, and at least that many last night. At least one, I still have no idea who they were. But there were equally many who I also just recognized and said “hi” to, who asked me how my season was, and who said they’d heard that I’d totally rocked down there (awwww… blushes). So for such a big city, it also feels like a small town. I just can’t keep the cognitive dissonance sorted.
- Internet. It’s here, all the time. It’s slow, but because of my job at Pole, knowing when the satellites were (supposed to be) up became an unconscious given, sort of like knowing where the edge of the sidewalk was. You don’t think about it, you just know, and plan your path accordingly. Here, I keep checking the clock before realizing I don’t have to. It’s like free heroin, all the time (uh, if, for example, I was a heroin addict).
The “more-about-birds-later” thing.
At lunch I heard about a “Pegasus” tour. The Pegasus airfield, an hour out on the permanent sea ice to the southwest of MCM, is named after the Lockheed Constellation that crash-landed there back in 1970. Oh heck, I said, sure, I don’t have any other plans.
On the return trip, bouncing along in the back of a Delta (crazy articulated truck-thingy), the guide asked “Hey, there are some emperor penguins close to the road – anyone want to stop and see them?” We grabbed our cameras and piled out.
Our guide cautioned that we should not approach closer than 25 feet, so as “not to interfere”, so I flomped down on my belly about my best estimate of “25 feet” and started to take some shots. One of the pengs took an interest in me and waddled over for a closer look.
me: “Uh, uh, uh.”
guide: “It’s okay. You can’t approach them. But if they approach you, you get to play it by ear.”
me: “Uh, uh, uh.”
So, this is some of what I got on camera:
(Hmm video seems to not be available – have a look over at the PicasaWeb album)