Above is the view from Vernadsky Base in Antarctia.
“Welcome to Antarctica!” the voice in front of me boomed. Surprised to hear the sentence verbalized for me, a wave of excitement rolled through my body.
A hand was extended out to me and I instinctively grabbed it in the ‘sailor grip’ that we were taught on the ship. It felt like I was moving in slow motion when I looked up at the face of my greeter to the 7th continent – all I could do was smile at this Antarctica inhabitant.
Never had I once considered human life on Antarctica. My brain was too busy anticipating penguins and landscapes.
Yet throughout my Antarctica cruise I realized that there was much more to Antarctica than I originally thought. Some of the things you could do there were quite surprising!
Antarctica is the globe’s only continent without a native human population. I think this is what draws me to the region – it belongs to no one – it’s a free spirit and a somewhat unwelcome one at that.
However even though there is no native population , it still has people manning research bases from a wide variety of countries. The population of people doing and supporting science on the continent and nearby islands varies from approximately 4,000 during the summer season to 1,000 during winter.
Theses bases are filled with primarily men who are quite isolated which left me wondering what did they do in their country that made them get sent here! Some bases run only in the summer and some run year around. But one thing that is the same on all of them is that they love visitors so any way they can attract visitors they do.
Port Lockroy provided the most extensive shopping experience with a large gift shop full of Antarctica and base souvenirs. I even dropped some money there caught up in the excitement of capitalism on all continents. Port Lockroy conducts penguin research and was one of the only bases which employed women.
Young British women actually volunteer to work there year around to research penguins. Port Lockroy wasn’t the only one offering a gift shop experience – other bases also had gift shops. In fact dad and I purchased a bottle of Chilean wine at Gabriel Gonzalez Videla Station to take back to the ship and enjoy with dinner. And not to be outdone – Vernadsky, the Ukrainian base, boasted the Southernmost Souvenir Shop in the world!
Most bases also offer a way to permanently record your visit to Antarctica. Each had a passport stamp – typically with a cute penguin and the base name on it. Since Antarctica doesn’t really belong to any country and therefore no customs or immigration processing is required this was a nice way to get record of your visit in your passport.
As we wandered around the Chillean base which is inhabited only in the summer we were invited inside into their living quarters for an open house walk through. I walked into their simple looking hut surrounded by penguin rookeries and was surprised to find a flat screen TV, big dining room table, leather couches and a Christmas tree. It was like a little bachelor pad in Antarctica. I thought about stowing away for a moment but decided not to dessert my father.
Antarctica is full of fascinating history and nothing is more fascinating to me than how people actually lived in Antarctica years ago. Luckily there area a few museums that give you a glimpse into what life was like in this remote area. The most extensive museum was Port Lockroy’s museum which had all of the old rooms set up and recreated as they used to be including a plethora of old, rusty, canned food that had been rationed but never used. The bedrooms and workrooms recreated completely with girlie pinup paintings. The Chiliean base also had a small museum full of old photography of what it was like to live there years ago. It was a fascinating look into the hard lives that these hearty people lived.
Yes – that’s right, you can even drink on Antarctica. Of course there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to buy and consume booze on all 7 continents and to my surprise my father was more into this goal than I was! At the Vernadsky base they boasted a bar complete with vodka shots and various bar games.
I looked around the bar and couldn’t help but wonder what it was like here when there wasn’t an expedition ship in the harbor. I bet they had some pretty wild nights at this base considering there’s not much else for 11 men to do year around in Antarctica but drink. Considering it was before noon, I was happy to share my vodka shot with my dad, however he insisted that we each have our own – gotta love that.
The bases really provided an interesting insight into Antarctica that I wasn’t expecting but they are a big part of the history and the experience – just as much as the wildlife. So if you are planning a trip to Antarctica, don’t forget to pack US dollars for souvenirs, bring your passport, and be prepared for a hangover.
Disclosure: Expedition Trips and G Adventures hosted my Antarctic Peninsula Cruise. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!