A few of my favourite things from the past season.
I’ve just returned from four months in Antarctica, working for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in the famous Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy through the southern summer season. It’s been an overwhelming couple of weeks, as I reconnected to the rest of the world and remembered how to do little everyday things that were missing from my life over those 110 days.
Like using money and buying things I want from shops and bars, rather than just asking someone to bring things to me. Driving, and even just moving around at a faster pace. The colour green. Or looking out the window and seeing animals that aren’t penguins. I miss those penguins. (Though the odour of penguin guano is still lingering on in the fabric of my outdoor clothing).
Then there was the added strangeness of adjusting to our new normal in the time of corona. Reuniting with family wasn’t the hugs and long conversations I’d imagined I’d have, but waving through the window of houses as I stood outside in the garden, and staccato notes in what’s app chats and skype calls. It’s tough, but I know that I’m not the worst off in this situation, and for that, I’m so very thankful.
These are a few of the things that I loved over my Antarctic season, living in close confines with a small team, on a little island with no escape. There may even be a couple of things you find useful yourself over the next few weeks as we adjust to living in lockdown.
My Antarctica love list:
Nivea Factor 50 sunblock: The Antarctic atmosphere is ozone-depleted, and intense sun rays can penetrate through more easily, even on overcast days. Harsh light is reflected back by ice, snow, and the sea. I wore this every day to protect my skin, and I love the familiar summer-smell of it.
Cébé Summit sunglasses: As with the sunblock, these were essential everyday wear for working outside, even when it was an overcast day. They have category 4 UV protection, transmitting less than 8% of visible light, so will become part of my ski kit.
Palmer’s coconut oil leave-in conditioner: Like the Nivea, it became an everyday essential to protect my hair from the wind and sun, and it smells wonderful. Sometimes a blast of it was just enough to drive out the smell of penguin guano until my next shower.
Merino beanie: This merino beanie hat from Findra is super warm but lightweight and breathable, and in my favourite colours. Perfect for an Antarctic summer, and autumn in Ushuaia. I’ll keep wearing into next season, as I’ve already had a couple of frosty mornings and snow showers this week in Scotland.
Splashmaps toob: I live right on the North Sea coast, so this is excellent for keeping the breeze off my neck on cold walks, and my hair out of my eyes as I run. The Antarctic peninsula map and gentoo penguin design is exclusive from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Rab powerstretch gloves: Super warm and stretchy gloves. For all the reasons above.
There are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter.
The Storied Ice by Joan N. Boothe: A fantastically readable book covering the history of the Antarctic peninsula region. My recommendation for anyone interested in learning more about the continent before their visit, or gaining a vicarious overview of exploration and discovery.
Leatherman sidekick: A pocket-sized multi-tool I’ve been using for everything from opening up generators to breaking down cardboard boxes.
Irish wheaten bread: Kit introduces us to the delight that is Irish wheaten bread with this mix from the Cookie Jar Bakery in Newcastle, Co. Down. Devoured still warm with butter donated from a cruise ship.
The Tin Can Cook by Jack Monroe: While our provisions in Antarctica were mainly tinned or dried products, this was a consequence of our privilege to be in such a unique location. For many others, tinned food is an affordable and nutritious necessity. This brilliant book by cook and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe helped us put together tasty and inventive meals.
Berocca: Fizzy multivitamins, these were essential for the days when “freshies” (fresh fruit and vegetables) hadn’t been available.
Bananagrams: A simple but addictive Scrabble-like game of assembling words. This occupied several of our evenings, and according to the Lockroy rules, abbreviations and words in Finnish, te reo Māori, and Scots are all accepted. As there was no google to check the veracity of claims, it all came down to how convincingly you could argue.
Well, who really knows what the answer to that question will be? I’m back home in Aberdeenshire, and finding myself at the end of a contract at a terrible time to find any work, let alone in the travel and outdoor sector. However, I have a roof over my head and food to eat, and time to process the experience, which I think is all anyone can ask for right now.
Here’s to a bit of time enjoying the great indoors. Stay safe, and thank you for following These Vagabond Shoes.