I started work in the kitchen at around 5:30am. Getting out of bed is becoming increasingly more difficult as my body becomes ever more in tune with the surroundings. I’m sleeping very well these days.......and its always day now. Pulling my curtains deprives about 99.9% of the light from making its way into my little kingdom, and makes for a peaceful rest. I’m still drinking about a litre of water a night...............I may just jimmy up a humidifier to be placed in front of my wall vent........................you know, a chux cloth, container of water and some thumb tacks.
Anyway, making 10 loaves of wholemeal bread and 24 white rolls kick started my day also with the addition of a double strength long black made fresh from a well maintained ranchillo coffee machine. Breakfast for the station consists of large bowls of fresh tinned fruit, freshly made yogurt, toasted muesli, 11 different cereals , porridge, dried fruits, toast with all the conserves you can think of, plus at least another 10 you can’t. Basically you can call this a continental breakfast ..............and for chefs .......we live for it. What it means is about ½ an hour of setting up and 10 minutes of putting away, as opposed to a full cooked breakfast which will basically be cooked during the entire length of the scheduled breakfast eating times and slow down the prep for lunch etc.
So on this Friday I prepared a lunch of beef stroganoff, rice, penne pasta with sundried tomatoes, tuna bake, chicken satay, spinach and vegetable soup, full lunch salad buffet and various condiments..............oh, then I decided to make one of the most delicious hazelnut chocolate brownies in the world for my much loved extended family............... and as it turned out the brownies ended up topping off another unique and surreal day down here in the Antarctic.
As Australia has 5 main stations during summer, so does it also have five main chefs. From time to time we chat with each other or email requests etc. With science and personnel flights between stations occurring at various times throughout the summer period opportunities are seized and equipment and or supplies’ are transferred where necessary. I just happened to be able to fulfil another request from the Mawson Chef Maria for supplies of differing meats and cuts and also rolled oats, juice and a few other odds ands ends. In return I asked for some candles (to make special occasions more so), spray oil (as our supply has run out and the AAD are fazing it out) and a sieve to replace the usual semi rusty and hole-ridden ones found in most kitchens around the world. As DSL I was asked to make a return flight to Mawson and make a transfer of special cargo. As the chef I was stoked to be able accompany Maria's supplies and hand deliver it to her................and of course put a face to the emails and phone calls.
So at around 1230 I grabbed a quick three minute shower (we are on water restrictions at the moment anyway), packed a survival bag (needed on all flights around the Antarctic), donned my Antarctic field gear and grabbed the camera and all the bits and bobs that go with it. I met up with one of the fly boys in front of the LQ at around 1300, jumped into a golf buggy and proceeded to make our way over the ice to the skiway and the awaiting plane. As it turned out I managed to experience a little rain on my face as we neared the Casa. First of all rain down here in the Antarctic is virtually unheard of ................maybe a few times a year if you're lucky, and secondly Casa is the type of plane leased by the AAD for summers. The one I’m about to fly on is a C212 call sign Snowbird 2, operated by skytraders Pty Ltd.
I was given a safety briefing and a small rundown of what to expect during take off......for instance the cockpit stall warning alarm will come on during the take off due to altitude being needed before speed. Cool.... so now I sign a piece of paper of understanding or basically allowing the pilots to bypass some of the protocols enforced in Australia. Hey we are all down here to do the best job we can with the best equipment and brains around. The Antarctic poses a few challenges for most....you can just imagine what these flyboys come up against.
Well I was very comfortable with the level of professionalism shown by the crew and had no problems giving my john hancock.
The engines roared and noise cancelling headsets were donned (expensive Bose ones), pre-flight checks carried out by the pilots, location, destination and route were radioed to Davis comms.........then woosh.....we were off skidding over ice for about what seemed only 20-30 metres before the alarms sounded as we became airborne. The forward thrust kicked in and we began to ascend into a cloud filled sky. The alarms stopped and all that could be heard was the distant roar of the engines outside and the humming vibrations of the interior. Soon enough we were at six thousand feet and levelling off . The noises eased and communications were established by all on board.... and when I say communication I mean school boy banter.... and boy are those guys witty.
So there I was cruising at 6 thousand feet, listening to wise cracks between the pilots and staring out of the window in absolute awe of the world below.... surreal again. The cloud cleared about half an hour into the journey revealing some stunning landscapes of crushed ice and weathered rock. Soon enough we were over the ocean and looking down at various stages of ice development and deterioration. As far as the eye could see were blocks of ice slowly bumping one another and all the time shaping themselves into various geometrics so as to give the impression of a jigsaw being recently tipped out onto a dark blue table. Dotted amongst these seemingly repetitious ice fields were ice bergs. Gigantic when close these great floating chunks of ancient ice seemed only to impress me with there sharp and out of place shadows, and by the deep aqua shades of blue given out by the caves and crevices adorning them and not by their relative size.
Unlike the helicopter ride last week to India and China, I was now seeing the Antarctic from a very special position, high above all else that resides down here and in the comfort of a heated plane cabin. I couldn’t help but just stare out of the window in amazement.... "If you could see what I see". A still or video camera would have a hard time capturing the images that were crawling beneath the plane and the complexity of emotions that come from seeing first hand these sights. Unbelievable!!!
I’m still stoked as I’m writing this blog entry about the opportunity that was given to me and the memories I now have burned permanently into my brain..............Once in a lifetime!!!
Anyway as part of the flight we made a detour to capture images and do a rough head count of any penguins living on or near to two monoliths. The first monolith Murray (had to be an Aussie who came up with that one) was a huge piece of rock forced out and up thousands of years ago. It definitely gave the appearance of something to be respected.............I’m not sure what it was......size, shape, location? I’m sure though that had there been any tribal people living in this environment...............Murray would have been declared a sacred place. We flew slowly around cameras clicking away.......the pilots taking advantage of their retractable windows and poking their lenses right out into the frigid air. Bird count around 50ish Adelie penguins. Next we flew on to Scullin Monolith.............whose presence seemed to mirror Murray's both in size and in spiritual reverence. The plane gracefully tacked its way around and over the wind polished and ice carved chunk of rock. This was another surreal moment, for want of a better word. Bird count, Adelies 50-100, Snow Petrels hundreds.
From here we flew on to Mawson arriving around just before 3pm, making the flight time just over 2 and a half hours.
There was a small greeting party gathered beside two very shiny looking Haggs at the end of the make shift ski way. Only 5-600 meters from the station we exchanged goods including the food provisions which Maria got to thank me for in person. I said a quick g’day to the crew which I knew half of already, took a couple of happy snaps, soaked up some of the unfiltered sun and then proceeded to strap myself into my allocated seat in preparation for our departure. In total 10 minutes were spent on the ground. Boy I hope another opportunity presents itself for me to come back to Mawson cause the asthetics of the 360 degrees surrounding the station offer another kind of wonder. Having the station juxtaposed against a picture perfect mountain rage flowing seamlessly into the melted marshmallow-looking glacier would not easily grow old in my book.
The ice seemed even different again as we flew back, the sun coming from another direction gave colours and shapes not seen on the flight in. I grew a little tired as the heater beside me kicked in.......... then all of a sudden a choking sound was heard in the cabin. It was me.........I had woken myself up by snoring! Luckily only about 25 minutes had passed. As it turned out the guys up the front were getting ready for a little snack (care package) Maria had made us. So I gratefully accepted a strong brew of java’s finest, a ham and cheese sandwich .........................and a brownie.
The next thing you know the guys flying this tin can were singing the praises of Maria's chocolate delight. Now don’t get me wrong it was very nice, and I very much enjoyed every mouthful but hey could I let it go? Nup. The next thing you know I was big upping my very own creation waiting back at Davis and guaranteeing it's superiority against any other. This is what we chefs do sometimes. LOL. The boys promised to compare and offer a non biased judgement (yeah right, they were about to try my creation in my kitchen and offer a non biased opinion?)...... I had just guaranteed myself the icing on what has been another uniquely special day. As it turned out just 10 minutes or so after this conversation we spotted a whale next to the ice on the left hand side of the plane. I was sitting on the left so quickly grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots. From eight thousand feet we could just make out the shape and markings of an orca. Now that was the icing on the cake............
Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie recipe to follow.