My name is Helen Jones and I’m a doctor employed by the British Antarctic Survey. For the next nine months I’ll be working on board the James Clark Ross as she performs scientific research in the Southern Ocean and supplies the British research bases of Antarctica.
I’ve started this blog in the hopes of entertaining and giving people a chance to see some pretty pictures. I might even throw some science in occasionally!
Thursday, 26 January 2017
Sorry about the little pause in blogging everyone; I had a
very nice few days away from the ship when we arrived in Punta Arenas. It was
absolutely glorious. I stayed in a hotel called La Yegua Loca (the Crazy Mare-
make of that what you will) which was great. All the rooms seem to have been
themed. Mine was “El Lechero” which means The Dairy and not “The Lecher” as my
father rather unkindly suggested. It was all very tastefully decorated though,
so rather than calling it cowboy kitsch I’m going to call it gaucho-chic and
just say that it was wonderful to have an enormous double bed even if, after
months at sea, I huddled in a corner of it and didn’t starfish as planned. I
had a shower that I could use without handholds...Luxury indeed.
Gaucho chic or estancia style?
Our first evening in Punta Arenas was great. I went with a
number of the scientists to the Sky Bar in Dreams hotel. The bar is several
floors up in the hotel which means that it commands a beautiful view out to sea
or over the city. The toilets were no exception to this; the wall of the
cubicle was glass from floor to ceiling with a lovely view of down-town Punta
Arenas. This led to the slightly anxious hope that the glass was definitely
one-way only. Or it would have been an anxious thought, had I not just had a
negroni and a White Russian and was therefore more amused by the fact that I
had coined the phrase “a poo with a view.” I shared this with everyone and kept
nudging them until they smiled gently and told me, “yes, it was very witty
As to the White Russian, I have absolutely no idea how The
Dude drank so many of them in the Big Lebowski because they are exceptionally
sticky and sickly. But we followed that up with an amazing meal of steak and
shell fish at a restaurant across the road and I retired for the night sated
and giggling quietly to myself. The food in Punta Arenas was incredible. The
galley staff do a wonderful job of preserving the veggies that we get on board
so we do have fresh vegetables for a long time.However, after two months at sea...suffice to say that this salsa thing
that Chileans eat with bread at the start of every meal? Well the fresh tomato and
garlic was like a poem on my tongue.
I inflicted my Spanish on a lot of people. Our first night
in Punta, we were on our way out of the security gate at the port when an irate
security guard began shouting at the scientists ahead of me. Regrettably he
didn’t speak English and they didn’t speak Spanish, so things were getting a
trifle fraught until I sauntered forwards, a devil-may-care smile on my lips
and enquired “Hay una problema?”/Is there a problem? (I may have been slightly
less cool than that. But hey, this is my version of events!)It turned out that
our security guard, possibly after clocking our nationality, was requesting
that we try not to return to the port completely trashed. I may have mis-translated
at first- I thought he was telling us not to bring alcohol back to the ship
which seemed like a reasonable thing to say in view of customs- but I worked
out later that he really meant not to come back intoxicated. What a lovely
reputation Brits abroad do have!
And it’s really just a shame that GCSE Spanish didn’t
prepare me to have that conversation. I remember how to planchar mi ropa/to iron
my clothes, but strangely no one ever taught me how to say “Honestly, we won’t
come back trolleyed.” What a gap in my education. And to continue on this theme,
I have never had to discuss ironing my clothes with a Spanish speaking person;
I am morally at peace with being crumpled. However I do like a grilled steak,
and the word “planchar” means both to iron and to grill which does make me
wonder if Spanish speakers think that they are grilling their clothes or ironing their steaks.
Regardless, I had a wonderful time babbling in Spanish at
the poor defenceless populace. Mostly they were very kind and tried not to be
too visibly distressed by the way I was mangling their mother tongue. I don’t
like to acknowledge defeat though, so even when the people I was speaking to
could clearly speak English very well, I still insisted on using Spanish. To
the slightly crazy point where if I had forgotten a word I chose to mime it
rather than just give way and speak English. Yeah, I know. I’m strange.
I visited a Chilean cemetery which was oddly enjoyable. Lots
of mausoleums in which to wait out eternity.
Mausoleums in the cemetery
Peace in your tomb
And I trundled around the Silesian Museum of
Patagonia which was like a homage to the taxidermists’ art. The first floor was
filled with slightly unnerving glassy stares from stuffed Patagonian wildlife.
But I wasn’t able to linger for long because I was chased along by an
exceptionally noisy family who clearly failed to grasp the meaning of the word “silencio”
on the walls. I contented myself by sighing heavily and glaring at them in a
wonderfully English-passive-aggressive fashion. The lower floor of the museum is
devoted to the natural history of Patagonia. The upper floors have some
interesting information on the indigenous populations whose numbers were
decimated by “first guns and then syphilis and tuberculosis.” Patagonia had
gold and lots of animals with nice skins and so people flocked to Patagonia and
the locals didn’t stand much of a chance.
In the days that followed I went for very nice walks, ate a
huge amount of food and finally succumbed to the cold that one of the Rothera
doctors so kindly bequeathed me when he hugged me goodbye. He is dead to me. (Only
I ate a lot. Like, a very lot.
I then returned my snotty self to the ship and was made aware of
just how lucky I am. Waiting for me were a few surprises; parcels from my Mum and Dad; chocolates
from the deck engineer’s mum, Elizabeth; chocolates from Victoria’s Dad, and
finally a massive parcel from Kerri, my buddy from the first cruise. Thank you
very much to those kind people; it means a huge amount to me. It’s surprisingly
hard each time a crew change happens and the people that I’ve grown to know get
off the ship and head for home whilst I keep sailing. I wouldn’t change this
for the world; this is my choice and it is a wonderful job. But to know that
people were thinking of me meant a huge amount and I just wanted to say a very heartfelt thank
you. Thank you.