Suiting up

I'm always really tired at the end of the day here in Antarctica. It is most definitely due to all the fresh air and exercise, but I also think it's all the preparations we make for landings and cleanup afterwards.

About half an hour before scheduled departure, I put on, in approximate order, the following:

Long underwear
Silk sock liners
Wool hiking socks
Down sweater
Rain pants
Merino wool gaiter
Fleece hat

I then apply 30+ sunscreen (the ozone layer is thin here, but happily, it is gradually coming back). I then gather up my glove liners, RayBans, parka (into which I have tucked a pair of glasses and my ship ID/key card), personal flotation device (PFD), and rubber boots. I then slog along down one deck to the Grand Salon, where I put on my boots, parka, PFD, and RayBans, and get in line to get on the boat. Many passengers go prior to the 15-minute call before departure, so we can be some of the first ashore and have more time.

Before we even get into the boats, we have our card swiped (this is how the crew knows who's on the boat and who's not), troop down a flight of stairs, walk through a trough of disinfectant, then down into the Zodiac. The crew has a remarkably efficient system for loading and unloading the Zodiacs. Two of them take your arms in fisherman's grips, and you step down from the deck onto the pontoon, and then step into the boat, where you are directed where to sit and you go immediately.

When you land, the person closest to the front of the boat scooches up to the bow, faces the stern, and swings their legs over the side and onto the beach, or water as the case may be. Then the next person goes, and the next, and so on.

The process is reversed when you get ready to return - you sit on the pontoon with your back to the bow, swing your legs over, and scooch down so the next person can get. Mind you, you are doing this with all your layers of clothing and gear. Once back at the ship, you are helped out of the Zodiac (step, pontoon, deck), and then through two disinfecting baths. The first is to make sure no penguin guano comes back with you. You put your foot into a tub lined with scrub brushes and filled with a soapy bath, and scrub your boots really well. Before you go upstairs to the Salon, you walk through the vat of disinfectant again. This is all designed to minimize the chances of spreading disease among penguin colonies. You then troop upstairs, remove your boots on deck, get swiped in, and troop back to your cabin, where you leave your boots out in the hall on a mat, hang your PFDs on the railing, and then, in your cabin, take off all your gear and drop it in a pile in approximately the same order that you will need to put it all on again the next time.

There are two landings every day - morning and afternoon. The passengers are divided into two groups - Discovery and Endurance, both the names of ships used by famous Antarctic explorers. Chris and I are in the Endurance group, named for Shackleton's ship. Each landing has two portions - one group goes first, and then the other goes when the first is back.

It's a long and exhaustive process, but so worth it. And by comparision, getting ready in the morning for a brisk winter's day commute will seem like a walk in the park.

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