February Journal

 

01/27/09

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Journal-ish kind of thing

 

03 Feb.  Well, not much going on but prepping to leave.  I am amazed at the wealth of stuff that I have accumulated in such a short time.  I am such a wonderful pack-rat.  I don't remember buying or acquiring all this stuff but it is here.  I'm trying to eat all the exquisite food that my Dad has sent me.  I'm having to enlist the help of the Coast Guard to dine my way trough some of it.  The other day I went to the post office to send 3 boxes off to myself and got 3 delivered.  I've managed to send away quite a bit of stuff but I will get the true lay of the land day after tomorrow when I clean out my locker at the firehouse and really start packing.  Ill have to "Bag Drag" on Thursday.  Bag Drag is the night before you fly anywhere you take all your luggage up to the movement control center and have it all  and yourself weighed.  They then take your checked baggage away to be palletized for the flight.  Hopefully the flight doesn't get bumped or you are living out of your carry-on.

 

04 Feb. The cargo ship arrived finally and the station is a buzz with the offload.  Ship offload is a station wide evolution and allot of other work gets stopped so everyone can help.  I think that almost 70-80 % of the bulk goods for the station come in on the ship.  Since I am leaving I'm not in on the evolution so I am not to privy to much info other than lots of heavy equipment all over town.  TO facilitate the offload the station closes all the bars and doesn't even sell any alcohol in the store until the goods are offloaded and what ever is leaving gets loaded in on the ship.

 

06 Feb. Flying away from Antarctica!  today was our fly day.  Most of the morning was spent just hanging around doing nothing and saying a few last goodbyes.  Transport time for the airfield was at noon.  132 people are flying out today.  We checked in and loaded up into the shuttles and took the hour drive to Pegasus Airfield.  If you remember from a few entries ago, Pegasus is the glacial ice runway located out on the Ross ice shelf.  This airfield supports the late season wheeled aircraft.  Today we are flying out on a C-141 cargo plane.  Once we got out to the airfield we had about a 2-3 hour wait until we could board the aircraft.  Only really sucky thing is that the small passenger terminal couldn't hold all of us so quite a few had to hang around outside.  Well, they shouldn't call it a terminal, it is a double wide trailer on skis.  The breeze was quite cold so mostly we would take turns going inside either the terminal or the outhouse.  The outhouse was amazingly hot inside.  One of my firefighters whom is flying out with me today knew one of the shuttle drivers so we had the inside scoop on which shuttle was transporting first.  Matt and I slyly tried to creep closer and got on the first shuttle run to the aircraft.  Why?  What we have here is no standard air travel.  This here is "Cargo Class" transport.  The C-141 is a long cargo sausage shaped plane.  there are no seats.  We are all crammed in to long canvas benches that run front to back along the sides and in the center of the cargo deck.  This is true sardine transport.  If you are short and the guy across form you short also your knees probably don't touch in the middle.  No such luck for us lankier types.  We are being neighborly and alternating knees.  You can stand up if you want but the only room for that is on top of your seat.  Now, I mentioned that I got on the first shuttle.  This provided me with the best chance of getting to the back of the plane.  The restroom situation on this mode is quite archaic.  There is a traditional restroom in the front of the plane.  It is reserved for the crew and for the females whom they load last so they are in front.  In the rear they have a barrel for the guys.  There also is a little bit of open space in front of the cargo pallets in the back for a stretching area.  So, as a tall male passenger the ideal seating arrangement is in the back if not the last seat in the aircraft.  I managed to get to about 4 seats from the back.  Not bad.  I have very few people to climb over to get to the Loo. At this time we are 4 hours into the flight and I have managed to catch a couple of 45 minute naps.  The canvas hammock type seats are not very comfortable at all and my behind is quite numb.  I cant remember how long this flight is supposed to be I think it is about a 6 hour flight.  Much longer than the flight down on the C-17.  They are fazing out the C-141's.  Replacing them with the 17's.  I guess the rumor is that all of the 141's got so beat up with the gulf war and such that they are becoming maintenance problems. 

 

07 Feb. Ah, those little things that you take for granted.  The moisture of rain and the smell of live plants.  Arriving in Christchurch I am overwhelmed by the smell of everything.  I forgot that with no moisture and no plant life Antarctica is fairly devoid of  olfactorial stimulus.  The only scents in the air were the galley and the exhaust fumes of the passing heavy equipment.  When they opened the doors of the plane a warm breeze with the scent of freshly watered grass filtered through.  It only took about 2-2.5 hours to get out of the airport customs and over to the CDC (clothing distribution center) and get all checked out.  Turned in our cold weather gear and received our hotel assignments.  I am staying at the Crown Royal for a few nights.  I thought I would splurge a bit and pamper myself with a nice hotel.  Today I got up at an early 10am and went searching for food.  I made it back over to the Honey Pot restaurant for my first non-cafeteria breakfast... and it was good.  Only strange thing in in Mac town we don't pay for food.  I then went for a long walk around.  I found the Yoga studio again and will be catching a class tomorrow.  Right across the street from my hotel is the Casino.  I wanted to take a look and it took only about a half an hour to not win a thing and have to retreat with no pocket cash.  The casino is small with a few table games Caribbean stud, blackjack and roulette.  Lots of slots.  Not real sure what I'm going to do next.  I'm going to repack the bags and mail a bunch of stuff back from here while I still have APO privileges.  Monday I am going to get over to the travel agent and see what I can arrange to get to Sydney and then back home. 

 

10 Feb. Another lovely rainy day in New Zealand.  I am really digging this dreary grey drizzle.  The locals say that most of the summer had been near drought so this rain is a good thing.  I will get enough sun in Sydney and Tucson.  Today's excursion took me to Lyttelton Harbor and up the gondola to over look Lyttleton and Christchurch.  The bus ride to Lyttleton was nice and rather scenic through the suburbs of Christchurch and through the tunnel.  Lyttleton is the small town in a small bay that was formed by the erosion of an extinct volcano.  This is the harbor where most if not all of the great Antarctic explorers started from.  Quite a few really nice old buildings that have fallen into disrepair.  Looks like they are trying a  bit of rehabilitation and it may have some great potential for tourism.  One neat building of nautical heritage is the time ball tower.  In the days of old the ball would be dropped at 1300 hours each day to signal  Greenwich mean time for all the mariners to set their chronometers.  They don't operate it anymore but it still stands up on the hill.  Lyttleton is a small run down port village with out much in the lines of tourism attractions.  Most tourists just pas through.  A few cruise boats tie up here but I think they all just jump on busses into Christchurch.  I walked around a bit to se what I could.  There is a nice little Nautical Museum that had a nice little Antarctic exhibit.  You can catch a few different day cruises here to see dolphins or go sailing.  Unfortunately I was a bit late for all that stuff.  Also the old torpedo boat attraction was closed by the time I got there.  Feeling that I got all my stuff done I caught the next bus out back to the base of the gondola ride just on the other side of the tunnel. I have been up this gondola before but I thought I'd take a look in the daytime.  The view is great of the entire Lyttleton harbor and of the expanse of Christchurch.  I had a quick lunch and struck out on one of the hiking trails on the crest of the ridge.  couple of hours and I made it back to the upper gondola building.  After the ride back down I headed back downtown for a bit more walking around, dinner and early to bed.

 

 

11 Feb.  Still hanging out in Christchurch.  Trying to make some last minute travel plans and see some of the sights.  Also trying to just do a whole lot of nothing.  I caught the bus to New Brighton beach today.  Lovely long sandy beach with hardly a sole on it.  Lots of surfers trying out the tiny surf.  Took a long walk on the beach.  It felt good to get my feet into the cold sea water.  My dawgs have been hurting me with as many miles as I have been putting on them.  I have been walking everywhere around Christchurch.  I sure am glad I didn't pack away or send home my running shoes.  I think I would be hobbled for sure if I was trying this much walking in my boots or Birks.  Today I got up early to get checked out of the hotel and try to finalize my onward travel.  I didn't get the emails that I was looking for so I went over to the Travel office and went ahead and booked my flights.  I fly to Sydney on the 20th then home on the 7th of March.  No other stops until Tucson.  Hopefully I will be able to still have some money in my pocket when I get home.

 

12 Feb.  Got up early today after a short nights sleep.  Caught the train to Picton.  Another overcast mellow cool day.  No rain yet but it looks like it may be a bit thicker to the north. I am sitting on the train working on the website.  Don't know when Ill be able to upload but it will be quite an update.  The internet is a bit different to access here in NZ.  Typically you go to an internet kiosk shop to access the net.  I did manage to get one of the shops to let me hook my laptop up.  I have not been able to find any place with Wi-Fi or anything similar.  I managed to get a partial upload but none of the pictures showed up.  For the frequent flyers yall probably noticed that. 

 

13 Feb. Spent a couple of days in Picton. Picton is a small harbor town that is the terminus of both the inter-island ferry but also the end of the line for the south island trains.   Picton is very nicely tucked into a delightful  area of the Marlborough sound.  I took a couple of the mail boat harbor tours.  The tour companies are actually contracted by the post office to deliver the mail to the people that live in the remote parts of the sound.  The company also will deliver groceries.  I caught a short one the first day then a longer one the second.  The sound was quite windy most of the time but it relented quite often when we were tucked into the smaller bays.  It was great to get out on a boat again.  The second tour took us by the Cook memorial and an old whaling station.  Capt Cook had made this bay one of this routine stops on most of his south pacific voyages. 

 

14 Feb. I found another shop that offered a laptop hook-up here in Nelson.   Only problem is I don't have an update written for the Picton and Nelson visits.  Ill complete them and try to find another upload spot.  I'm catching a bus to Greymouth in the morning.  Who knows what they will have.  Ill have a lot more pictures later.  Enjoy the rest of the update.  Looks like the pictures went through that time.

Nelson is a rather large town.  It has quite a thriving shopping area in the main center of town.  There is also a very impressive cathedral in the hill overlooking the center of town.  In the cathedral a very impressive pipe organ that is held up on stilts above the floor.  Since I am not to keen on spending to much money on tour packages, I took the time to go out on one of the local walks through town along the river.  I also took in a movie.  I finally got to see Master and Commander.  Ill have to watch that one a few more times.

 

15 Feb.  Took a bus to Greymouth not much to report about that.  It was a slow day of riding on the bus.  Lots of wonderful countryside.  The bus follows the coast and we had wonderful views of the ocean breaking along the rugged west coast of the island.

 

16 Feb. Took a day trip down to the Punakaiki area on the west coast.  This area is known for the unique sandstone and limestone formation that make the rugged spit look like it is made out of stacked pancakes.  The ocean has worn away at them to form neat fissures, pinnacles and blowholes.  Since I had a  few hours until the southbound bus would be by to take me back to Greymouth I walked down the road to the beach and a cave that is just by the road.  I tried to go in to the cave to see if the glow-worms were lit but they were not.  The cave was very dark and I could not get my eyes accustomed enough to go far into the cave.  I tried to feel around a bit but only succeeded in soaking my left foot by stepping into a puddle.  I then went across the street to the long sandy beach.  Again a barefoot stroll on the beach and my feet were very happy.

 

 

17 Feb.  Took the train back to Christchurch.  Rainy day leaving Greymouth.  I got downright soaked to the bone walking to the train station.  My old gore-tex jacket just is not up to snuff anymore I guess.  Not much to see from the train it was still rainy all the way across the island and the windows were pretty fogged up most of the time.  Very slow train ride.  They are doing maintenance to all the bridges on the tranzalpine rail way trying to strengthen all the bridges.  They are expecting their coal trade to increase thus substantially increasing the railroad traffic along the trans-alpine railroad.  With all the maintenance the trains are slowing down over all the bridges.  This turned the 5 hour ride to about 6.5 if I remember right. 

 

18-19 Feb.  Hanging around Christchurch catching up on a few last minute things before my flight to Sydney.  There are a lot of Antarctic people all over Christchurch.  The base is closing soon so all the summer people are flying out.

 

20 Feb.  I was looking through some of my pictures and such and found a few things that yall may want to see.  I downloaded a bit of video of an Adelie Penguin being herded off of one of the runways.  Also a cool panoramic picture of the McMurdo sound after the icebreakers cut the channel into the pier.  You can see the Royal Society Mountain range in the background.

 

23 Feb.  Coastal walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach. 

 

 

 

 

24 Feb.  Figured out the buss system a bit.  Rather easy to get to downtown from Coogee.  There is a direct bus line to the Circular Quay.  The Quay seems to be the central hub of the mass transit.  The ferry dock, train station and busses all station there.  I wandered a bit around a bit and decided to  go to the Maritime Museum.  And what better way to go to a boat museum but by boat. I thought I figured out the Ferry thing until the time had come and gone for my ferry to the museum.  It took me a few minutes to realize that I was on the wrong pier.  So, since I had already used my ticket to get onto the wrong pier I had to fork out another fare.  Once on the right pier and on the right boat I headed off into the harbor.  They are not kidding when they say that Sydney harbor is the most picturistic harbor in the world.  The views of the bridge and the opera house were very good.  Even with the overcast day the harbor was very interesting mixture of sights.  The small boats, tour craft and the huge container ships makes for quite a variety. The Maritime museum is quite standard for nautical museums.  They also have a wonderful little fleet of boats along side the Pier with a modern naval destroyer and diesel attack submarine.  ON the opposite pier were a couple of tall ships.  Its not a  surprise to anyone that knows me where I went to first a the museum... The gift shop!  oh ya then to the tall ships.  (I had to get batteries for my camera).  Turns out that only one of the tall ships are part of the museum.  The James Caird is a turn of the century cast iron coal transport ship. It has been wonderfully restored from it s horribly dilapidated  state as a wreck down in Tasmania.  They now use the ship quite a bit as a training ship and also for functions.  It is barque rigged just like the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle that I sailed on.  Only difference is the masts are a bit shorter and the upper masts and yards are wood instead of the steel that the Eagle is made out of.    The other boat on the pier is a replica of the Bounty.  This one was built for the Mel Gibson movie.  It is not part of the museum so I couldn't go on board :(

 

25 Feb.  Another really rainy day.  I caught the bus back into the "rocks" area of downtown.  The Rocks is the older part of Sydney with lots of really neat old stone buildings wonderful views of the harbor and lots of really expensive shops catering to the tourist. I kept my wallet firmly planted in my pocket and took a long random  stroll around the place.  I made it over to the Opera House.  Up close it is a bit smaller than I thought it would be.  Regardless of its size it sure is a neat thing to look at.  The story with it is that the Architect that was building it got really pissed off with the local government and walked away before completing the inside.  At first it became a bus station then they finally got some local help to design and finish the inside.  The latest development that I heard was that the government and the Architect have made amends and he is going to come back to finish it with carte-blanche to finish it as he wishes.  Sounds like a bit of a gamble being that he is over 80 and I have no idea how healthy he is.  May be another very interesting chapter in its history.  I was looking for a god spot away from all the crowds to get a picture so I stumbled into the botanical gardens and found a nice little hill to get my headstand shot of the building.  I meandered throughout the gardens finding quite a few good spots to get a few pictures.  In the gardens are all sorts of wildlife.  The Ibis are all over the place along with a large group of Cockatiels, and some strange small birds with yellow eyes.  You can tell I am quite a naturalist.  I was startled when i walked into the men's room and found this little creature nibbling on a slice of bread.  I'm not really sure what he is but I think he is a small possum?  If you know let me know and Ill correct myself.  And I call him a he because he was in the men's room so it must me male :) 

 

27 Feb.  The sun finally cam out for the weekend.  I may just be able to get rid of this pasty polar pallor with a bit of sun bathing.  I actually probably will fry like a serving of fish'n chips. 

 

 

 

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