Homeward Bound

There was a whirlwind of activity today (20 Feb) at the base, mostly in preparation for a VIP visit.  The new Neumayer III (German) research station was being commissioned, and many bigwigs were  flown in to the continent to attend, including our own SA Minister of Science and Technology and the director of the SA National Antarctic Programme – my boss.  Germany one of our closest Antarctic neighbours and research allies, and thus plans were made to bring many of the dignitaries to SANAE IV after the Neumayer opening, to allow them to visit the base and experience some good SA hospitality.  A much awaited dinner (including calamari and shrimp… wow) was organised, but this being Antarctica, reality was not well aligned with the plans of men.  In the end, the dignitaries arrived by Basler and helicopter in the early afternoon and were gone by evening.  So too was I.

We had expected to fly out tomorrow morning (21 Feb), but with the alterations and a falling barometer a decision was taken to make the first of three flights with the Kamov helicopter today.  At the 11th hour, one of my team who was scheduled for the flight had a problem with a data download, and so at short notice I bit the bullet and substituted myself and the patient who needed to fly with me.  Before I could get my head around the fact that I was leaving I was watching SANAE drop away in the small window of the Kamov.  I had planned a bit of time alone, out on the ice, to contemplate what it meant to be leaving, to say goodbye to the continent, and to soak up the last moments of the magnitude of the place, and yet there I sat in the cramped aircraft amidst hastily packed baggage, thoughts in disarray.  Only tonight, standing on the monkey-bridge of the ship and watching the sickle moon rise over the ice shelf have I had moments for contemplation.  While little lithe Wilson’s Petrels whirled through the dark air, clucking impatiently at my silence, I breathed the breeze coming to the ship off the shelf, and let the reality soak through me – I am leaving. Homeward bound, I suppose, although its hard for me to think of ‘home’ when this place has sustained me and nourished my soul for almost 14 continuous months.  SANAE and Antarctica have been everything a home is, in essence – a place of security, family, shelter; a base, a point to orbit; a resting place for the heart.  Leaving is bittersweet: I have much to look forward to in South Africa, but the piece of me that felt such belonging the first day I set foot in Antarctica knows that I will always long for the ice.

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