I’ve had in mind to write this piece all week but every day something new

arises that makes the week even more extraordinary. So much so that the initial

inspiration now almost smacks of the ordinary. So I’ll just list them as they


On Tuesday, we had record warm temperatures. I am almost ashamed to admit

that temperatures soared above freezing to +0.3C. There was water on the platform,

beads of condensation drops dribbling down windows, snow so soft it was soggy

and you sunk into it wherever you walked. It felt like a rainy day, we were

all too warm, and it was not in any way pleasant. At the lab, we had to open

all our doors and windows to stop overheating and all my lovingly collected

snow samples melted before we could get them to safe refuge in the tunnels.

I had to analyse the samples all evening for those molecules that undergo chemical

change during melting. Nothing I wore was suitable and I was dripping with sweat

after walking home from the lab.

Water! We were not impressed. We will ofcourse be even less impressed when

the truly cold temperatures return as everything that got wet will freeze solid.

Only then did I realise how much we take this dry environment for granted. Everything

that’s solid is happily left outside. The only real dangers are freezing or

being buried by snow. But it’s dry snow. Toolboxes, skis, items of clothing,

bags of rope, cardboard boxes, waste food, sleeping bags even.. stuff you would

never leave outside at home is regularly left out on the platform or the base

of steps before being moved on elsewhere. This week, for the first time in at

least a year, things got wet outside.

On Thursday the melt-tank was completely drained for its annual cleaning.

Gallons and gallons of water just being thrown out. The melt-tank at the summer

accomodation was filled, washing machines were in continual use and, my favourite,

we were allowed long, hot showers. I was looking forward to it all day. A shower

more than 2 minutes long, not having to turn the taps off while sudsing up,

being able to stand and soak. But you know what, I couldn’t do it! And I wasn’t

the only one. Try as I might, rational reason that there was, I couldn’t keep

the water running while washing my hair. I just couldn’t watch all that fresh

snowmelt go down the drain even though I knew it was headed that way anyway.

I made up for it though by running it about 5 times between soapings and staying

in there until my fingers went wrinkly. The start of the winter was marked by

our melt-tank party, the end by long showers. This for me is still the ultimate


On Friday night our clocks went back by three hours. Three extra hours in

bed! Halley is fairly close to the meridian so GMT actually suits us fine and

there really is no need for us to change clocks since we have continual light.

We change for logistical reasons, to be in synch with Rothera and the ships,

and I guess the 24 hours of sunlight means we shouldn’t really be bothered either

way. It doesn’t affect me too much but I know the met-folk who have to launch

a weather ballon every morning such that it reaches a certain height by midday

GMT are less than pleased! Anyway, the special thing was the extra three hours.

Summer is coming.

And now that you have a taste for the things that make my life special down

here, I’ll tell you about the really extraordinary thing that happened. A tourist

ship popped by! No, really. The first one ever. And not just any old ship, this

ship has zodiacs and helicopters (yes, plural) and as far as I can tell is stuffed

full of rich fat americans. It’s a terrible stereotype but I’ll be able to tell

you the truth of it in about an hour. The organisers of the tour have been great,

I can’t fault them, they’ve invited us to the ship, offered to fly us there

even and put on a barbeque for us, anything we ask. BAS said no but only after

lots of excitement and anticipation had built up as you can imagine. Something

to do with fraternising with the tourist industry or some such nonsense shrouded

in arguments around health and safety. I don’t fault or begrudge anyone along

the line but really, this is an unprecedented opportunity. I went to the airstrip

last night as the first group left and climbed inside the chopper just for a

look around. Climbing out is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do all year

("no-one will miss you for a couple of hours will they", Danielle,

the South african expedition leader, asked with a wink). No, they wouldn’t,

and I could. It’s just a sign of what a great winter we’ve had, and how much

resepct I have for Russ, our winter base commander, that I didn’t. And no-one


The next day we had a hundred yellow jacketed toursit on base. One asked me

if I felt like an emperor penguin,- all that solitude and then all these cameras

and tourists? As vivid as an imagination as I have, I must admit I had no answer.

Another asked me when women were introduced to the base since he couldn’t see

any females in any of the winter photos on the wall that date since 1958. I

said it was around 1995 but that after a winter here the women look like men

so you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. He replied "oh, really?".

But there were rays of light as well. The first dear I met was 83 (41 years

in Germany followed by 42 in England she told me as she ran up the steps while

her companion nearly had a cardiac arrest behind her) and reminded me of all

my most loved relatives. She was petite and spritely and inquisitive, interested

and so alive. She held my hand and kissed my face and asked really good questions

and told me about having to pee into a bottle when she went ot the South Pole.

Around this time I realised that these folk weren’t on a trip of a lifetime

(not a unrealistic assumption at $25,000/month) but rather had almost all been

on several similar crusies previously, if not every year since retirement.

The Halley visitors book started in 1999 and on Saturday morning had three

pages filled in. The first was dated December ’99 from the "first ever

Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition". The second was November

2000 by three tourists who arrived by plane between Rothera and ‘Blue One’.

The third was February 2004, the Argentines who arrived by helicopter last summer.

We now have five more pages filled with autographs – thirty-eight in all,

representing the hundred odd folk who came through. They all seem happy to have

come here, they all know it’s something special. My favourite says: Having worked

in isolation myself, may I observe that you do not need to be crazy to work

in a place like this, but it certainly helps.

We didn’t get an amazing jolly, it’s a shame, but we did get fruit. Oh yeah,

and in the madness and mayhem a plane arrived from Neumayer carrying three BAS

personnel who have since stayed. I guess they were expecting a fanfare welcome

but instead they just got shimmied along with the masses. Winterers are supposed

to be "woken up" gently at this time of year by a select group of

folk who speak to us in monosyllabic words and absorb rants like sanitary pads.

I prefer our method – a hundred tourists, a box of wine, a fresh apple

in the morning and many happy, if bizarre memories. If that doesn’t wake you

up, nothing will!

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3 Responses to Tourists!

  1. dorkus says:

    Rhian, i just posted a comment on a previous entry, thinking that was the most current. I guess i was off by a few. Happy hunting, dorkus


    MERRY XMAS FROM RHIAN & THE PENGUINS For those who don’t know, Rhian Salmon has been blogging from the British Antarctic Survey the last year. Recently, she was stunned to see a cruise ship full of touists pull up!…

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