Editor’s Note: Vilmar Tavares has just arrived in Antarctica for a six-month work assignment (one of the few ways a person is allowed on this continent). His first letter doesn’t waste any words, “DAMMIT it is COLD here! Seeing a number like forty-two below zero wind chill and actually sticking your face into it are two totally different things! And to think it is springtime! Ah, I can smell the flowers now…or is it the penguins?”
Because there are no one-hour photo labs in Antarctica, Vilmar is pictured above on the far right in sunny California during a Pacific Coast bicycle trip in 1998. (Do you remember those warm sunny beaches Vilmar?)
Today’s major topic is diversity.
I never cease to be amazed by the people I meet here and their talents and knowledge and experiences.
For example, many folks here are the “green” environmental types that want to defend the earth. That makes me very happy. Almost all have a spirit of adventure I’ve not found in any other cross-section of the population I’ve ever associated or worked with. I have a young lady working for me now who will be going to trek Nepal with her boyfriend. My boss’s boss is taking off for two weeks to rent a sailboat with eleven other people and sail New Zealand’s Northern Islands. Others have worked in Greenland. Some will go to India when they are done here. Others to Alaska. Many are physically fit and do sports like mountain climbing, cross country bicycling, skiing, and so on.
Many of the people here are from Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, or Alaska so nasty weather is second-hand to them.
I have a friend here into such things as the universe and the metaphysics associated with it. He also practices yoga aerobics and wishes to teach it someday. Another guy, a sheet metal worker, plays and makes nearly world-class violins. He will be going to Italy for three years to study violin making and earn the title of a world-class builder. To offset costs he will be staying at a monastery that offers room and board in trade for three hours of manual labor a day. Another young lady is also a violin player and has brought her 150-year-old violin. I am trying to convince them to put on a recital.
The most unusual combination of talents comes from a guy named Oso (bear, in Spanish). He comes from a German father and Mexican mother yet speaks neither German or Spanish. Both parents are immigrants but their parents refused to speak other than English in order to more quickly blend into their communities. He is one of the three cooks for the station and it is no easy task cooking meals when food takes months to get here and all he has to work with are food products stored in freezers or grown in our little green house. [Editor’s note: Do you need freezers in Antarctica?]
Anyway, speaking with him last night I came to find out that he enjoys music and he let me borrow a CD from Cape Verde. He said that the lyrics were fascinating as it was basically pidgin Portuguese, similar in differences of tongue as Creole English is to English. I found it very unusual that a non-German/Spanish speaker, who looks Spanish, is nicknamed Oso, would listen or even know about Cabo Verde music. The CD is titled: Alma de Cabo Verde. It’s a Tinder Production of Cabo Verde, 1996. If you get a chance to listen to it, do so. Really quite good.
On a different note, living here adds a totally different dimension to one’s life. Whether it’s dressing, staying hydrated, eating enough, or travelling. The other day we had one really clear day so I went to New Zealand’s Scott Base and got great pictures of Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror. They were named after Scott’s two ships from his first expedition. Mt. Erebus was venting steam (it is an active volcano) and sits right on our little island.
People begin to wonder about the rationality of folks that want to come to the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth only to live on an island with an active volcano! It’s stunningly beautiful, though.
The weather changes in a flash! So when we go anywhere we have to bring all our extreme weather gear with us and radios in case we get stuck in a whiteout. Just yesterday, for example, it started out about fifteen degrees Fahrenheit with a light wind. Then the temp dropped to zero degrees Fahrenheit and the winds kicked up to fifty to sixty-five kilometers per hour. Then it cleared a bit. Then it snowed again and has been for twenty-four hours. All the changes occurred within a few hours so if a person thought it was going to be a clear day and took off, they would have found themselves in blizzard conditions within thirty minutes. Dangerous. This continent does not forgive mental lapses. It WILL kill you without consideration. Much like the peaks in the Western USA or Alaska except that it’s like this twelve months a year.
I love it!