(GCC: During our months in Guatemala, we had some truly unforgettable experiences with new lifelong friends. I recall one guy who radiated positivity, was always up for an adventure, and was a gracious guest and generous tipper. Over a few weeks and numerous $0.50 rum & cokes, we talked at length about travel and money, and how to be better at both. I felt inspired to be more generous. He felt inspired to build a respectable “travel for life” fund. And Winnie claims to have not understood any of it, because Nick has quite the heavy Australian accent. So maybe it is a good thing that you get to read his story…. and OMG the PICTURES!!!!)
I am super honoured to be asked to write this for some definite idols of mine. (And I am not one to have many). Other than my parents, who have shown me how to be a decent human being and how to raise a family, (my life’s main goal), Jeremy and Winnie are up there. After meeting them in Guatemala, they have stood out with their ambition of living their dream. Not just because they found a way to retire early and travel, (my life’s second goal), but because they saw their dream and went for it. They didn’t get bogged down and follow the mundane society’s way of life. They are living their dream. Hopefully I am on that path now, as here I am currently working for a year at Mawson Station in Antarctica!
To the Ends of the Earth
There are two working seasons in Antarctica, summer and winter. The seasons start and finish when the ship arrives to drop off cargo and swap expeditioners. In winter, we are completely isolated from the world with no transport to or from, so it is up to just us expeditioners to maintain and survive during this time. So I guess you want to make sure it’s the right job for you.
Working in Antarctica
My position here is as a HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) balancing technician. My project over winter is to balance/service the heating systems for all the buildings on the station. Hopefully making the buildings more efficient and comfortable to live in. This is not a regular position and it is usually just the maintenance crew over winter, so I got the nick name Plus One. With a small community, nicknames or memorable moments down here really do stick. On station while you have your main job, everyone helps everyone, so you get the chance to try everything, from cooking to penguin tagging.
Our day to day life is pretty routine. Similar to home, we work our 8 hours a day and 4 hours on Saturday, although we are always on call if an alarm or something does go wrong during the night. For the most part you are working in your position, but it is broken up with community duties. We are rostered on for Slushy (a day helping the chef in the kitchen) and Saturday cleaning duties once a fortnight.
Saturday duties are rostered jobs of cleaning in the community area and aim to be 2 hours of your 4 hours of work for that day. It may be taking all the trash out, vacuuming the common areas or cleaning the bar and cinema ready for the weekend. Topping up the fridge is very important. Nothing strenuous, but a clean home is a pleasant home.
We also have SAR (Search and rescue) training run by the FTO (Field Training Officer) and fire drills run by the appointed fire chief once a fortnight. This training is to keep everyone in check in case an emergency arises. Setting off a false alarm means supplying a slab of beer or bottle of alcohol to the bar. Not what you want to do with your precious supply. For example; Getting caught in the moment and testing out the smoke machine ready for Biscoe Disco and not isolating the smoke detectors, does set off a false alarm. My bad.
Or you may put your hand up to help in Hydroponics. That week you make sure the plants stay hydrated, fed and pollinated. With a little paint brush, you become the buzzing bee and hope to pollinate the flowers, so the plants can bear fruit. This a great little escape. In here it is toasty warm and the sight and smell of greenery is something lacking in Antarctica. The plastic plant on my desk is the best $6 I spent before coming down.
On slushy day, the chef is your boss. The dedication and effort she puts into keeping us fed with some of the best food I’ve tasted, is divine. So yes, a day of cleaning is totally worth it. The bonus on that day is you are in charge of Slushy Radio. Whatever music you choose is played in the mess and broadcasted throughout the station. It’s up to others if they want to tune in and listen or not. Music here ranges from the Bee Gees to Rammstein, sometimes straight after one another.
Life in Antarctica
As for events and entertainment, they are only limited by your imagination. A range of supplies means the possibilities are endless. There have been St Patricks day celebrations, quiz nights held by Elvis, Biscoe Disco, indoor minigolf and plenty of nights at the bar talking nonsense. Then there is always indoor rock climbing, gym, spa, sauna and the occasional yoga session.
Our biggest event so far was Midwinter, celebrating the Winter solstice and the time we start gaining the daylight hours back. It is a day of feasting, drinking and shenanigans. A time to unwind during the darkest period of the year. It is also a tradition for a few audacious expeditioners to put on a play for the rest of the crew. The play was eventful and very humorous for all. Unfortunately you will just have to use your imagination for how a 10 minute rendition of the movie ‘The Princess Bride’ went.
This also meant it was time for the Midwinter swim!
A few more events on the horizon are the inter station darts competition played over a video call for bragging rights of the best station and the 48 hour film festival. The 48 hour film festival is a weekend where all the wintering stations get involved. Each station makes a 5 minute movie during that chosen 48 hours which must include certain criteria for that year. We then watch them in the following week and vote for our favourite. A nice way to have the whole of Antarctica involved and each station share a slice of their winter.
The main drawcard for working in Antarctica is the chance to explore a continent not many people get the chance to. Over the winter months there is lucky to be 1000 people in Antarctica, and it is not a small place. Below are just some of the wonders I have had the privilege of seeing.
Weekends are there for exploring. Transport is either by foot, quadbikes or mainly Hägglunds, when we venture out for a night in one of the field huts. They may be small but fantastic for a change of scenery and talking more nonsense.
‘Find a job close to home and save on transport and time.’ I think I have heard that advice somewhere… I love the short 30 second walk to work. More time to relax, for your hobbies, to read a book, watch a movie in the cinema or like some and learn a degree through an online course. I have used the time to learn and improve my photography skills. Seemed the perfect place for that.
Although depending on the daily weather, a short walk to work may be a little more extreme when there is a blizzard with 65+ knot winds blowing you down the hill. Surprisingly along with the freezing temperatures, the high winds become normal and you acclimatize to it rather quickly.
This job is a win-win. Getting paid to explore and go on the wildest adventure I could imagine. I am only halfway through my contract but this job has entitled me to many things and I am by far already much richer in life. I have learnt many new skills through the training provided, by working in such an isolated environment and from other colleagues. You really are involved in everything down here and it broadens your horizon. That’s for sure. We are the Fire Brigade, the Search and Rescue Team, the event organizers and even the barber.
Our involvement in science projects, the scenery and wildlife provide experiences that you cannot get elsewhere in the world.
It is a great financial boost for us expeditioners (salaries and allowances are advertised with the job positions if you are interested, google ‘jobs in Antarctica’). We are earning a decent wage with nothing to spend it on. A year without the cost of food, accommodation, transport or even toiletries.
And the food is amazing!
One of the only expenditures is, before we leave we can pre-purchase alcohol duty free for the year and have it shipped down as cargo. The allocated amount is plentiful, rounding my alcohol bill out to $1002. As well as that, on station we are lucky to have our own brewery. This year Matt took on being the brewer and has supplied us with many tasty beverages:.
I have made use of the free time and I have finally taken the opportunity to make a start on that early retirement. I have taken on board some advice from GoCurryCracker and have invested in some index funds. I am aiming to put at least half of my earnings into investments for my future. The other half into savings, as I make plans for my next adventure. Very exciting!
When traveling you get to experience many wonderful things, but one of my favourite things is all the friends you make along the way. The 14 other expeditioners who instantly become your mates, who then shortly become your family, will be lifelong friends. This job isn’t for everyone and I’m sure it can go either way, but the location seems to attract likeminded people.
Also the interest my friends and family have shown back home, have drawn us closer together, even though we are so far apart. It’s pleasing to know how many people are interested in your life and social media has definitely made that a lot easier. I get to share experiences that many will not get the chance to try. Like with many things it was funny to tell people you have a job in Antarctica. Conversations only went a few ways; “Why would you want to go there?” End of conversation. Or “Wow… you will get to see polar bears!” You just have to love the enthusiasm. Or “Wow! That is amazing, I can’t wait to hear about it.” The better of the three.
After Antarctica, I will go home, back to the real world and spend time with family and friends. I look forward to catching up on those delights I took for granted and get reacquainted with the busy world. Fresh fruit and seeing some live music is high on my list.
A point made by past expeditioners is that after your time down here, there aren’t too many natural smells other than the fart of an expeditioner. So, on the return journey home once the boat comes within a few kilometres of Tasmania, your heightened senses take in the blissful smell of trees. A moment I think many look forward to.
I am not entirely sure as to where I’ll book my next trip as I have so many places on that never- ending bucket list. As for now, I’m thinking of exploring Europe. A stop in Berlin to see some live music and the cultural experiences I have heard so much about. A venture through Scandinavia for some hiking and outdoors. Hopefully I’ll see that elusive Polar Bear, as I am yet to see one in Antarctica! And then if the wallet allows, some beach time in Portugal. But who knows? I may travel across Asia for some scuba diving. I am one to just go with the flow, so these are just ideas until that day arrives. Maybe there will be another great opportunity like working in Antarctica… An adventure I can truly recommend.
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