Antarctica – Guide to Living and Working There.
June 9, 2012

Hello again, and not from Antarctica – iv been back out for a month now, but, considering the questions I get asked, I wanted to do an updated story on the ice, and in particular, how to get there if you want to work down there, as opposed the $20k AUD, and up, tourist options! (ok, that’s a rough estimate, but all the tourist trips to Antarctica Ive looked at are not cheap! Considering most of them go from south America to, you would have to get there first as well, so factor in the cost of flights!)

So, to work there, how to get a job? Come on people, we don’t ask this in 2012 – it’s such an easy answer, THE INTERNET! That’s right, most, if not all countries stations in Antarctica have websites, and particularly Australia, New Zealand, USA and England, have job links within those sites. 

I have been once with New Zealand and 3 times with Australia, for both, selection included psyche and medical testing.  Australians take it a step further – they flew me to Sydney (from NZ) for a ‘Selection Centre’, where they will have around 30 hopefuls together for two days, in a room doing all sorts of ‘tasks’ – which identify who gets on with who, beliefs, adaptability, reasoning, honesty etc, and all the while that this is going on there are employees from the Antarctic Division head office making and taking notes, on each of us there.  Quite scary! That weekend culminates in a dinner, with free alcohol, and that right there can stop a dream in its tracks! 


What’s involved in the medical test?  Medicals have certain things they include, regardless of the vocation, and for Antarctic summer staff, it will include eye sight, hearing, heart rhythm, breast check for women, smear tests (depending on when your last one was) BMI testing or ‘Body Max Index’ (that score has to be under 35), blood tests, (including HIV as were all ‘walking blood banks’ while we’re down south.  So newly done tattoos will mean you cannot give blood for transfusion if there was a need).  This year, my medical included fasting blood test – also, theres about a 6 page questionnaire to fill in.

 For winterers, the testings a bit more detailed.  Prostate, MRIs and some other tests – I’m not sure of all of them, I’ve never done a winter, but its imperative folk are in good health as problems down south are the worst nightmare, potentially.  Why? There’s no way to get someone back out to Australia again.  Well not easily anyway.   I wouldn’t say it was impossible (and would more than likely involve a US army plane, if it was available) and that would take work – preparation of a runway etc, and that takes time.. All the Australian stations have doctor’s and clinics with gear for dental work, a surgery, a recovery room – and they take some amazing doctors down south! 


So, why do we go? No, it’s not to work in a hotel, or for tourists.  ‘Stations’ in Antarctica are all there for scientific research purposes; we’re there because scientists go there.  These stations range in size from a dozen over summer to up to 1100 (McMurdo Station, American, just near New Zealand’s Scott Base).  The two big Australian stations (Casey and Davis) house around 100 people each for summer, down to the low 20s or so for winter. 


What people are needed to run a station? Tradespeople! They’ll send chefs (me), plant operators, diesel mechanics, plumbers, electricians, AGSO’s (air ground support who work at the Wilkins runway and the station ski ways), crane operators, stores person, station leader, carpenters, boiler makers, general trades, doctor, meteorological staff, IT guys, radio operators, operations manager.. yes, trades folk!! All these jobs are listed on the Australian Antarctic Division website – the length of stint, the pay, whats requried etc. 


So, I cook there – and I get asked so many questions about the food in Antarctica. So I’ll answer those and dispel the myths now!

Do we eat penguin? No

Do we see polar bears? No, they’re only in the north pole

Do we eat fresh fish? No, you cant just go fishing for dinner!!

How often do we get food? Resupply is done once a year, by ice breaker, for each station (Australian stations are Mawson, Davis, Casey and Macquarie Island – Wilkins Aerodrome is a temporary ‘camp’ only set up for summer months when the airbus is flying).  Some fresh fruit and vegetables come ashore – cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, pears, sweet potatoe, lemons, limes, cabbage, carrot.. those need to be eaten though as they don’t last long.  Potatoes, onions, apples and fresh eggs come by the pallet load as they last a lot longer.  Sometimes, bad luck will strike for a winter chef and they will have to destroy eggs or apples, for some reason they go off / rot / don’t last.. the eggs are double oiled to help prevent spoiling, this coating prevents air getting into the eggs.

There’s massive freezers full of vegetables, ice cream, egg pulp and meats, seafood and poultry – crayfish, scallops, mussels, squid, fish fillets, salmon (whole and fillets), prawns etc fillet steak, sirloin, ribs, back straps.. all the cuts of meat from lamb, pigs and beef – even some whole pigs and lamb for the spit roaster.  Turkeys, quails, chicken – whole, breasts, legs.. Bacon, sausages, cured meats / salami, hash browns, and more flours, seeds, dried fruits, herbs, condiments, sauces, pastas, rice etc than you could shake a stick at! Really, we eat well down there, all things considered!

Huge array of amazing cheeses, coffee beans for the big ass coffee machine – with powdered milk L actually, its not too bad!  I can still make a mean latte with that milk!  And we make our own yogurt, which is easy and fast.


What do you do as soon as you arrive?

Health and safety laws are alive and well in Antarctica also, so, we do a tour of station and its surrounds, and before anyone can go into the ‘field’ they have to do survival training, which is compass work, map reading, and sleeping in a bivvy bag – getting familiar with the things that are in our assigned survival packs.  Those packs are to be carried every time you go off station.  And then there’s the travel training – hagglunds and quad bike.  Not everyone gets trained in driving a hagglund (tracked vehicle) but will get the quad training, unless you don’t want to – like me! I don’t trust myself on a motorbike!  But I do agree, it looks fun! 


What do we do in our spare time? 

Well, we all work 5.5 days a week (chefs work 5 days a week) – for tradies they do an 8-5pm day, chefs is anywhere from 9-12 hours (hence chefs have  2 days off). There’s ‘Saturday duties’ for tradies to do on a Saturday.  1-2 hours of doing whatever you’ve been rostered on for – setting up the mess for Saturday night dinner, cleaning cold porches, vacuuming, rubbish sorting..  and on a daily basis, there will be two people rostered on to help the chefs in the kitchen, and two to clean the bar / pool table / lounge area. 

 There’s a bar, a pool table, library, cinema.. with the Australians, they don’t sell liquor, so you need to buy your own before departure and have it packaged up for passage on the ship.  Its administered, once on the ice, according to the same drinking recommendations in Australia (x amount of spirits or wines per week).  So all the personal alcohol is kept locked in a room, known as ‘Fort Knox’, and its open once a week!  There’s also the hugely popular home brewing happening on station, they’ll even go as far as designing beer labels, hoodies, stubbie holders etc! 

There’s a fully equipped music room, gyms, skis, walking loops, ‘huts’ dotted at various locations if you want a weekend away, quad bikes to take out.. or, someone to natter with on station, always!  Its like being in a big back packers hostel!


How long does it take to get there?

That depends on which station you’re going to.  Mawson and Davis, travel there is on the ice breaker, and it’s around 3 weeks to Mawson and 2 weeks to Davis.  Casey has two arrivals – flights (Australian airbus to McMurdo, then US Hercules over to Casey), or the icebreaker, which takes a week.  I’ve done a mix of both.  The flights are always great, an aerial view of the ice!, but the last two times I’ve come home on the ship, and actually this last time, I went down by ship also.  We were so lucky, it was very smooth sailing on the way down.  Can’t say the same for the way home, although this year wasn’t as brutal as last year.  Its hard work in the rough weather!  If you’re lying down, you’re concertinaing up and down your bunk, if you shower you need to hang on to the bars bolted onto the walls, walking up and down the corridors is like being really drunk and things like the chair your sitting in will slide up and down the floor with the movement of the ship as well.  But, I got to experience my life long dream of being on the southern ocean!! (and its better with seasickness pills inside the body!)


What’s the coldest I’ve felt? -47 C, which includes wind chill.  Out of the wind, it was -35 C, when I was doing my survival training at Scott Base.  As soon as the sun went behind Mt Erebus, that was it, it was killer cold! But in summer, yes, you can go outside in a t shirt and shorts.  Plus the station is warm, its never freezing inside – and we all get issued with Antarctic clothing before we head south. 


All summerers who go south with the Australians will get presented with a certificate when they get back to Australia – a thank you and recognition of your contribution and effort, to their efforts. Nice touch! I’ve now got 3 and they’re going STRAIGHT to the pool room.. haha   J



LCHF Update
February 25, 2012


Ok, so heres the deal.  Still holding onto excess weight? Yes.  Still stressed about it? Yes.. etc. BUT, two days ago, the penny dropped and I thought, to hell with it, Im going to go hard-core.  Even after one day I was so stoked!! and todays been day two.  Feel like I ate more today, but its probably because I didnt eat that much – its a day off for all today, including us chefs, so its been an eggy, cheesy day for me – oh, and I had a coconut oil and protein powder smoothie for breakfast..

So what did I change?  Coffee. I was inlove with mochas – a teaspoon of milo, decafe (or a half n half, or full strength) and milk, but, yesterday i tried a long black with a shot of cream in it, HEAVENLY!  I do love the bitterness of coffee.. Today though, Ive just come from an afternoon trip out and about, and dove straight in on a decaf… mocha!! Feel guilty? Not too bad.  Was it to die for? NO.. its classic me, to give in, however, i made it a longer extraction, which = less milk, see! 🙂 We all know milks got carbs in it..

But, I scored some chocolate this arvo, while I was out at one of the huts here (in Antarctica) for tomorrow – my carb day.  I plan to let loose and do what I need, but I also plan to go extreme low carb for as long as possible.  Im hoping to see ‘the change/s’ that i hear about, read about, see pictures of etc – in others! I want that to!!

I think Ive really come to realise, only recently, just how easy it is to eat ‘hidden carbs’, theyre everywhere!! So I think back to my paleo breakfast in Thailand – frozen berries defrosted over night, with cream and maybe some greek yoghurt – carbs!! Eeeeek!! I know berries are low GI but what IF I really am gonna notice a difference with NO carbs, or less than 50gm a day?! I mean, my doc suggested it ages ago, or that maybe it was what I needed.. hmmm well, we’ll see!  Im excited, I want results now, for sure, but Il wait it out and stay motivated – although motivation is definitely NOT lacking!!

On a random note.. I dreamt about a sort of ex last night, and right before I woke up we were hugging, and he whispered to me ‘I love you’…. dam!! thats a fine dream right there!!


Low Carb in Antarctica
January 2, 2012

This is going to be a brief post – im in bed writing, iv had one of my herbal sleepers… so il fit in what i can, before i sleep.

speaking of sleep, god its something you miss when you cant get it easily! However, lately Ive had a good run, yay!! Im in a smaller room this season in Antarctica, with no window, and I think thats heavenly!  Theres only two out of four rooms occupied in my corridor, and we have a fire escape at the end of a short hall – which equals a door we can open, and a small balcony outside! Lets in mega sunlight, keeps the rooms cool and is generally just uber cool to hang out in!

So, I got a darker shade of red / brown this week on my ketone sticks – 3rd in line from the bottom.  THATS exciting! Perhaps the scariest part is, how easily it can come back down again, to show that there are indeed carbs hanging around in my body.  So, aim is to get it back into a darker color again AND to keep it there.

Whats the deal with being low carb / paleo in Antarctica?  Yes, all our food is frozen or tinned – there are some fresh food stuffs, but nothing to get too excited about because a) it doesnt last and b) its not organic either.  Im hot for frozen berries, which i defrost over night, for breakfast – and I add things like chia seeds, ground almonds and for fat / moisture cream (UHT though, and not organic) or greek yogurt.  The yogurt packets have only just made an appearance after resupply.

This year, the eggs are locally sourced and free ranged (local to Tassie that is), which im STOKED about!  How cool!  Lunches can be anything, meats, soup, green veges if theyre about, likewise with dinner.  I have loads of Quest protein bars and various protein powders – some whey and some vege – NOT soy, but ‘yellow pea’ – none of my protein powders have soy in them, yay!!

All our nuts have arrived – double YAY!  it was a long three weeks waiting for them to come up off the ice breaker.  We have them all – walnut, almonds, pistachio, brazil……… and seeds to.

And PLENTY of water!!!!! I have had up to 6 litres in one day, but try to have 4 per day.  Last couple of days, I havent had that much, so tomorrow is going to be about the drink!