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Live from Antarctica : Sunday 18th January

Some days just happen to be more surrealistic than others. You awake, knowing that something is different, but not quite sure what it is. And so, Sunday in Utsteinen turned out to be a very unusual day. To start with, the tent opening revealed a flawless blue sky, of a cerulean blue so intense that it would be dangerous to gaze at it too long for fear of being sucked in to the immensity and lost forever. The wind had dropped to a gentle caress, and the sun beat down on the sleeping denizens of this little tented camp with a smiling beatitude. It was the kind of day you feel guilty wasting.

The weather information sped back and forth between Utsteinen and Neumayer as we prepared for two rather special stopovers, without trying to appear too boastful about our incredible day. The first visit happened shortly after midday, as the gentlefolk of Utsteinen took their Sunday luncheon outside the mess tent. Polar 5, the Basler in the smart livery of the Alfred Wegener Institute hove into view, shortly after radio contact was established.

A welcoming committee drove down on skidoos to the air strip, with a Prinoth rumbling behind to take care of any heavy lifting that might be required. The doors swung open and Vasily Kaliazin of ALCI disembarked. He was accompanying a group of Russian VIPs, led by the famous Russian scientist and explorer and Member of the Duma, Dr Artur Chilingarov. The VIPS, members of the Russian parliament were on a fact-finding mission to Antarctica. A small lunch al fresco was organised and the visitors requested an informal visit of the site, which drew unanimous admiration. The group then toured the area by skidoo.

In the early evening, the Basler Lidia called in by radio to announce that they would be landing at Utsteinen shortly, en route from the Australian Station, Davis, to the Russian Station Novolazarevskaia. This was the party of Prince Albert of Monaco. They were completing a 26-station tour of Antarctica with a flight crew of five. The two groups met at the airstrip and the whole party moved back to the Base Camp.

In the meantime, the Neumayer weather forecaster, Christian, sent out a warning that the weather situation was deteriorating from Neumayer to Novo and that the last flight out had to leave by midnight or the visitors risked being blocked for three days.

The group was thrilled by the beauty of the site and the incredible project that was being carried out there, declaring it to be the finest they had ever seen. They consented to join us for dinner. Once again, the catering team excelled and carried high the reputation of Belgian cuisine, with a melting canard confit, followed by a moelleux that did us proud before our illustrious guests.

The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and many warm sentiments were expressed on all sides as the history of the area was discussed and Alain Hubert explained how he had walked over this area on his way to the other side of the continent. Dr Chilingarov reminded his hosts of the heroism of his friend the pilot Pirov who had rescued the Prince de Ligne and his party when their plane had crashed in the vicinity of the Mont Belgica. Earlier this season, Alain Hubert had discovered the wreckage of this incredibly fragile flying machine, underlining the enormous courage of those early scientists and explorers who had ventured into these parts in the interests of advancing human knowledge.

The friendship and mutual respect between Russia, Monaco and Belgium having been reinforced and celebrated by this truly surreal encounter on the edge of a frozen continent, our visitors, who by now had become our dear friends, returned to the Lidia and flew to Novo to continue with their activities.

The warm afterglow of this encounter kept us up late into the night exchanging stories in the mess tent with Greg and David who had done such a miraculous job of feeding more than 50, albeit with quite a bit more than fish and loaves of bread.

Nighat Amin

Author: IPF

Picture: International Polar Foundation - © International Polar Foundation

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