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By Sherry Ott / Ott’s World
“Welcome to Antarctica!” the voice in front of me boomed. Surprised to hear the sentence verbalized for me, a wave of excitement rolled through my body. A hand was extended out to me and I instinctively grabbed it in the ‘sailor grip’ that we were taught on the ship. It felt like I was moving in slow motion when I looked up at the face of my greeter to the seventh continent — all I could do was smile at this Antarctica inhabitant.
The view from Vernadsky Base in Antarctica. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
Never had I once considered human life on Antarctica. My brain was too busy anticipating penguins and landscapes. Yet during my Antarctica cruise I realized that there was much more to Antarctica than I originally thought.
Life on Antarctica at the Vernadsky Base. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
Antarctica is the globe’s only continent without a native human population. I think this is what draws me to the region. It belongs to no one — it’s a free spirit and a somewhat unwelcome one at that. However, even though there is no native population, you can still find an interesting group of scientists and support staff manning research bases from a wide variety of countries, both on the continent itself and on nearby islands. The residents number approximately 4,000 during the summer season and about 1,000 during winter.
The research bases are filled primarily with men, and as they are quite isolated it left me wondering what did they do in their country that made them get sent here! Some bases run only in the summer and some run year-round. But one thing that is the same on all of them is that they love visitors so any way they can attract visitors they do. Here are five surprising things you can do in Antarctica:
1. Go Shopping
Port Lockroy provided the most extensive shopping experience, with a large gift boutique full of Antarctica and base souvenirs. Port Lockroy conducts penguin research and was one of the only bases that employed women; young British women actually volunteer to work there year-round to research penguins. Port Lockroy wasn’t the only one offering a gift shop, though. My dad and I purchased a bottle of Chilean wine at Gabriel Gonzalez Videla Station to take back to the ship and enjoy with dinner. And not to be outdone, Vernadsky, the Ukrainian base, boasted the southernmost souvenir shop in the world!
You can buy Chilean wine on Antarctica. And I did. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
Wooden penguins are sold at the Ukrainian base. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
That’s my dad, shopping at the southernmost souvenir shop in the world. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
2. Get a Passport Stamp
Most bases also offer a way to permanently record your visit to Antarctica. Each had a passport stamp, typically with a cute penguin and the base name on it. Since Antarctica doesn’t really belong to any country — and therefore no customs or immigration processing is required — this was a nice way to get record of your visit in your passport.
I got this Antarctica passport stamp to record my first landing on the continent. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
3. Join an Open House
As we wandered around the Chillean base, which is inhabited only in the summer, we were invited inside into their living quarters for an open house walkthrough. I walked into the simple looking hut surrounded by penguin rookeries and was surprised to find a flat-screen TV, big dining room table, leather couches, and a Christmas tree. It was like a little bachelor pad in Antarctica. I thought about stowing away for a moment but decided not to desert my father.
The cozy living room of the Gabriel Gonzalez Videla Station Antarctica. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
Dad gets comfortable at the Chilean base — complete with Christmas tree! (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
4. Visit a Few Museums
Antarctica is full of fascinating history and nothing is more fascinating to me than how people actually lived in Antarctica years ago. Luckily there are a few museums that give you a glimpse into what life was like in this remote area. The most extensive was Port Lockroy’s museum, which had all of the old rooms set up and re-created as they used to be — including a plethora of old, rusty, canned food that had been rationed but never used. The bedrooms and workrooms were true to history, complete with paintings of girlie pinups. The Chiliean base also had a small museum full of old photographs depicting what it was like to live there years ago. It was a fascinating look into the hard lives of hearty people.
The Gabriel Gonzalez Videla Station museum displayed historic photographs. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
A painted pinup girl on display at the Port Lockroy museum. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
We found this recipe for seal brains at the Port Lockroy museum — tasty! (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
5. Hit the Bars
Yes, that’s right, you can even drink at a bar on Antarctica. At the Ukrainian Verdansky research base, you can throw back vodka shots and play bar games. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like here when there wasn’t an expedition ship of tourists in the harbor — I bet the locals had some pretty wild nights at this base considering there’s not much else for 11 men to do year-round in Antarctica but drink. Considering it was before noon, I was happy to share my vodka shot with my dad, but he insisted that we each have our own.
Enjoying the vodka shots at the Ukrainian bar in Antarctica. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ott’s World)
The research bases really provided an interesting insight into Antarctica that I wasn’t expecting, but they are a big part of the history and the experience — just as much as the wildlife. So if you are planning a trip to Antarctica, don’t forget to pack U.S. dollars for souvenirs, bring your passport, and be prepared for a hangover.
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