POLE POSITION – A WINTER AT ROTHERA

Quarantine in the Falklands

The last time I was in the Falklands I was on my way back home, this time round I’m on my way out. This is not the usual procedure but the Chilean route via Puntas Arenas being closed off because of Covid everyone going to Rothera this season is either transiting via the Falklands or boarding the Sir David Attenborough in the UK for a six weeks trip down the lenght of the Atlantic ocean. We fly from the military base of Brize-Norton in the early hours of an unusally warm November night, proudly lugging our enormous bright orange BAS kit bags, casually making sure that less fortunate passengers are fully aware of our exotic destination (childish, I know). It’s a long-ish flight, 19 hours on the plane plus a 2 hours refuelling stop at Dakkar, but it goes really smoothly. As we set foot on the island the quarantine begins straight away – locked up in comfort in the Malvina House Hotel for the next 14 days. We’re allowed no contact, three meals a day and two 25mns sessions of outdoor exercise, it’s a little bit like being in prison with better food. Having said that we are very well looked after and time seems to fly by a lot faster than expected (for me at least). Due to late bad weather few Dash 7 (the small plane that shuttles back and forth between the Falklands and Rothera) have been able to reach the station, as a result a third of this season’s team is still quartered in the Malvina Hotel and in some of the surrounding cottages. The scene around the hotel is somewhat reminiscent of a zoo, with lonely BAS staff pacing up and down their roped exercise area like so many lions in their cages; some walk energetically, others jog or look out for wild birds. Each paddock is now rimmed by a well worn and trodden path akin to some ancient sheep track. One local, as he strolled by, shouted cheerily at me “You’ll never get out!”. It sometimes feels a little bit like that. Luckily my own paddock stands at the front of the hotel where you get a great view of the sea and of the rocky slope beyond on which the names of famous ships that once visited the island are carved in giant white letters. It’s quite a thrill to see the Beagle among them.

I’m half-way through my quarantine today and it’s snowing quite heavily, a few petrels are bobbing up and down on the grey-black surf while the ever present wind seems to have more of a bite. There is no more ice on the runway at Rothera, thus allowing the resumption of the air bridge to the base, at least as long as the fickle weather allows the plane to fly, though I fear today’s snowy gale might not help. But my own flight is a good week away and the great excitement of the day for me is a room change. As new BAS staff arrive fromthe UK and old Malvina residents depart for Rothera we all switch accomodation in a kind of giant musical bedroom game. Jo gave me a call the other day, telling me how lucky I was to be in one of the suite with a bath tub and a bath robe. I only ever have showers and I didn’t even notice the bathrobe so sadly those little luxuries were utterly wasted on me. Ah! A knock at the door. Time to grab my bag and move to my new headquarters!

Un chef pas manchot

Quarantaine aux iles Malouines

Depart a 1.30 du matin de la base militaire de Brize-Norton au Nord d’Oxford. Le vol est un peu long, 21 heures au total si l’on tient compte des deux heures passees a Dakkar pour faire le plein mais tout se passe sans histoires. Arrives aux Malouines nous sommes transferres de la base militaire a la capitale, Port Stanley, ou nous commencons immediatement notre quarantaine au “Malvina House Hotel”. Nous sommes confines dans nos chambres respectives ou l’on nous alloue trois repas par jour et deux seances d’exercice solitaire en plein air de 25mns chacune; c’est un peu comme la prison avec une meilleure cantine. Des gelees tardives ayant jusque la empeche le “Dash 7” (le petit avion qui fait la navette avec la base) d’atterir en Antarctique une cinquantaine d’employes du BAS sont en ce moment cantonnes a l’hotel ainsi que dans des cottages avoisinants. La vue de ma fenetre evoque un peu un zoo; l’hotel est entoure de petits paddocks delimites par des cordages dans lesquels arpentent et tournent les confines comme autant de lions en cage, tracant un sillon obstine en depit des elements (aujourdh’ui par exemple j’ai effectue mon jogging matinal sous la neige alors que je m’apprete a aller marcher sous le soleil du debut de soiree). Environ 3000 personnes habitent les iles Malouines, 90% de la population est basee a Port Stanley, le reste etant eparpille sur l’ile, dans des fermes isolees, loin de toute civilisation. Quand au paysage il est a la fois sauvage et magnifique, quelque peu reminiscent de la cote ouest du Nord de l’Ecosse avec des vallees silencieuses parsemees de blocs de granit que colonisent mousses et lichens et peu d’arbres, tous courbes par les vents dominants comme autant de vieillards accables par le poids de trop nombreuses annees. Les plages sont magnifiques et nettement plus agreables maintenant que toutes les mines datant de la guerre des Malouines ont ete eradiquees. Pas de plage pour nous aujourd’hui malheureusement, nous n’en sommes qu’a la moitie de notre quarantaine et de plus il neige (en ete). Ceci dit il semblerait ne plus y avoirde glace sur la piste d’aterrissage a Rothera, la navette peut donc reprendre. Pas a pas l’antarctique se rapproche.

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