Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Distinguished Visitors

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Scott Base, the main New Zealand research station located 3 miles from McMurdo. As part of the festivities, a few distinguished visitors from both New Zealand and the US were invited to come for a week or two. Scientists and staff affectionately call special visitors DVs, and they are treated to special meals, tours and helicopter flights to all of the amazing places around here. Since Lake Hoare is the main and largest field camp in the Dry Valleys, the DVs often stop to see what life is like in the field and fill up on cookies and tea. For a few hours this Sunday, we had the pleasure of hosting the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark and her husband. There were only a few of us here, and so we actually had the chance to interact with them quite a lot. I was amazed at the contrasts between their visit and how I imagine a visit from President Bush would go. They traveled here with no secret service or even government escorts, and seemed incredibly down to earth. During lunch, I observed Helen notice a hair in her sandwich, promptly remove it and continue eating. We chatted about the science we do down here, I asked for reccommendations of hikes to do in New Zealand, and we talked about human health sociology (her husband teaches at a university in Aukland). All in all, it was a great visit. Also on this trip were a few of her cabinet members and from the US, the head of the National Science Foundation.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, and her husband at Lake Hoare Camp

Also in town for the anniversary was Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand mountaineer who was the first person to climb Mt. Everest. He is in his eighties now, and doesn’t get around extremely well so we didn’t expect to see him. Last night when we were back at F6, we found out he was scheduled to stop at Lake Hoare today and so we hiked 4 miles over the glacier to come see him. It was unclear as to whether they would stop because it was the last event in a long day and he gets tired very easily. He even has his own doctor traveling with him. We made it to Lake Hoare in time to find out that they were indeed stopping, but only briefly. The six of us that were here brought tea and scones out to the helicopter for him, the pilot and the 5 other Kiwi DVs. It was a wonderful visit. Sir Ed stayed in the helicopter seat but shook all our hands and took a group picture with us. Everyone else got out and milled around for 20 minutes or so. I got a chance to talk to him, his son-in-law and one of the pilots that was the first to fly in Antarctica- boy was he a riot! Sir Ed has been to and worked in Antarctica before, and was actually the first to drive a Caterpillar to the South Pole! I feel pretty lucky to have met him- definitely worth the hike over, even for just 20 minutes!

Sir Edmund Hillary and the Lake Hoare crew.


jianantonic said...

How cool! I have to say, stream algae posts are kinda boring in between penguins and world leaders and such. More penguins! More cowbell!

Kevin said...

That's pretty awesome. Treasure that picture!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?