Checking In

By Prof James Madsen

The path you follow to get Antarctica is fairly straightforward. We arrived in the Christchurch airport late Sunday night local time, and it was about 1:00 am Monday morning before we got our hotel. One of the peculiarities of long trips like this one is that it tends to dull my mind. So while I have checked into hundreds of hotels, the jet lag and strong NZ accent (I’ll give an example below) made answering the simplest questions a struggle. One key or two just produced a puzzled look in response from me. But we made it to our rooms, and got about 5 hours of sleep before heading for the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) to get our cold weather gear (CWG). I include the acronyms because that is all people tend to use.

Robert and Laura modeling some CWG  with the rest of our baggage in the foreground
Robert and Laura modeling some CWG with the rest of our baggage in the foreground

Getting our cold weather gear was another opportunity to test what was left of ever shrinking mental abilities. We needed to try on all layers of the CWG to make sure we had everything, and it all fit. Then there is an overwhelming number of bag categories to keep track of—four! We have our checked baggage that goes somewhere to be loaded on the plane. The key fact here is that stuff will not be seen again until we reach Antarctica. No big deal since we are scheduled to leave the next day. If there are issues (more on this later), we also pack a boomerang bag (not containing Aboriginal hunting implements but necessities like a tooth brush and change of clothes) if our flight is canceled or has to return to NZ due to weather or mechanical issues. Next we have a carry on bag, and then any luggage we want to leave at the CDC. The total weight allowance for each person for the each person for checked luggage and boomerang bag is 85 pounds. Since I have some additional equipment with me, I was close to this limit but Robert and Laura were way under.

Jim being solicited by an overly friendly penguin.
Jim being solicited by an overly friendly penguin.

So here’s an example of the NZ accent that makes it difficult to process instructions with a fatigued mind. They pronounce an “i” like an “e” and vice versa. Most of the time this is easily resolvable except when the switch makes another common word. For example, it is important that we know what time we should report, and what we need to bring with us when we report to get on the plane. Unfortunately, they like to use two words that are said close together so they sound like one. So they were saying check in, but what I heard was chicken. Tomorrow when you chicken, make sure you have the required CWG either on, or in your carry on bag. Chicken time is 8:30. The good news/bad news is that we have had a few days to learn the accent and routine*.   More on that in the next post.

*Editors Note: Prof Madsen and his team have discovered the short vowels used in some New Zealand words.