...and his girl left behind. Justin Chambers is going to Antarctica as a chef, and leaving behind all that is normal, for a whole year. Together, but apart, we will document our experiences (well, he'll give me the info verbally and I will turn that in to a blog post!!) as we live in two quite different worlds for those 12 months.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Thanks so much for looking us up.  We have a new site up and running now and you can find it at...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year's Eve

It was a normal start to the day… Wake up with the phone (alarm) two rings........roll over, lift the receiver an inch then drop it down  like the head of a mallet. Yawn... swig any remaining water from the bottle beside the bed.  Open eyes. Stare at the ceiling for what appears to be an hour or so (but in reality only 2-3 minutes). Grunt.........I love this place, Antarctica.......but I love sleep possibly even more, so it’s just a small grunt each day..............ahhhhhh sleep!!!!
Get up, leave the room walk around some stairs, take a left at the t-junction and first door on the right. Return to the room feeling a little lighter.

Dress for the day… t-shirt/jacket, trousers, socks, kitchen crocs... grab an apron off the hook and leave the room again for work. Do a hard right once out of the room, proceed through the Link and down into the foyer, turn right and voila, we’re here!!  Oh yeah... turn 180° and head back through the foyer and into the Wallow, straight to the coffee machine.  Ahhhhhhhh now we can start the day.  Time check 0548.

It was decided a few weeks ago that on New Years the chefs would have the day off.  Cool.  So Tony and I made plans to go out to one of the surrounding huts and spend NY eve there. We put out an APB for those who may wish to join us. As Brookes hut only contains 4 beds and a mattress we soon found our three lucky companions.

Lunch was put up. Reheating instructions for dinner were left with the slushies. 

And the next thing you know I’m sweating and panting 5 clicks from station heading in an easterly direction with a near gale force frontal assault of pretty snowflakes and not so pretty bits of ancient landscape (dirty, dusty, sand).  It was a nice feeling leaving the station behind... and responsibility. The walk to Brookes hut took around four hours in which we passed 3 lakes, 7 penguins, 2 thousand year old seal carcasses, hundreds of magnificent dykes (the black rock that form ribbons upon the landscape), and millions of fascinating rock formations.  The land that I was walking through was It!! True blue, untouched, undisturbed ancient earth. What a feeling............breathing in the cleanest air in the world and staring at god’s very own creations in their weathered and unique forms.
On arrival at the hut the generator was started, bags were emptied, food laid out and drinks poured. 5 hours later glasses were chinked, messages were swapped via radio and the chitter chatter continued. Another 3 hours later the snoring started and lasted well into the next morning.

Finishing off the crackers and cheese from the previous evening and adding only coffee made for an undisciplined (I’m on holiday) breakfast.  I spent the next ½ hour preparing for lunch fresh sushi using tinned crab and asparagus.  It was very tasty........and here we go again........... surreal - sitting in a little red hut eating sushi and pickled ginger using chopsticks, listening to Simon and Garfunkles greatest hits through my ipod and portable JBL speakers and all the time staring out through the cracked and wind beaten window into the great expanse known as the Antarctic.........blue skies, ice bergs, rolling hills and seals... it was all there only inches from where I sat.

Doing your business down here in ‘the freezer’ is all about management.....on one hand..... of your body (hold on until you get back to base), or .........of the available resources and space. Basically #1s are sent straight into the sea or carried back home in a supplied bottle. #2s are carried by you all the way back to station. I recommend double bagging then bagging again and stuffing into an appropriate receptacle to minimise perforation. Sorry about the topic but I guessed people wonder how these things were done down here. I did!!

I had organised a helicopter to come and pick us up.  Well, the hut did need stocking up of essentials so I arranged these back at Davis and coordinated a time that would coincide with our need to vacate the hut. Cunning?  Hey!!  Anyway on our return we were lucky enough to make a special flight to the plateau in order to assess the amount of snow built up around a lone hagg used to transport a couple of guys who maintain the skiway known as Woop Woop.  I grabbed a couple of snaps of  Platcha hut on our way ( the hut in which I did field training) as well as the surrounding hills etc...... 

The summer melt is well and truly here.

Just to add…  I’m writing this blog from the Doctor’s office.  A Chinese Doctor became ill at one of their stations (Dome (A) Argus - the highest area situated on the east Antarctic Ice sheet at 4093m).  A call was put out to the AAD for assistance and a medivac was set up. The belief is that the patient suffered from altitude sickness.  I am doing a 2 hour patient monitoring shift before work this morning (3:45am wakeup).  The Chinese resupply vessel that I took aerial photos of a couple of weeks ago should be entering our waters later this morning to pick their comrade up and maybe pop on over for a cup of tea or something... who knows.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My last day in Saudi

I haven't already mentioned that in Saudi the weekend is Thursday and Friday and everyone works through 'our' Saturday/Sunday weekend as normal practice.  Which is why we were able to shop on Sunday.  Pretty much nothing happens on a Friday.... and imagine, no pubs or clubs, no music - it's banned too - no movie theatres, strict internet censorship and no lounging around in cafes drinking coffee for hours with friends...

It's a SHOE store!
My last day was Tuesday and Bronwyn had taken the day off work to join Louise and I in a girly day, and the last one out and about in Riyadh for me.  It worked well to do those last minute things before flying out that evening.  When we picked up Louise she had it all planned out.  Seriously, I can't believe how lucky I was to get to spend time with someone whose knowledge of the city and surrounding areas is amazing.  First stop... Shoe Palace.  You are met at the door by chandeliers and a massive glass vase and flower display.  It is as large as a small-medium Woolworths supermarket and it is here that the shoes are bedazzled and the handbags are supplied to match.  There was an unbelievable amount of lace, sparkle and designer labels but shoes and handbags are extremely important to the Saudi woman when those are the only things that can be seen outside of an abaya.  And you would have to be prepared to spend a pretty penny at Shoe Palace. 

We went to Al Guthmi next, a two storyed fabric shop... nope, you don't order it to be made in to something, you just order the fabric.  Again, a chandelier - they LOVE their chandeliers here - but this time over a grand marble staircase to the upper floor.  Think of a fabric, any fabric, and you can purchase it right here.  

I asked Louise and Bronwyn to help with a gift for my Mum so the next stop was Traditionals, a store for authentic artifacts from the region, better than what you would get from a souk but not hideously expensive.  What a lovely store.  I found some lovely little trinkets there for Mum but I could have spent a lot more time and a lot more money... ones bank account and ones suitcase can only take so much though!  Besides, Louise had a surprise instore for us...

The doors were the height of the whole bottom floor and were opened by a white gloved doorman before we could even see he was there.  Louise just has a way, and a confidence, and she had just led us in to the most stunning of jewellery stores where the very rich come to purchase their jewellery to go with those shoes and handbags we had 'visited' with earlier.  And we didn't want to buy... we just wanted to gawp at what we would never be able to afford but still we were led to armchairs and out came the black velvet boxes.   Well.... where does one start... a sapphire ring with a stone as big as my thumbnail, an emerald necklace and matching earrings and a 5 carat diamond ring worth 2.5m riyals... that translates in to around $800,000 and we were allowed to try on.  The store was Fatahi Jewellers and they were polite and hospitable - I don't think I would get in the door of a store that sold that kind of jewellery here let alone receive that kind of service when they know you won't be buying.

Coffee was needed after that and where better to go than a VERY swanky designer mall - which noone was shopping in - and in to a very swanky French cafe that hails from Champs Elysees in Paris and serves world famous macarons?  Obvious choice really.  We chose from Coffee, Cassis, Lemon, Rose, Raspberry, Coconut to name a few and took a seat in a wee parlour all decorated with blue velvet upholstery... and walls!!!  One could almost get the giggles really.  Fench music, fantastic service, pastel coloured, gold rimmed cups and saucers... La Duree was a little slice of heaven.  Even the coffee was great.  And, when prayers started we were welcome to stay.  Ahhhhhh.
Louise had mentioned the first time we 'hung out' together that there was a great place that did stuffed pigeon, a bit of a local favourite.  (Farmed, not wild I should add.)  I asked if we could possibly try that for lunch today.  So, off we went to a pokey corner shop and Louise marched in and order up stuffed pigeon for three.  It is stuffed with a full flavoured and herby rice before cooking then wrapped in a sheet of the thinnest bread and served with a soup made with the juices from the bird.  I should thank Justin at this point for being the person that made me comfortable eating with my hands because scooping the rice up with that paper thin bread... oh man!  I LOVED it.  I don't try 'different' foods easily but was so glad I did this time.  I mean, it wasn't that daring... it tasted a lot like chicken after all.

We took the elevator down to the basement after lunch, walked across to the opposite elevator and up to the same level as Louise's apartment, and voila.... we were at the clinic where she works, which parts of used to be her old apartment.  We had a look around the facility and were very impressed,  said goodbye, then left Louise to get on with her work.  
It was time to head back to the compound and for me to pack, ready to leave for the airport.  I was a bit worried about the weight of my luggage - I had my crystal tea set in my suitcase! - but as it turned out, everything was fine.  My 'friend' from Singapore airlines who had assisted on my arrival appeared out of nowhere as I approached the check in desk and was at the gate for boarding.  (He now knew that Brian was from the NZ Embassy.) Brian and I had gone to the other end of the terminal for a drink and hadn't heard the boarding announcement - it didn't help me that they were all in Arabic anyway! - so as we wandered back to the gate we were approached with 'last boarding call Madam'... ooops, I have NEVER been the last one on to a plane before.  Full of apologies I rushed to the gate and presented my boarding pass only for it to be exchanged for another that said 'Business Class'.  Well, talk about giggles again.  What a great ending to a great day.  I think I boarded the plane in a state of euphoria.  'Good evening Mrs Chambers',  'Can I help with your bag Mrs Chambers?',  'Would you like a drink Mrs Chambers?... you can have wine once we are in the air', 'Would you like a snack Mrs Chambers?'..... oh man.....

I do have to sincerely thank Bronwyn, Brian, Louise and even a couple of Singapore Airlines employees for each contributing to my Saudi experience in some way.  I feel as though I packed a whole education in to seven days and have to say... I would definately go back again.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Camels, camels everywhere

Camel Souk
My second to last day in Saudi saw me on a drive out of the city, accompanied by Louise, to the Camel Souk.  To my surprise, after all I haven't spent much time around camels, there are everything from white to black Camels.  The black ones in particular I found intriguing.  Louise offered to take photos of me near the camels and I got much closer than I thought I would.  Standing near the fence, a very dark brown camel came over to make friends and I gave his cheeks a bit of a rub.  He seemed to enjoy it and stayed there for a good few minutes while Louise snapped away.  This is my favourite shot.

Kingdom Tower
From the Camel Souk we went on to the Kuwaiti Souk where I made the purchase of a set of 12 crystal cups and saucers.  Intent on covering a lot of ground, Louise then whisked me over to Kingdom Mall, to the Ladies' Floor where we had coffee.  I was very surprised to walk in and be met with a sign that requested all women remove their face covering whilst on the Ladies Floor, for security reasons.  The reason being that we can then all be seen to be women.  The face cover, or burka, is a traditional garment, and not a religious garment - a fact not well known amongst the majority of us.  We met with Prayer time whilst in Kingdom Mall and everything closed up so used our time to head on up to Kingdom Tower to take a look at Riyahd from the Skywalk.  From the ground it looks as though the tower is a much wider expanse than it actually is and we were across it in a flash.  What a true engineering feat.  Looking out and down on to the building's incredible curve was something else.  

From there we headed on over to Louise's neighbourhood to a Turkish restaurant for lunch.  Being women eating out we were to sit in the Family Area.  Restaurants have two sections, one for men and another for families and women on their own.  The Family Area consists of booths with high walls and heavy curtains, designed specifically so that no one can see the woman/women within.  The curtain is closed and the waiters announce themselves in order to give the woman time to cover her head/face prior to the curtain being opened and food delivered to the table.  Being the relaxed types were are, we left the curtain open.   The bread was delivered to the table first and I have never seen anything like it!  It was almost the length of the table.  We also ordered a mezze plate with hommous, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, olives and other goodies.  It was gooooooooood.... but there would have been three quarters of the bread left at the end, easily.

My dream rug
Louise works from 2pm-10pm so while she headed up to the clinic, I was 'returned' to the compound by Idris where I waited for Bronwyn and Brian to finish work.  Then it was off to Deira Souk to pick up my kilim rug... yay!!!  Excited!  Bronwyn explained the sad side to all the gorgeous rugs we were pawing over in the shop.  They are hand made heirlooms which can take literally months to create, every one unique.  The way they come to be in the hands of our rug salesman is that the family need money so they sell these beauties to get it. A real shame.  My wee rug makes me very happy though and every time I look it I discover something new.  It is even crooked in several places, proof of the hand made.  (The cat and dog have also fallen in love with it and it makes a great tunnel for them to play in.)  Whilst at the rug shop I fell in love with another rug, twice to three times the size, that sadly also costs 5 times more than the one that made it home with me... something to save up for perhaps. 

From the souk, Bronwyn, Brian and I went and parked at Kingdom mall and made our way up to the Italian restaurant in the hotel above.  We had a gorgeous meal but I have to say that it is really weird enjoying a such a good Italian meal without a nice glass of chianti, barolo or amarone... alcohol being banned in the Kingdom.  The restaurant didn't seem to have a family section but there were curtained off booths for those that chose to use them.  There were some young women enjoying a meal and as men arrived, only one covered up.  I don't know... I guess some of the rules are flexible or maybe they are becoming more so with the younger generations.  That would be nice.

Just one day to go guys, watch this space.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


December 25th

Work started at around 6 o’clock.........I got stuck right in by making 40 large fresh English (breakfast) muffins, poached and refreshed 80 eggs, made about a litre of hollandaise, laid a couple of trays with sliced ham...........grabbed a coffee and got straight into blini making, cup cake icing.........etc, etc, etc, suffice it to say a lot was accomplished in a small amount of time. 

With all the planning and prep done over the previous days our Christmas menu went off almost like clock work.  All was accomplished and everybody had a wonderful time. 

I’m glad its over................ next year it’ll just be a sandwich on the beach with my lovely wife!!

A Saudi Christmas

Being a Christian ritual, the celebration of Christmas is absolutely forbidden in Saudi which means it is difficult to get anything like Christmas decorations and because they don't eat or sell pork you have to shop elsewhere.  That means Christmas decoration and gift shopping in Dubai and crossing a border to purchase any 'unavailable' consumable goods required for the Christmas table.  That was all done before I got there so when I arrived, the place already looked lovely and welcoming and the menu was planned.  It should be noted that although celebrations are not allowed in Saudi, what happens on the compound is the business of noone outside the compound.

We had done some of the prep the day before and I am happy to report that the cranberry stuffing that I made turned out beautifully although I was having my doubts at the sugar turning to toffee through the cooking process.  As it happens, the juices from the cranberries break this down and you are left with a tart, full flavoured stuffing.  YUM.  Apart from dressing the table and helping Brian to move furniture around that was my only true contribution to the day.  Bronwyn had everything in control in the kitchen and with the help of Josie, her house girl, things went to clock work and we were to enjoy a feast comprising 3 meats (including a handsome turkey), loads of vegetables, the afore mentioned stuffing and sauces.  Bronwyn's Christmas pudding was to die for and after a sliver each of that and pavlova, had had more than my belly really wanted to handle.  Curses for not stopping after the vegetables!  
From the festive table we adjourned outside to the courtyard area, under the warmth of outdoor heaters.  People slowly started to leave until there were just four of us left, making cold turkey sandwiches as we got peckish again later in the evening.
Not being able to get used to how dry it was and constantly being in air conditioning, I was tired so used the opportunity to sneak upstairs for an early-ish night.  And Josie had left almost almost no cleaning up to be done which was amazing... what a gem!

Boxing day started with breakfast and a not-so-early excursion to the Deira Souk where after walking up and down some laneways, looking at textiles, we actually found some Christmas decorations on a stand on the street - but they are not Christmas Decorations until a visitor calls them that.  We were lured in to the store by the vendor where there was soooo much more on display.  I could have looked for hours.  It was a bit like a smaller version of the haberdashery shop at Kuwaiti Souk.  Bronwyn bought some pashminas and I got two Christmas decorations to add to my international collection, and two bedouin masks (burka) heavily adorned with silver, chains and coins - which I just love.  I plan to get them framed and hung as a pair.

'Our' carpet vendor's store
Now, with 5 million people living in Riyadh, it is rare to just bang in to someone you know but it happened to me twice while I was there - well, not someone I knew specifically, but a friend of whoever I was with.  In to this small store we were in, walked the Harris's - the New Zealand Ambassador, his wife and children.  Of all the people, in all the tiny shops, it was a family that we had celebrated Christmas with the day before!  From there we all went to the very popular carpet shop of Mirzah Mohammed, with the finest selection of the most beautiful rugs I have ever seen.  Handpicked by the owners, and only the best brought back to Saudi, you are truly spoilt for choice.  I determined my selection by price.  Once we were looking in about the area of 'affordability' I looked until I found one I really loved. But as it approached prayer time, we left so that they could close up shop with a promise to return.  

The Globe
Leaving the souk, Bronwyn and I were 'Mutawa'ed' - my only time whilst in Riyadh and to be honest, I didn't even know it was happening!  I missed the moment completely.  Oh, I heard the "cover, cover, cover, cover, cover, cover" but didn't register that it was the Mutawa until too late and he had already swept past us.

To end a lovely couple of days, we were invited to have afternoon tea at the Globe, by Eric, friend of Brian and Bronwyn, and also a Christmas day guest.  Eric is GM of a hotel in Riyahd and fairly well connected it would seem.  We were given the royal treatment and had a magnificent afternoon tea, high up overlooking the Riyadh cityscape where I got some great photos.

Riyadh from The Globe

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thursday 23 December

It is my scheduled day off... a one hour sleep in leaves me a bit foggy around 6:30ish... by 7:30ish I’m making toast in the dining room, peanut butter on one slice and nutella on the other. I only eat toast on my days off and so far it's been this combination. Usually I snack on a bowl of cereal or porridge placed strategically between a mug of coffee and the paper towel dispenser on a shelf just above my chopping board in the kitchen. I get the news that I and five others will have been invited to the Russian station of ‘Progress’. The helicopter will depart the heli pad here at 9:30. So here we go again....................a quick shower, clean the teeth, splash on a little liquid metro, pack a bag with thermals and sun block, charge the camera, clean the lens, grab a hat and the next thing you know I’m at the door ready to head of to the heli hut. 

Ding, ding, frickin ding......the fire alarm goes off. Thankfully I’m not on the fire team this week but I do help the guys who are to suit up. The rest of the station gathers in the wallow and names are read off from a clip board. The alarm stops. We’re told to stand down. I find out later it was just a little battery issue (god knows how many fire alarms there are around the station but I would suggest somebody at HQ has shares in Duracell).

Well off we go, two squirrels flying through the Antarctic... destination Russia!!  The Russian base is a stone's throw from the Chinese and as we make our approach we enter the outskirts of Peoples' Republic... do a wide arc... and settle down on one side of the locals helipad. The next chopper lands on the other side, the blades slow down, systems are checked, the engines stop and the blades come to a stop. 

As we exit our transport we’re greeted with the familiar faces of Serge (Station Leader) and a local tradie/interpreter whose name I never heard the first time... nor this... nice guy anyway. We’re taken on a tour of the base, shown through the two main buildings which are still under construction on the inside, around the workshops, out into the backyard (well it looks like one) and finally into a pokey diner looking establishment where we’re fed dried bread, potato and meat soup, sliced cold cuts and pickles. We have a little toast to friendship/Christmas/future (the poor chefs here are working in an out of date under equipped kitchen so I was very thankful for the food we received).  I end up choosing brandy over vodka for the toasts............what could I do? Its 1pm and I’m having shots of brandy? My body was not designed for this... but hey anyway.  

After a bit of present swapping we make preparations to head off. It was decided that we would walk over the hills to Law Base and there the helos would pick us up. Well have you ever tried to scale a loose based rock hill after a couple of brandys whilst carrying a backpack filled with Antarctic clothing and juggling a camera between the hands that aren’t needed to steady your course.  Well the view truly made up for the discomfort of the situation.  Stunning!!!  The placement of both the Chinese and Russian stations set them up for superb perspectives in relation to the size of the glaciers and our humble foot prints.

Law Base
Half an hour later we reach Law Base. It a combination of apples, melons and a hut. Look at the photos and I’m sure you’ll work out what's what. We stayed here for an hour or so just looking around... Ali (our Station Leader) is a geologist by trade and was lost in thoughts and ramblings for the entire time.  It's nice to see people enjoy and share their expert knowledge down here, and Ali was no exception to this as she got excited about what I could only see as different coloured rocks. I listened and tried to take as much in as I could but wow does she know her stuff. If I retained even 1% of what she told me I’ll be a happy guy. 

By the time we jumped in the helicopter I had a huge headache from the little tipple earlier and forgetting to drink water on our hike. So I thought I’d have a little nap on the way home. It was not to be. With a lot of different cloud cover the landscape made for some magnificent views, and with the random seals, emperor penguins, adelies and giant ice bergs..............A lot of unique photos as well.

View from chopper on way home

Days 3 and 4 in Saudi

My second full day in Riyahd was mostly about things to do for Christmas so Brian, Bronwyn and I jumped in the car and went out shopping.  Due to Riyadh being such a huge, spread out city and its incredibly busy roads (read crazy drivers here), it can take while to get things done.  We headed out early enough to get to the shops we needed to prior to prayers.  With 5 prayers per day, and everything ceasing to function for the duration, shopping trips need to be well timed so that you are done and on the way home when the midday-ish prayer begins.  (The times change daily according to the moon phases, and are based on your longitude and latitude as far as I can work out.)  Most shops will stay closed after that prayer and reopen around 4pm, following the next prayer.  I watched workers in market stalls and malls packing everything up, putting it all away and making everything secure after being open around 2 hours, only to have to open up and set things up again a few hours later.  The shops then stay open til 10pm and the evening is when the shops are at their busiest, with all the locals out and about. 

Being driven from shop to shop
The first port of call was the Port Store for inserts for the bain marie set up for our Christmas Feast.  The store was huge and there was plenty to look at so we had a good wander around and Brian caught up with an exuberant acquaintance, Mohammed, from the Egyptian embassy who was also shopping.  The boat shaped bain maries and cold service counters had us all a little amused to say the least.

From there we headed out to the flower market but the variety was poor and Bronwyn had little to choose from.  She settled for chrysanthemums and the few lilies that looked like they would be open for Christmas day.  

Saudi Tent
That evening we went to a friend's apartment to enjoy a rooftop bbq in her Saudi tent.  Well, the bbq was outside but we lounged in the comfort of the tent.  What a fantastic set up.  Because my camera is new and I haven't had a lot of time to check it out properly yet, there are not many photos of that evening but this one gives a good idea of the tent.
Riyadh from the rooftop
The food was fantastic.  I got my first taste of fresh dates stuffed with cheddar cheese and loved them!  (I did the same, as well as some stuffed with Swiss chocolate, for dessert/cheeseboard on New Year's eve.)  We finished the meal with pavlova, a yule log and mint tea which I have fallen in love with.  No commercial mint teabags in site.  Just a lightly dunked black teabag and a sprig of mint.  Very refreshing.  I must also admit to investing in a set of the tiny crystal cups and saucers that Louise serves her mint tea in, as well as beautiful crystal detailed teaspoons.  Many a cup of mint tea will be enjoyed in them here in Australia too.

Snaking camel trail
A large part of Christmas Eve day was spent in the car, heading out to the desert to check out an ancient camel trail and also driving around Wadi Hanifah, a beautiful new park/scenic development on the outskirts of Riyadh which hundreds of locals were making the most of with their picnics and portable barbecues.  It is interesting to note that the colour of the photo (right) of the camel trail is pretty much the colour of all the buildings in Riyahd.  As new developments are going ahead there is a little more sheen and metallic emerging but the houses and apartment buildings..... sand coloured.

We rounded off the afternoon with a very hospitable and social afternoon at Vernice and Graeme's, on the compound.  Perfect... not far to walk home.