Towards the end...

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

I am writing this post at the beginning of November, a few days before my departure from Concordia station on my way back to Greece. The last few days have been extremely busy with preparations for my departure but also full of mixed feelings because of this. A fantastic experience that lasted almost a year is about to come to its end, but on the other hand, I am about to return to my beautiful country and see my family and friends again, which is really a relieving thought and something I have been dreaming of for months! These mixed feelings are one of the most prominent features of the Concordia adventure. Living this challenge is always full of joy and amazement, but also of melancholy and anticipation: We have been anticipating the days of darkness with the spectacular night views of the sky, then the return of the sun, the arrival of the first plane, and finally the return back home to our loved ones…

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

But while waiting for all those things we were never at ease: we continued our designated work, we contributed to the maintenance of the base, we prepared everything for the onset of the next summer campaign and we had to arrange for the shipment of scientific materials and data back to Europe after the completion of every scientific experiment. These tasks kept us quite busy most of the time, but nonetheless, we found some opportunities to be a little more creative either by organizing teleconferences with the International Space Station or by trying to construct our own igloo hut in the middle of the immense Antarctic plateau! These were activities that helped us keep our morale high and

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

break the monotony of everyday life in the most isolated place on Earth. Especially the connection with the International Space Station was something really impressive and unique, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was eager to answer our questions and he even showed us the view of our planet from the Space Station’s window, a fantastic spectacle that made us all look with open mouths, totally amazed and grateful. For me it was an even greater moment since I was one of the astronaut candidates that made it to the 45 finalists back in 2009 and I couldn’t help thinking how it would be if I was in Luca’s position! But the compensation I had by being in the most isolated place on the planet, in a base like a space installation was enough for me. I guess that Antarctica has this effect on people: you are absorbed by the immensity of the place, you either love it or hate it but the feeling is always extreme, just like the continent itself. For me it has been clearly a love relationship, one of those capable of changing your life…

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

The last days of October and the beginning of November seemed to have passed extremely quickly. The sun was back for the biggest part of the days and since the end of October it has been above the horizon 24 hours a day. Once more our body had to adapt to totally different light conditions and desperately try to synchronize its inner clock! We had lost the magnificent night skies and the presence of our galaxy above our heads, but we were now able to admire the vastness of the white continent stretching endlessly in front of our eyes lying under a beautiful blue sky that reminded me of home… I felt eager to see the arrival of the first plane and meet new people after nine months of total isolation but also anxious about the fact that the quiet peaceful days in Concordia were about to end. The base would return to its summer conditions, too crowded for us, full of activities, new rules and noise. The thought of seeing our loved ones once again was a comfort. I had some Skype meetings organised with a couple of schools and it was a very nice experience to see the young students curious about the conditions of life in an Antarctic base and also willing to explore the possibilities of visiting this unique place.

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

On 8 November the first DC-3 plane landed on the Concordia snow strip bringing the first new people and supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables after exactly nine months! I remember writing in this blog at the beginning of the winterover about the view of the last DC-3 leaving the base and now it was the same plane that came to us marking the end of this unique solitude and the return to normal life. It was when we saw the new visitors climb down the ladder of the aircraft and hug us and congratulate us on our achievement that we realised how difficult our adventure was and how important our job looked to people from outside. It was also a very strong moment, full of positive emotions and warm human communication. The next day a second flight brought another small group of people and among them it was Dr Adrianos Golemis who will substitute me and continue the ESA biomedical experiments next winter.

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

I was really proud that another Greek scientist had managed to follow his dream and came to Antarctica for the ESA post! It was also very nice to be able to speak my own language with someone in person after so many months. After the first days which were dedicated to his adaptation to the harsh environmental conditions of Concordia, we were able to commence his training on the various research projects he will carry out during the following months. We shared our experience and knowledge and prepared the ground for the continuation of space biomedical exploration at this remote but so promising site.

During one of my last days in Concordia we both went outside the base to sample ice for a specific project at a distance of more than 1 km from the base. The day was beautiful, the ice looked so bright and the temperature had reached its summer values of around -40°C. We actually enjoyed this walk very much and I believe it was the ideal way

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

to say a farewell to this place that had been my home for the last year. I tried hard to take the most out of the air that I breathed, to grab the feeling of walking on the snow, to absorb all the sounds produced by my feet on the icy surface…

The last thing I had to do was create a wooden road sign marking the distance to my home city of Thessaloniki, some 14.630 km away. It took me a few days to cut the wood with the help of my fellow crew members and then curve and paint it before placing it at the special construction near the airfield where all the road signs from previous winterover groups are situated. It was a nice task that reminded me of the imminent return to my home country and at the same time a little item left behind that will remind future expeditions of my short stay here and my little contribution to the overall Antarctic exploration effort.

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Reaching the end of this extraordinary adventure I keep thinking about the challenges and the outcomes of this ongoing pursuit of the truth – personal or scientific – in this land of extremes during the last year: was I efficient enough for the post ESA had given me the honour to fill? Has the experience made me a better person? Have we learned a bit more about this pure and barren land and if yes, could we use this information to keep exploring other hostile lands on our planet and beyond? Because I believe that the end of humankind will come when we stop exploring and having that in mind I hope I did my small part in pushing our future a step forward – at least it is what I would like to believe after devoting myself to the wilderness and beauty of this virgin land…

Evangelos Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis

Comments

7 Comments

  • Nikolaos K. SPYROU says:

    Warm and Sincere Congratulations on your efforts and acheivements there!!!
    Looking forward to seeing you again,

    Cordially
    Nikolaos K.Spyrou

    P.S. Exactly yesterday, we saw in the Greek TV the film entitled "WHITEOUT", about a story and adventure of criminal espionage in Antarctica!!!

  • Ioanna says:

    Καλη επιστροφή στην πατρίδα!

  • Kalliopi Lampa says:

    Greeks are everywhere. I feel so proud for you Mr Kaimakamis, and I send to you a big big hug!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Θωμάς Σφέτσας Thomas Sfetsas says:

    Συγχαρητήρια πατριώτες! Βάλατε την Ελλάδα μας στον χάρτη της Ανταρκτικής! Με ενδιαφέρον παρακολουθώ πάντα ότι σχετικό με την απομονωμένη αυτή ήπειρο, επιστημονικά, γεωγραφικά κλπ, αλλά και ...φιλοτελικά ως έχων το χόμπυ αυτό :) , και αναρωτιόμουν γιατί η Ελλάδα δεν είχε συμμετοχές σε επιστημονικά προγράμματα σχετικά με την Ανταρκτική! Να ΄στε καλά που με διαψεύσατε!

  • Jonathan E. says:

    Such an incredible story that I've just read !

    I would like to have, one day, an equal opportunity to go outside of the normal human life for a while, and taste this kind of isolated experience (but as part of a team, sure of it!).

    It seems it has been an extraordinary adventure you have been able to get involved in.

    Congrats from a French reader (for all the stuff you did there) !

  • Pietro says:

    Congrats for your experience, from another "penguin" one who did the same. I know exactly what you mean with "too crowded" after the winterover :) All the moments at Concordia Base will be living with you, hard to pass the fellings to people never been there.....Hope Concordia will be a "good luck" business card for your career, as it was for me.
    Pietro Di Felice - Expedition Leader - 3rd WO

  • Mike Karypidis says:

    I ve read ur amazing story-experience. Thanksfor making us proud to be Greeks. I d love to run next to you in March at Alexander the Great Marathon and listen to ur stories... if I can keep up with ur dropped performance, hehhehehe

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