Last week I was asked, via teleconference, about what the Palmer Station population does in its free time. I must admit this question confounded me at first. Free time....graduate school...syntax error...system overload! Isn't picking apart amphipods to analyze their guts recreation enough? Alright do not answer that. As I thought more about the question (naturally after I was removed from the front of the camera) I began to realize the diverse amount of activities available at Palmer Station during down time.
Although naturally considered a harsh environment. Antarctica is beautiful, and not enjoying the natural splendor via hiking, skiing, or boating would simply be a crime. The staff here get every Sunday off and there is generally a group that goes hiking/skiing the glacier (depends on snow fall) and at least one other group who goes recreationally boating.
There are an abundance of islands to explore about and within the two mile boating limit it is not hard to find some amazing wildlife. I always get to see a group of elephant seals whenever I pass by Kristie Cove or Bonaparte Point. With each island you pass there are always some curious birds that find you. Just the other day two of our more lucky divers, Maggie and Philip, got to swim with a group of penguins off Hermit Island. Incidentally, Hermit Island also harbors a large hill that several Palmer Station residents have climbed and testified as to the gorgeous view from atop.
When the sun was out more, earlier in the season, an outdoor game called Koobs was also a popular activity. In Koobs, two three-person teams attempt to knock the opposing teams' blocks down before getting their own knocked over. In the middle of the field there is a large piece of wood called the central Koob. If it is knocked over the throwing team loses...it basically acts as a screen for each opposing team's smaller blocks. What might seem to be a relatively mundane game becomes quite intense when played on ice! Koobs was always a favorite of mine. Come on, how many games do you know that require hurling sticks in the other teams general direction at 20 paces away. Kids, sounds like the perfect "indoor" game if you ask me.
As for indoor activities, Palmer Station supports a gym, lounge, and bar. All of which, are extensively used. The gym is well stocked and you can generally find people working out at all hours. Certain members of Palmer Station have even taken upon themselves to lead exercise programs (i.e. aerobics). Kerry Kells, our resident fitness guru, has traditionally lead the "Guts N' Butts" workout routine for those who enjoy the feeling of nausea and not being able to move the next day.
The lounge is complete with a full entertainment system, library, and collection of DVDs. Several people on station have habitual nights for screening their favorite programs which include 24, Lost, The Sopranos, and Firefly. They tried to recruit me for Lost, I told them as soon as Jack Bauer reaches the island I'll start watching. Several members of the staff also try to get together once a week to watch a new movie (the station receives some new DVDs with each supply ship. There is also a nice card table in the Lounge and, as of late, several card games have taken place.
The bar is a spot for social gathering. Inside you will find a pool table, music center complete with itunes, ping-pong table (covers the pool table), darts, and a popcorn machine. People will often meet there to play pool or talk amongst themselves. There is even a balcony and small watch tower above the bar area for people to lounge and enjoy an amazing view of the stars at night and the glacier and local islands during the day.
Although there are several independent sources for entertainment, most of the time the folks at Palmer Station enjoy activities as a group. Parties, games, and movies are rarely solo functions and the majority of the time includes a good portion of the station population. The other day the workers at the carpenter shop hosted a Cinco de Mayo party that was enjoyed by all. Piñatas, Mexican cuisine, and Spanish music were all present and everybody seemed to be having a great time. Everybody was in attendance. It is not that attendance was mandatory, it is simply that the people down here think and act as if everybody else is part of their extended families and not their coworkers. It is, in all seriousness, a comforting feeling.