The Zippo at the Bottom of the World

You’ve read accounts of life at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, many of them right here. It seems that anyone who goes to McMurdo wants to write about it. I can understand why, as living in Antarctica is like nothing else on earth. Also, just getting to McMurdo is quite a feat. One of the most coveted souvenirs is a Zippo lighter with Antarctica on the side, sold in the McMurdo gift shop. But to get one, you have to endure weeks on a boat from New Zealand, hope that the ice conditions allow your ship into the Ross Sea and then into McMurdo Sound, and even then, you must be invited to disembark at McMurdo. And that depends on how busy the Americans who live there happen to be that day. Maciej Cegłowski gives us an unvarnished account of what a port of call there is like.

McMurdo looks like a series of shipwrecks that people have tried to make the best of. Four diarrhea-brown dormitories dominate the landscape. Behind them is an assortment of white fuel tanks, pressed into the dirt like oversize aspirin, and between these large structures extends a chaos of pallets, antennas, earth-moving equipment, sewer pipes, and general rubble. A fat radome perches on the ridge line like a giant’s golf ball. We can hear earth-moving equipment growling in the volcanic dirt, as if the island hasn't been put through enough. The whole visible part of the peninsula has been bulldozed into terraces to try and contain the American base.

It’s not just that McMurdo station is ugly—and it is lens-shatteringly ugly—but that there is so damned much of it. After sailing for three weeks with no signs of human activity, no power lines, no chemtrails, no evidence that we exist on the planet at all except for a mournful wooden cabin at Cape Adare, it’s jarring to see this open-air museum of prefabricated regret. Only the United States could find a way to create sprawl with a thousand people.

The experience of McMurdo Station may be adventurous and life-changing for the Americans who work there, but it is very different for tourists. As depressingly funny as the story is, it also contains the history of McMurdo station and a look at its various landmarks and facilities. -via Metafilter

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