We stand awestruck by the sight of the Sor Rondanes far in the distance - on a clear Antarctica day, you can see forever. The young flight engineer from the Basler says that it could be Mars. But we know better. This is Utsteinen - we are home.
The flags are still fluttering in the light breeze, though a little faded and torn. The two soldiers fix their regimental colours to a free pole, and salute the flag. A little ceremonial moment is always moving when in distant lands.
The expeditionaries begin to unload the plane: coast camp, base camp, coast camp, base camp...the bags and boxes pile up.
A small group regains the plane and we fly to Asuka, the Japanese base that was closed in 1991. The NIPR (Japanese Institute responsible for Antarctic affairs) has allowed the Belgian expedition to use some material and machinery from Asuka this year, and we are going to pick up some bamboo stakes to mark fuel depots and other points on the route from the coast. The sight of all the machinery sitting on Seal Rock is arresting. We overfly the area looking for a sastrugi free zone, but have to land some way off, and complete the rest of the distance on foot. Rows of silent snowmobiles, Gomaru, bulldozers and assorted snow moving machinery greet us. Some have sunk into the snow, creating a scene reminiscent of a Northern sea port with ships frozen in for the winter. There is a feeling of dormant life rather than the melancholy of abandon, perhaps because the Japanese expedition returns next year to reclaim some of the machinery.
However, we can use the bulldozer and a small excavator this year. Frank, the army mechanic is with us and gives the machines his expert assessment. He also succeeds in starting the bulldozer, startling us back into the real world. We give the smaller machine a quick check, and all the key parts, rubber hoses, etc had been replaced, (maybe in 2004 when we came through here with Kenji Ishizawa of the NIPR). Unfortunately, the battery was dead, or we could have started it too.
We fly back to Utsteinen, cold and not a little tired. The day has been long and although it is still light, it is almost ten in the evening.
At the Base Camp, the scene that greets us is immediately heartening. Tents are beginning to spring up and the trench has been excavated. Philippe, the second Army mechanic, is driving around on the skidoo which he has managed to start up. The camp set up continues, while the Basler refuels.
Then we say our good byes to the Coast Party, not knowing when they will return. Alain, Bernard, Benjamin, Joris, Philippe, and Frank board the plane and it taxis on the East side of the ridge and flies over the camp, wheeling Northwards towards Breid Bay. The plane is soon invisible, although we can hear the light drone of its engines in the total silence of the Antarctic.
It is late, and chillingly cold as the sun has slipped silently behind the nunatak. We drink some soup to keep up our energies and continue with establishing the camp, mess tent etc finally building our first water closet in a hurry from tarpaulins, and bamboo, at 4 am.