OP1, nearly the end

After PJDA, the rush of PO (Port Operations; the "real" first stop-over of the boat of the year) 1 started. It was the end of the trip for me since the boat this time brought me back to Reunion Island. The debriefing, the packing of scientific samples and luggages, the fabrication of a few souvenirs for people staying on base (thanks for your big help, Pascal!)... All that went on really fast and I felt taken by surprise when the boat reappeared in Port-aux-Français on the 27th of March.The logistical operations went on in order to get things ready for the fifty people about to overwinter. They'll stay on base until at least August without provision of new supplies. So they had to take care of the fuel, the last repairs on the huts, the provision of supplies to the huts, the return of the scientific equipment, the scientific studies needing the helicopter to take place, the movements of tourists who were doing the cruise on the Marion Dufresne... and much more! For us, field assistants, we had to manage the Drop Zone (to help load/unload passengers and equipment when the helicopter touches the ground) and other tasks like laying the tables, bringing the food to people for lunches and dinners, helping with the dishes... People from other districts (either coming from Crozet or going to Amsterdam) got on the island and spend some time with us, as well as the persons in charge of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. We spend a few more nice evenings in Totoche (the bar, for those who have not read the other articles). Saying goodbye, on the 31st of March was hard; harder than I'd imagined. A short helicopter ride later we were back to the Marion Dufresne and to our cabins.  We talked to the people overwintering on the radio for a while; they were gathered at the chapel and the port to say goodbye (with smokes, that was nice!). After our last messages and songs, we left Port-aux-Français at the end of the day. We enjoyed for the last time the landscapes of the Passe Royale before it was too dark and we got into our rut on the Marion en route to Amsterdam. For me, it was the repeated counts of marine birds every hour (and I wanna thank all the people who have helped me!!), a few naps and some reading.
We arrived in Amsterdam, a small volcanic island, on the 4th of April. I got off the boat on the same day and I was happy to meet Jeremie again, my colleague birder (thanks for your warm welcome, Jerem, if you read this!). I have been surprised by the heat (I was glad to get my flip-flops, tee-shirts and light trousers out again!), but also by the vegetation (at last, trees and flowers after a few months of "desolation"), by the size of the island and the difference of the general atmosphere compared to Ker; probably because the base in Amsterdam is so small (and cute!! it looks like a holiday camp!!). The first thing I did after dropping off my stuff in my new room was to go to the pier where I could observe lots of Amsterdam fur seals and their pups, as well as elephant seals. After the welcome buffet (with the famous Amsterdam lobsters), I went for a walk with the people from Crozet. We went to the crater of Antonelli for a start. A forest of pines, apple trees and phyllicas grows in the bottom of the crater and it really is a beautiful place. We then went to Pointe-Bé where we went down a small cave leading to a cliff facing the ocean. We got caught out by the rain (I had been told that the weather was always nice in Amsterdam.... I checked with locals and actually it appears that it is always nice, except during the POs....hummm) and went back to base. We spent a nice evening with the people of the base. The next morning, the programme was: a visit of BMG and the Phyllica "Forest" (an endemic tree). In BMG, the cliffs are impressive and the view on the fur seals at the base of the cliffs is surprising. There is also a nice little cabin. The alternation of rain and sunshine gave rise to wonderful rainbows all day long. At night, the barbecue, at the Cabanon (the hideout of the guys of Amsterdam working for the navy), was really nice (thanks again for the welcome guys, it was really nice!). On the 5th, we went back on board and left to go to Saint-Paul Island, a crater partly collpased, 50 miles away from Amsterdam. We reached it the next morning. Once again, we discovered beautiful landscapes, although we could not get on land because the operations were so fast. We saw the Austral (a fishing boat), a few killer whales and a lot of birds (shy albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, Amsterdam albatrosses (one of the rarest birds on Earth), and others); some people fished for a while and we went back to Amsterdam. We reached the island in the afternoun; the last people who had to get on the boat came back and the boat left, with killer whales escorting us. We went round the island to the west to discover beautiful cliffs, and especially Entrecasteaux, of which we could catch a glimpse through the thick fog.  After those amazing landscapes, we headed for Reunion Island. We were busy with a lot of interesting presentations, as well as nice evenings and aperitifs (thanks to the tourists and the operation manager!), a barbecue on the Drop Zone, a photo competition, and bird counts that were less and less fascinating because of the rarefaction of species until we arrived in Reunion Island on the 12th of April. End of the adventure...


Amsterdam Island: Antonelli crater


Amsterdam Island: subantarctic fur seals


The Marion Dufresne anchored in Amsterdam


Saint-Paul Island

Thank you!

During those past few months, I've trained to do the field work I was hired to do in Kerguelen in the Center of Biological Studies in Chizé; I've played wolleyball; I've met my colleagues and other guys who were in love with the southern lands; I've had a one-day climbing session; I've had drinks and spent nice evenings; I've took part in a week-long seminar at the French Polar Institute in Brest, which allowed me to meet the people about to go overwinter in the different districts and assisted to different presentations on logistics, research in those territories and other interesting themes; I've set foot on the Marion Dufresne, the boat bringing people to the French Southern and Antarctic Lands; I've been glad to realize that I wasn't seasick; I've counted marine birds with my colleagues every hour from sunrise to sunset; I've seen my first albatrosses and petrels; I've arrived in Crozet where we could unfortunately not get on land; I've seen there my first penguins and elephants seals, with my binoculars in the Baie du Marin; my heart missed a beat for the first time when the persons about to overwinter in Crozet left us; I've arrived in Kerguelen and discovered the base of Port-aux-Français – home sweet home!; I've met great people from every kind of occupation; I've done field trips in the Courbet Peninsula and in one of the islands of the Gulf of Morbihan; I've done long transits; my feet have hurt like hell because of blisters; I've have never felt so happy when arriving at destination;  I've lived in huts and cabins; I've not showered for days; I've appreciated being in a cabin when the wind blew hard outside and made the walls vibrate; I've been cold sometimes; I have enjoyed heaters to warm up; I've contemplated beautiful sunrises and sunsets and clouds like you can only see here; I've hold penguins, shags, albatrosses and petrels in my hands; I've learned a lot; I've loved my job; I've looked for reindeers often and as I thought I would never see them, one appeared on my last field trip, I've found it wonderful to sit on top of a cliff and to see the wandering albatrosses fly past so close that I could hear the noise of their wings; I've never been closer to nature; I've fitted birds with different devices to study their foraging ecology; I've seen Commerson dolphins; I've been on the barge, either to be dropped off in the field or as a « tourist » and I've baked chocolate cake for the captain; I've loved the smiles of the people welcoming us back on base after long periods spent in the field; I've spent Christmas and New Year in the field with my colleagues; I've spent nice evenings in Totoche, the bar; I've seen the Marion come back several times during the port operations and I've been glad to see it leave without having to jump on; the Marion has taken people I didn't want to leave; I've appreciated the cosiness of my room when I was back from the field – emails, phone, shower, heater...; I've wondered why humans always end up destroying everything; I've learned to fish trouts, to make carpacio and to skin rabbits; rain, snow and hail have sometimes prevented me from walking straight; I've jumped on elephant seals; I've stand next to the biggest flying bird there is; I've appreciated living in a world where men have modified the environment less than in other places I'd been; I've helped the guy studying cats; I've had « Benny Hill moments » running after fur seals to try to catch them; I've had spikes of a local plants all over my clothes and hated it; I've caught fur seal pups to measure and weigh them and it was a piece of work; I've laughed; I've cried; I've wanted the time to stop sometimes; I've discovered Armor and Port-Jeanne-d-Arc, two sites representing two unsuccessful attempts to harvest this wild territory, as if nature, here, refused to obbey and provide men with what they came for at least in the long run; I've seen aurora australis dance in the sky; I've taken a lot of photos; I've never found words that helpless to describe the intensity of this experience to my kins; I've received letters and packages from the other end of the world and it made me very happy; I've thought that realizing one's dream was fantastic; I've admired pure skies full of stars and looked for the Southern Cross; I've left behing amazing people and I've cried some more; the Marion Dufresne has brought me back; I've spent a few days on Amsterdam Island; I've been amazed to see flowers and butterflies after so long; I've seen a bunch of rainbows come and go in one day; I've discovered new landscapes; I've eaten lobsters; I've seen even more fur seals; I've spent evenings in the Cabanon where people were so welcoming; I've seen killer whales next swimming so close to the boat that I felt like they were saying goodbye; I've been lucky enough to see Saint-Paul Island; I've been lost when back to Reunion but even more to France; I've been moved by the « southern syndrome »; I haven't keep in touch with some people I was expecting to keep on communicating with and I've been surprised to keep in touch with other people I wasn't getting along with as much; I haven't understood what some people in the « real life » did when I got back and I've found absurd some aspects of it; I've gone back to Chizé and I've been glad to see some friends again; I’ve started to apply for PhDs;  I've analysed data and I've written my first scientific article; I've sworn to myself that I would go back. I could add to this list so many things but I think you got the point. So to all the people who have allowed me to live the dream and have this unique experience I owe to say thank you. A huge thank you to the ones who have accompanied me, to the ones who have taught me the skills I needed and so much more, to the ones who have made me dream, to the ones who have encouraged me, to the ones who have made me smile, to the ones who have hold my hand, to the ones who have made time fly, to the ones who have given me the will to come back, to the ones who have not forgotten me even though I was that far away, to the ones who have respected this unique ecosystem, to the ones who have been able to not say anything sometimes, to the ones who have trusted me; to the ones who have the « southern virus »... This would not have been possible without you.


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