Scion of Quincy family on work trip in Antarctica
With a heart full of wonder and a nose on break, Juan Becerra fulfills one of his biggest dreams, one endless day at a time.
The electrician, whose home is in Ellensburg but whose roots are in Quincy, is working maintaining the electricity at McMurdo Station, one of the American outposts in Antarctica.
Summer is near in the Southern Hemisphere, so the sun never sets in Antarctica. And although the temperature never gets into suntan lotion territory, the days are filled with sights and sounds the likes of which few if any from this part of the country have gotten to witness.
“Aside from my sister, I don’t think I have ever met anyone else that has been here,” he wrote in an email.
The purpose of the trip is to support the National Science Foundation, which runs McMurdo. As the electrical foreman, Becerra and his team take care of the day-to-day needs of the airfields, the station itself, and its immediate surroundings.
He is under contract from October until late February.
The trip to get there seemed to take almost as long. From Seattle to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand. From Auckland to Christchurch, New Zealand, and from there on to McMurdo.
An 11-day delay due to poor weather in Antarctica afforded him a short vacation in New Zealand, but ever since then, it’s been almost all business. Prior to that, he had to have a physical, an electrocardiogram and blood tests, to make sure the folks at McMurdo were getting a healthy electricity foreman.
“We have a doctor here but for any major health issues it requires a five-hour flight back to New Zealand, if we have a plane here,” Becerra wrote in an email.
So far, squabbles with roommates over snoring notwithstanding, the trip has been a dream come true for Becerra, who describes himself as someone who likes to go places people don’t often go. He credits his world-traveling sister as the inspiration for the trip, and his wife and kids for their blessing.
“(Wife) Andrea and the kids were very supportive. The kids and I told their teachers about this,” he wrote. “I think it makes it slightly easier on the kids to say Dad is doing something cool in Antarctica.”
The Antarctica he lives in and the Antarctica he expected look little alike, he admits.
“I envisioned a cold, flat, block of ice with buildings on it,” he wrote. “It really is not at all what I thought.”
He also envisioned himself layered up like Kenny from “South Park.” Instead, for the last two weeks, it’s been jeans, boots and a pullover for him. Bike rides, hikes, science lectures, and gym workouts fill his free time. It’s cold, below freezing most days, but still, he feels comfortable enough to plan sending back some of the clothes he packed for the trip.
As far as the place being a flat block of ice, the station sits 20 miles away from an active volcano, he wrote. On the other hand, things are so cold that rarely anything has a scent, and being able to smell things is something he misses, along with his family.
Temperatures range around 21 degrees Fahrenheit, but “it feels more like 40ish,” he wrote, since it’s a very dry cold. He has yet to see a penguin, but he has seen a few seals and some birds. He has also met some Italians and New Zealanders from nearby stations.
The New Zealand base even has “American Night.”
“It’s just a few hours on Thursdays when they open up their base to us,” he wrote. “We can shop in their station store and buy (their) merchandise or have a drink in their bar. It’s a nice walk up the hill to them. We do have a shuttle service for that day, but if the weather is nice, it makes for a wonderful walk.”
Despite the extreme temperatures and the fact that he is “about 10,000 miles from everyone and everything I know,” he describes the surroundings as very safe. About 900 people live on station and “lots of thought is put into many tasks, jobs and planning to keep everyone safe.”
The work varies from day to day. Sometimes it’s a light that needs fixing, sometimes it’s an aquarium.
“As electricians we are responsible for getting power to the many buildings out there, the lighting system and various other equipment power needs,” he wrote.
All in an environment that is blessedly free from the distractions of everyday life in the States.
“I don’t have the constant phone going off or normal things like back home,” he wrote. “I do like that it feels like it did growing up.”
He still has almost three full months to go until he leaves Antarctica, but he already has other destinations in mind, both much closer and much warmer. Hawaii in March, Peru, Bolivia and Cuba in June and July.
“You only get to live for so long, so I’d like to travel the world while I’m still somewhat young,” he wrote.
To learn more about his adventures, see his blog at www.juanbecerra.com.
By Sebastian Moraga, firstname.lastname@example.org