Melissa Harris-Perry: Pretend you're in Antarctica. No, this isn't a trip to Santa's workshop, that's the other pole. Head south, and not on a cruise ship. Imagine you're living in Antarctica, no running water, no flushing toilets, but don't worry, there is plenty of penguin poop and postal packages.
Santa: Good news, everyone.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That scenario could become a reality if you're one of the few people selected from hundreds of candidates who've applied to relocate to the Port Lockroy Station on Goudier Island in Antarctica from November through March. There, you'll staff the most remote post office in the world, and you'll be tasked with counting and cleaning up after Gentoo penguins, lots of pooping Gentoo penguins.
Yes, that's what they sound like. Ooh, that's a baby, but we wanted to find out more about counting penguins in Port Lockroy, so we spoke with Vicky Inglis, a former postmaster and current field operation coordinator for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. How much mail is actually coming and going out of Port Lockroy in Antarctica?
Vicki Inglis: Quite a large amount. It's the southernmost public post office in the world, and for tourists who are visiting Antarctica, it's the opportunity to send postcards back to friends and family back home to remind themselves of the experiences that they've had. I think we receive something like 80,000 different pieces of mail that go through the post box, and these are all hand canceled, packaged up by the postmaster, sent out on a ship to Stanley in the Falkland Islands, and then on a military flight back to the UK before they start their journey around the world.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you're there, are you in fact counting penguins, and why?
Vicki Inglis: Yes. That's another part of the role that, I guess, is very different to any other postal job anywhere in the world. Goudier Island where the bay sea building is is right in the middle of a colony of Gentoo penguins, and as long as there's been a presence from UKAHT down there and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, as long as they've been there running the post office, we've also been keeping tabs on the penguin population, so making counts of the nests and the chicks that are raised every year just to see if we can monitor the impact of tourism on the penguin colony there, and that all contributes to a data set that the British Antarctic Survey have been maintaining for well over 20 years now.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What are the Gentoo penguins like? Are they friendly?
Vicki Inglis: They're about knee-high, and they're absolutely gorgeous. You can't not love a penguin. Unfortunately, they're just really not very interested in us, so they carry on doing their business and wandering around the island and making their pairs and defending their nests from other creatures that are out there and raising their chicks. Everything happens around about us, but they're wild creatures. They're not there for cuddles and being friends, unfortunately.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What do they sound like?
Vicki Inglis: They've got a very distinctive call, this sort of trumpeting noise that they make.
When we have other penguins turn up, so occasionally on the island, we might get Chinstraps or Adélie penguins that come ashore on the island. You can pick out immediately when there's a different penguin there because they all have their individual calls that you can hear because it also doesn't really get dark. We're not quite far enough south to have a true midnight sun, but through the peak of the season, it only gets very light twilight, and the penguins keep their trumpeting and they're chattering up all night, so you do miss the sound when you leave the island.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What were you doing when you weren't counting penguins or packaging off the mail?
Vicki Inglis: Well, it's a very small island that we are living on. Goudier Island itself is a small island within the bay of Port Lockroy, and on the island, there is the historic BCE building, and then we actually have a much more modern accommodation building where we live, but the island itself is maybe about the size of a soccer pitch. Half of that as well is considered to be a penguin sanctuary, so the only times that we would go in would be to do the monitoring work or to change memory cards in the camera traps that are filming the penguins there.
We actually don't have a lot of room to get out and to wander around. You do spend a lot of your time sitting quietly reading maybe or watching films. Although accommodation is quite basic, it's well-insulated. We've got a nice fire to sit with. We've got a good stove for cooking. There's a few things that take a little bit more than maybe we're used to here with not having access to running water and things like that. It does take a lot to just manage living on the island.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You said that you do miss the sound of the penguins once you've left. What else do you find that you ever yearn for or miss about that part of your life?
Vicki Inglis: I think with the penguins as well as the sound, you do actually miss the smell. That's one of the biggest things about the penguin colony is you can definitely smell it before you arrive there, you can hear the sound of all the penguin calls. It's quite an experience for all of your senses, and because of that, I think you get used to just experiencing things much more closely using all your senses, and perhaps you would do back at home just when you're used to things a bit more every day.
It's one of these experiences that I really enjoyed how immersed you become in the surroundings and noticing things and small details and changes in the weather and the way the ice moves and how things are going through the season, the amount of light or the different birds that are there, how the chicks that are on the island, the penguin chicks grew up and start to become little adult birds and things. You get very in tune with everything that's going on around you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What's the next big adventure for you because it seems to me like that was certainly a big adventure?
Vicki Inglis: Hopefully, I shall be going back down along with the new team that are going there. I'm now working for the organization for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust as their field operations coordinator. I'm the person who's sorting everything out, all the logistics and things to make sure that the team who are going down there is going to be successful, that they receive all their provisions and all the materials that they need for their seasons. It's really changed what I thought I was interested in, and it's kept pulling me back towards Antarctica and that experience.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Vicki Inglis, former postmaster at the Port Lockroy Station in Antarctica, thank you so much for joining us today.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.