Bourdain’s Field Notes

There’s been some whiskey drinking. The blue-tinged ice cubes in our glasses—older, we are told, than the very idea of whiskey. It’s warm tonight by local standards, which can see temperatures drop to 50 below and beyond. So, as one does in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, at the bottom of the world, I go to the beach and play Frisbee.

I pick my way across the ice-covered lake, unsteady on my crampons, and flop gratefully down on soft sand, staring up at a midnight sun that never sets. Behind me a few yards away, looming overhead, is the massive, 200-foot-high wall of a glacier. In the other direction, what looks very much like Mars.

Rarely, if ever, has an episode of “Parts Unknown” so descriptively lived up to its title. Antarctica is the last un-fucked-up place on Earth. Chances are you can’t go there. Certainly not the way we did.

We were extremely fortunate to have been invited by the National Science Foundation. Which meant that, along with incredible access and logistical support, there were rules and requirements.

All of us on the crew had to get rigorous medical exams, full labs, dental—the works. You break your hip at the South Pole, it’s going to be difficult and expensive to get you out. If your helicopter or your C-130 plane has to ditch, requiring an overnight stay on the ice, you better be physically up to it and fully briefed on procedure.

As unbelievably beautiful and unspoiled as Antarctica is, it’s no joke if things go wrong.

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Travel like Bourdain

“Antarctica was a great mystery for most of human history, only a theory, a great white space at the bottom of the world.”


Fuelees: People who work in fuel.

Wastees: People who handle waste generated by the stations.

Freshies: Food that’s not frozen or canned.

Know Before You Go

In Antarctica the sun sets and rises once a year. There is twilight in late March, five months of dark and extreme cold lasting until September. And then there’s six months of constant sunlight. “It can and does fry the brain,” Bourdain said.

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