Coffee: The New Coconut Shrimp*

Written by Will on . Posted in Expat Life, Nomadic Lifestyle, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on actual events.

Not too long ago I wrote a little piece about the wonders of working in Antarctica. Every bit of it was from the heart and there are times which I feel extremely privileged and lucky to be here. Those times, however, are only the most minuscule part of the overall Antarctic experience. The following account is much more consistent with day-to-day life on the harshest of continents.

Imagine this: You wake up a few minutes late, but no big deal, there should be plenty of time to get to breakfast and get to work on time. It’s winter at a small station so there’s only one cook – so that means that everyone is on their own for breakfast, which for most of us means cold cereal or microwaved leftovers. The onus of making coffee falls upon the coffee drinkers as there are no DAs (Dining Attendants) at Palmer Station. So, there you are, a bit groggy and off-kilter, desperate for your first hit of caffeine to get your day started, but you find that relief is but a mirage as pumping the coffee dispenser only yields a blast of air with a mere misting of coffee. Again, not that big of a deal, it’s pretty easy to make more which begs the question of why the person who ran the pot out of coffee didn’t bother to make more. So, you start a new pot of coffee and figure that while you’re waiting you can get a bowl of cereal together, except, your hopes are once again dashed as you discover there are no bowls where they’re supposed to be. You go grab one of the full racks of dishes from the sanitizer and put them all away, at once doing a service for the community and solving your own bowl dilemma. You pour a bowl of cereal, but it’s the last of the cereal. Rather than be lame like the guy who ran the coffee pot out, you take it upon yourself to get new cereal and refill the container. Of course, to do this you are obligated to properly account for the cereal so there’s a small bit of paperwork to do to issue the cereal out. While you’re engaged in cereal inventory management, you notice that there must be someone around with a little bit of gumption, as they’ve taken the fresh pot of coffee and put it out for service. You also notice that next to the case of cereal, there is an empty box (from which the last of the winter supply of Fritos has been removed – yeah, this is a whole other tangent that one could go completely mad over). Unable to simply let this one slide, you break down the empty box and put it on the cardboard stack. With the bowl debacle solved, the cardboard dealt with, the cereal poured into the bowl, the new cereal issued out and accounted for; the next step is to pour milk on your cereal. Things are starting to get downright frustrating now as you discover the sole carton of milk in the milk cooler is empty. WHO THE HELL PUT THIS THING AWAY EMPTY!!! O.k., off to the walk-in cooler to fetch some more milk. Milk fetched, accounted for, milk poured in bowl of cereal, dishes put away, cereal re-stocked and accounted for and new coffee made and coffee pot in service – ARRGGGHH what’s this – smoke is billowing out of the toaster as someone must have put a too-large piece of bread or something through it and walked away. The smoke is dangerously close to being dense enough to set off the smoke detector which will trigger an entire series of undesirable events. Being the good-Samaritan with a sense of self-preservation, you rush to the toaster to deal with it. Finally, you can settle down with your bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee, except you still haven’t poured a cup of coffee for yourself and you won’t be either, because as you’ve been busy putting away dishes and doing inventory management and responding to toaster emergencies, someone else has been busy drinking all the coffee. The coffee pot is once again EMPTY!!!! YOU BASTARDS!!!

The now soggy cereal in your bowl only adds fuel to your recent homicidal thoughts as you watch, like a hawk, as the new pot of coffee brews. When your official start-work-time comes before the coffee is done, you realize that your entire day is probably going to be an extension of this morning’s events.

*Last year, at The South Pole, the 59 wankers that I spent the winter with devoured an entire meal of coconut shrimp (one of my favorite dishes) prior to my arrival at dinner. I yelled expletives at them – they deserved it. Those same 59 wankers still chide me about it at every opportunity. I sure do miss those guys!



Will Brubaker has been roaming the world for over 20 years. He has been to all seven continents, has successfully landed lucrative contract jobs in international locations, spent two winters in Antarctica, recently lived in Taiwan and is currently enjoying sunsets with his wife from his ocean-view balcony in Huanchaco, Peru.