Working abroad is a great way to really get under the skin of a destination. And whilst many of us might opt for somewhere sunny or exotic, for adventure-loving Laura Martin her sights were set on el fin del mundo (the end of the world) and beyond.
So when Laura spotted a job opening for the role of Antarctic postie down in Port Lockroy, Antarctica, she leapt at the chance to experience the most epic of occupational journeys.
Having spent a season working amongst penguins, postcards and stunning panoramas in one of the most intriguing locations on earth, this was one explorer we had to know more about.
Where was your last trip?
Before heading to Antarctica I was in the Scottish Highlands, walking in the mountains and staying in numerous bothies (a small shelter typically found in remote regions). I was working towards an outdoor qualification which required lots of mountain days, so I bought a few maps, chose some mountains and packed a bag.
Where is your next trip?
The gateway to Antarctica is El fin del mundo, otherwise known as Ushuaia in Argentina, so on my return I’ll pack my bags and walking boots and head for Patagonia. It will be so nice to get into the mountains and pass rivers and trees – things I realised I missed whilst down at Port Lockroy.
What is your first travel-related memory?
Heading for the beach with my family. We would pack a huge bag of buckets and spades and my sister and I would keep ourselves busy for hours.
Aisle or window seat?
It always has to be a window seat because you never know what you’ll see. I have been lucky enough to see some amazing sunrises, sunsets, stars, thunderstorms, lightning, fireworks – and I sometimes even work out where my house is from up in the air.
Favourite city or country or region?
The Scottish Highlands. I feel so at home when I’m wandering in the hills and, whilst I have spent a fair bit of time exploring, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface.
Take us through a day in the life of an Antarctic postal worker.
Life at Port Lockroy was always varied and always busy. If any ships or yachts were visiting us, we had to make sure the rocks were guano (penguin poop) free, the shop was restocked and the museum ready for visitors.
After a ship visit, it was always a fun task to open the post box and see how many postcards we had to frank before sending them on their way to Stanley in the Falkland Islands via a ship. If there were no ships visiting, the weather would dictate whether we spent the day painting the buildings – every year they need a new coat of paint to prepare them for the winter – or whether we headed for the shelter of the museum to survey the condition of the artefacts.
On top of that, we monitored the gentoo penguin population on the island by completing three island counts throughout the season; firstly counting the number of nests and eggs, secondly the number of chicks and finally the number of chicks in their creches.
Why did you apply for the role of Antarctic postal worker?
I’ve always wanted to work down in Antarctica ever since I saw an ice cream advert at the cinema when I was younger and realised that people can actually survive down there. When I came across this job, I realised it was something that I could actually apply for and that my dream could become a reality.
Why do you think it is so important to preserve this remote hub?
Preserving historical sites such as Port Lockroy has enabled thousands of lucky visitors to experience a tiny slither of what life was and is like down here for explorers and scientists. The majority of visitors that we met had experienced the ‘trip of a lifetime’ and will head back to their home country with a new respect and admiration for the white continent, which, in turn, will hopefully lead to its preservation and conservation for many years to come.
What is the most challenging thing about living and working in Antarctica?
The most challenging thing for me was to make the most of every day. It is such a unique place and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to spend some time here.
Making sure that even during a busy day I took a few precious minutes to gaze out to sea and up at the surrounding peaks, watch the gentoos build their nests and listen to the rumbles of avalanches and glaciers was sometimes a challenge, but one I knew I would appreciate, so I would try my hardest to make a bit of time to soak everything in (including the rain!).
Did you take any home comforts?
We were able to send a ‘p-box’ (for personal items) with our cargo delivery, so I tried to think of what I would really appreciate when I was down there. My favourite items turned out to be two tins of haggis that I surprised the team with when I cooked ‘haggis, tatties and carrots’ (unfortunately no ‘neeps’) for St Andrew's Day and also a Chocolate Orange.
How do you get along with the local residents, aka the 2000 penguins?
I loved living amongst the gentoos as it made me really appreciate the various wildlife that we were lucky to spot.
One of the most special moments was catching a glimpse of a chick hatching and then visiting the nest everyday to watch the chick grow until one day it was big enough to leave the nest.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
My best souvenir is my penny whistle that I bought years ago whilst hitch-hiking in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland with a friend. Through lots of trial and error, we managed a rendition of ‘In the Jungle’, which whiled away many hours on the road waiting for a friendly passer-by, and now I carry it everywhere I go.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you have received?
The best piece of advice may have been from my sister who encouraged me to experience travelling alone, as it has enabled me to enjoy and cherish unique opportunities and experiences and not to be scared to head to somewhere that I do not know.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you would rush to fulfill?
I have always wanted to pack my bags and head to New Zealand, so I think that will be my next big adventure!
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
Live for the moment and enjoy the independence of travelling alone, even if it is just for a few days, because the opportunities you take and the things you learn by yourself will change your outlook on life. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone rather than regretting not taking the chance to do so.
Port Lockroy is managed by the folks at UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT). Find out more about the work they do here ukaht.org.