If you don’t know Ian Wright, you could be living in Antarctica. But it seems even there the inhabitants know him.
As the irreverent host of Lonely Planet’s television show (now called Globe Trekkers), Wright has been almost everywhere in the name of backpacking adventure. From bareback horse riding in Mongolia to hanging off ships in Morocco to being tricked into eating caribou guts in Greenland, Wright has been to the earth’s ends for our armchair pleasure.
Well, almost. Antarctica has been out of reach so far. So what does a Varsity editor do in a last-minute interview with such a globetrotter sitting in his London pad awaiting an interview for his upcoming appearance at Convocation Hall this Sunday? Connect him south, of course. Way south.
Half-an-hour of schmoozing with the Canadian, New Zealand and Australian phone operators can get you many places in this world, but perhaps the furthest of them is Mawson Australian Antarctic research station, located 4,000 km south of Easter Island. And by sheer cosmic fate, who does this editor find at the station bar at midnight with U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” blaring in the background? Why, Phil Rouget of course, the only Canadian for thousands of kilometres around. Of course he turns out to be from the University of New Brunswick doing his Master’s on the local seal population. And, of course, he’s a fan of Ian Wright. And, yes, he would love to stay up another three hours to receive a call, he says. Stop pulling the legs of my thermal underwear, you say? Read the transcript of the teleconference….
Toronto time: 3:25 p.m./ London time: 8:25 p.m./ Mawson station time: 3:25 a.m.
Alex: Are you guys there? Ian, are you with us?
Ian: Yeah, I’m here.
Alex: Phil, are you there too?
Phil: Alex, I’m definitely here.
Alex: Great. So I’m going to chairperson this call. I know we’re all strangers, but my plan was to get all three of us on the phone and chat about what’s it’s like to live in Antarctica. Let me introduce you guys: Ian, this is Phil Rouget, who’s a biologist at Mawson research station in Antarctica.
Ian: How you goin’ down there?
[Shouting, whistling, laughing]
Phil: Hey Ian!
Alex: And Phil, this is Ian Wright, globetrotter extraordinaire.
Ian: What are you guys doing down there? It sounds like a party!
Phil: Yeah, we like to party!
[Everyone talking at once, satellite delay time interfering]
Alex: So Phil, what are you exactly doing there at Mawson?
Phil: I’m a seal biologist. I’m a student in Canada and I’m out here studying one of the four seals here—the Weddell seal. It’s one of the only seals that hangs around during the winter. But mostly I’m hanging out with the Australians—24 Australians. [YEEEHAW!] There’s about five of them around me right now!
Ian: You’re there on your own free will?
Alex: As I was talking about with Ian, he’s never been to Antarctica before. We’re both curious about what you do there on a daily basis, Phil. Can you talk about the station a bit?
Phil: Sure, so my study is I’m working with Weddell seals. I study the breeding herd formation of them. I’m looking for their underwater sounds—they’re amazing. I’m the only scientist on station, so I’m hanging out with 24 “traddies.” These are the people who keep the station alive during the winter, mainly mechanics who run the station on diesel.
Ian: So is this a popular holiday spot, then? When I come out there for three weeks’ vacation, what can I expect?
Phil: Freezing your ass off, really.
Ian: [Chuckles] Love it, love it. So you’re away from everything, from the whole of civilization—is that the appeal, as well?
Phil: Ian, I got a good comparison for you. You were in Greenland and you probably brought your film crew everywhere and you hung out with some Inuit. I know Greenland, I’ve been there. Imagine being in the middle of Greenland with no green—just the ice parts of it. No Inuit. Nothing. And someone decided to set up a station there and live there. Got it?
Ian: Yeah. Part of it appeals to me big-time and part of me says don’t touch it with a barge pole
[Laughter, everyone talking at once].
Ian: And there you are freezing your nuts off!
Alex: Ian, you told me that some of your favourite places in the world have been Greenland and Easter Island, where you’re completely isolated and away from much of civilization. So what do you find so appealing about this?
Ian: Just to be away from all the hustle and bustle because it’s so bloody alien to everything you know, anything you’ve seen before. And it is madness—even up in northern Canada. They’re all lunatics. Lunatics. [Everybody laughing]
Ian: Do you guys get vistors?
Traddie 1: We’re expecting a ship in about three weeks’ time.
Ian: With women?
Traddie 1: Unfortunately, no one will be getting off. It’s a Russian ship that we won’t be able to see. It will only make it within 200 kilometres of the coast and then they’ll fly in the new summer crew.
Ian: How cold does it actually get?
Traddie 1: We got a Met guy here, hold on one sec.
Meteorological guy: Well it goes down to minus 29-ish. And with the windchill factor it’s about minus 55. That’s Celsius, none of this Fahrenheit rubbish.
Ian: Do you have to take your shit back with you? [laughter] Like take it in a little bag back to Australia and spread it all over?
Traddie 2: Actually, on station it gets treated and then pumped out into the ocean here.
Phil: Hey Ian, I saw your UBC talk—I’m from Victoria, British Columbia.
Ian: You were there? Woooooooo! [laughter]
Phil: Hey, small world, small world. How did you like Victoria, by the way?
Ian: I only managed to get to the glove-blowing factory…so I only got a look-around but with a helicopter.
Ian: It sounds like a zoo over there.
Phil: Oh, yeah we got all sorts of wildlife here.
Alex: Phil, can you do some of the seal calls you study?
Phil: Okay, first of all I’ll give you the sound of the baby moose calling to the mama moose: Wooap! Wooap! Wooap! [laughter] Then this is the sound of the mama moose telling the baby moose that everything’s going to be okay: Wooap! Wooap! Wooap! [laughter] And this is the sound of the papa moose saying to the baby moose that mama moose has heard your call and everything is going to be OK: Wooap! Wooap! Wooap! [Laughter]
Alex: Phil, tell us, you record some of these sounds—
Phil: Ooooooooooooowap! Wooap! Wooap! And that’s underwater.
Alex: So what does that mean when the seal’s making that sound? Ian, is it still appealing to live in Antarctica with these guys?
Ian: Well, I feel like I’m there already! It’s great.
Alex: OK, how ‘bout for a last thing, each of us describe what we’re looking at as we’re talking on the phone. I’m sitting here in Toronto, in the news editor’s office on campus. It’s 3:43 p.m. and about 18 degrees Celsius with a clear blue sky—nice autumn day.
Ian: I’m looking at myself in the mirror right now…really, I’m sitting in the front room. It’s been a long day. There’s a fireplace, a plant, I’ve got me smokes. It’s a bit nippy outside but I love it.
Phil: I’m sitting in the Dog Room, which is the memorabilia room of the husky station—they used to run dogs out here at Mawson. There’s nine of us and we’re all wearing wigs and G-strings and we’re playing guitar.
Ian: I’m coming over there!
Alex: OK guys, I have to end it there before my telephone budget busts.
Thanks for doing this. Phil, I’ll give you a call back after I get off the phone with Ian.
Ian: Cheers guys. It was fun.
End of transmission.