Bye Antarctica :(

    My travel out of the South Pole and McMurdo Station were surprisingly smooth. I was personally hoping for delays and more time "on the ice" but the Fates weren't with me. Or maybe they were?! Travel in Antarctica is notoriously unpredictable, but not when you're trying to stay I guess!

    Elaine stands in front of an LC-130 on the snow runway
    Smiling through the tears - sad to go, but BECAUSE of the amazing memories!

    What is this feeling?!

    My first thoughts - OMG IT IS HOT HERE. It's about 50 and overcast and I feel like I'm in a SAUNA. All of my fellow passengers immediately started taking off all our cold weather gear while in line at customs. I reclaimed my shorts and t-shirts that I had left here at the CDC(abbreviation) Clothing Distribution Center (or Centre as they spell it in New Zealand) and immediately put them on. All the locals are in pants and rain jackets but not me! I miss the cold! It's weird to walk outside and NOT have the wind burn your face 5 minutes later.

    After a shower, I blew my nose and I think everything that has been dried up and frozen in my sinuses for the past 3 weeks finally leaked out. (Sorry if this is too much information but it's definitely real life). This means I can smell again! I went out for groceries and I smelled rain and plants again and I was happy.

    Elaine enjoying rain in New Zealand

    I immediately went out to find FRESH FRUIT. I bought so much. I knew I missed it but I didn't realize HOW much I missed it until I had some peaches and fresh raspberries. I'm so so so happy. I also bought chocolate. Happiness multiplied. Then I ate a giant burrito on my balcony enjoying the heat and rain. If I can't stay in Antarctica, this isn't a bad place to be.

    A grocery basket filled with fruits
    All my favorite things!

    Exploring the South Island

    After leaving Antarctica, I got to spend two weeks exploring New Zealand! I absolutely love to travel, and New Zealand has been high on my bucket list. I IMMEDIATELY got sunburnt - even while wearing sunscreen! My skin hasn't seen the sun in 4 weeks and it didn't know what to do!

    Elaine stands on a rock in a teal lake
    Walking around Lake Tekapo. My last picture pre-sunburn :(

    My first stop was Lake Tekapo which is a dark sky reserve. I watched the sunset for the first time in a month, and I saw STARS! It was seriously the most amazing night sky I've ever seen.

    Stars above an observatory
    This was my first time stargazing in the Southern Hemisphere and it was breathtaking. I definitely cried. Look for the constellation Orion above the observatory!

    The Milky Way in the night sky
    View of the Milky Way from New Zealand. If you look closely you can see the Southern Cross in the center!

    New Zealand is TOO BEAUTIFUL. It seriously took me forever to drive anywhere because I had to keep stopping for pictures. The lakes are legitimately as teal as a crayon. I promise these photos are just from my iPhone.

    Three pictures of teal lakes. Elaine smiles in the center photo
    Left to Right: Hooker Lake, Lake Wanaka, Lake Pukaki.

    Back in Los Angeles

    It was super weird flying back into Los Angeles. The planes always come into LAX passing downtown, and the California Science Center. It looks the same! But I know I am not the same as when I left. This experience has definitely changed my life, even in ways I don't quite know yet.

    View of downtown from the plane
    You can see the California Science Center! Left of the 110 Freeway, next to the LA Coliseum :)

    I am back to work, leading field trips, teaching my high school biology classes, and starting to write summer camp curriculum. But I updated my classroom decor to include this amazing experience! I can't wait to look at my flag every day and remember all the amazing people I met, and tell all my students ALL the stories!

    Elaine stands in her classroom
    It feels weird to be back here. But also natural? I can't explain it.

    Picture of a flag with signatures on it
    An amazing reminder of Antarctica that makes me feel at home again when I miss it :)

    What's next?

    I started going through my pictures and I took over 10,000 :D There is so much more I want to share and tell you about so keep an eye on my @elaine.explains channels (Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube) for more fun science and Antarctica information! It's been a dream sharing my experience real time with you, but I also can't wait to upload videos on fast internet again :)

    Thank you!

    I just want to end this journal with one last THANK YOU to everyone who got me here, everyone who supported me from a far, as well as everyone I met on the coolest continent in the world. I can't wait for what's next!

    A blurry penguin with an arrow pointing to it
    For all those who read to the end - I SAW ONE PENGUIN. It's an emperor molting off of Scott Base. This was the best picture I could manage :)

    California Science Center