I worked at the South Pole where it’s dark for 24 hours a day – we were only allowed only two 2-minute showers a week and celebrated Christmas in July

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Michelle Endo (pictured) - who has been able to 'travel to all seven continents for free' - spent the past year working as a steward coordinator at the Amundsen-Scott research station

A woman who spent a year working at the South Pole has recounted her ‘once in a lifetime experience’, including braving temperatures of minus 106F (minus 77C), celebrating Christmas with a five-kilometer morning run through all 24 time zones and only being allowed a two-minute hot shower twice a week.

Michelle Endo – who has been able to ‘travel to all seven continents for free’ – spent the past year working as a steward coordinator at the Amundsen-Scott research station, the closest base to the South Pole, where the sun only sets and rises once a year, and got to witness the stunning Aurora Australis.

The 32-year-old from San Francisco took the hospitality manager job in November last year so she could visit the Pole without having to fork out thousands of pounds – with week-long trips to the station by plane from Chile costing $59,900 or more per person. 

The travel enthusiast has shared the highs and lows of living in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, after becoming one of just 261 women to witness the South Pole during its perpetually dark winter months of May to August. 

‘It’s obviously cold, but it’s colder than cold,’ she said. 

Michelle Endo (pictured) – who has been able to ‘travel to all seven continents for free’ – spent the past year working as a steward coordinator at the Amundsen-Scott research station

‘The coldest we saw this winter was minus 106F with a wind chill of minus 150F in late June.

‘But then perhaps more surprising is how the body adapts and suddenly minus 113F feels normal.

‘It’s hard to describe.’

The outside temperature at the South Pole regularly reaches more than three times that of a commercial freezer – which run at around minus 4F.

The team would even freeze food by simply leaving it outside. 

And Michelle revealed that it wasn’t just the icy cold – the altitude took ‘at least a week’ to get used to at 2,885m .

‘Walking up a flight of stairs can take the wind out of you,’ she recalled.

‘The pressure altitude also changes so you might go to sleep at 3000 meters but then wake up at 3,500 meters.’

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Christmas at the South Pole also come with its own, unique traditions - including a run through 24 time zones

Christmas at the South Pole also come with its own, unique traditions – including a run through 24 time zones 

Michelle also teamed up with other staff members for a month-long Christmas celebration in July (pictured)

Michelle also teamed up with other staff members for a month-long Christmas celebration in July (pictured)

Michelle also explained that ‘you’re essentially living on a space ship’ while there.

‘Once the last flight of summer leaves mid-February, you’re stuck there until late October,’ she added.

‘We all work and live together in the same building… so while in the real world you could finish your job for the day and go home, we don’t have that at the Pole.’ 

The region has six months of sunshine between November and February, a period known as the austral summer.

After several months of ‘twilight’, on May 10 the polar region is plunged into 24-hour darkness for around six months.

This can lead to a condition called ‘Winter Brain’, Michelle explained admitting that she’s still struggling with it even though her job at the Pole finished in November.

She’s currently taking a few weeks off in New Zealand before heading back to the United States for Christmas. 

‘We’re not as mentally sharp as when we first arrived, or if we’d been living back home,’ she said.

‘Even now after a week since leaving the ice, I am struggling to process some of the most basic communication in a timely manner. 

‘Like the other day when I was ordering a tea at a café – I had to ask the poor staff member to repeat herself three times because I could hear the words she was saying to me, but I just couldn’t make sense of it.’ 

One of the luxuries Michelle missed most was being able to take a long hot shower – and it’s the first thing she did on her return.

‘At the South Pole, we’re only allowed two two-minute showers each week,’ she said.

The 32-year-old from San Francisco took the hospitality manager job in November last year so she could visit the Pole without having to fork out thousands of pounds

The 32-year-old from San Francisco took the hospitality manager job in November last year so she could visit the Pole without having to fork out thousands of pounds

The travel enthusiast has shared the highs and lows of living in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, after becoming one of just 261 women to witness the South Pole during its perpetually dark winter months of May to August

The travel enthusiast has shared the highs and lows of living in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, after becoming one of just 261 women to witness the South Pole during its perpetually dark winter months of May to August

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‘Getting back to the real world and getting to stand under a hot shower for as long as I wanted was amazing.’

But despite the hardships, the traveler also got to enjoy the unique and incredible experiences the Pole has to offer – including a unique Christmas tradition and the ‘out of this world’ Southern Lights.

‘On the morning of our station Christmas, we do a fun run called “Race Around the World”,’ Michelle explained

‘It’s a 5k course that circles the Geographic South Pole so that participants get to run ‘around the world’ through all 24 time zones.

‘Some participants take it seriously, while others like to dress up in fun costumes or onesies to do it.’

Every year, the Antarctic team, who work six days a week – Monday to Saturday, agreed to celebrate on the closest Saturday to December 25.

Michelle said that last year, they delivered small bags of sweets to everyone the night before our station Christmas ‘so that everyone got to wake up to a present’.

‘It’s the small things that make all the difference down there and really boost morale,’ she added.

The team also put up an artificial tree and enjoyed a full blown Christmas dinner prepared by the station chefs and homemade sweets made by a 'talented baker' at the station

The team also put up an artificial tree and enjoyed a full blown Christmas dinner prepared by the station chefs and homemade sweets made by a ‘talented baker’ at the station 

Every year, the Antarctic team, who work six days a week ¿ Monday to Saturday, agreed to celebrate on the closest Saturday to December 25. They also celebrated Christmas in July

Every year, the Antarctic team, who work six days a week – Monday to Saturday, agreed to celebrate on the closest Saturday to December 25. They also celebrated Christmas in July

The team also put up an artificial tree and enjoyed a full blown Christmas dinner prepared by the station chefs and homemade sweets made by a ‘talented baker’ at the station. 

Michelle also teamed up with other staff members for a month-long Christmas celebration in July, with plenty of festive activities, including secret Santa, a cookie decorating workshop and gingerbread house competition.

‘The winter months at Pole tend to be more relaxed as the crew doesn’t change from mid-February to late October,’ she explained.

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‘Since Christmas is my favorite holidays and there were quite a few big Christmas fans, we decided to do a month-long celebration in July.

‘We had more time to deck out the station and really get into the Christmas spirit.’

They created a ‘candy cane lane’ inside the station, and hosted a Christmas dance party, so that everyone could really get into Christmas spirit,’ said Michelle. 

And for her, few things would beat seeing the  Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights – one of the biggest highlights of her Polar adventure.

The month-long Christmas celebration at the Pole in July included a gingerbread house competition

The month-long Christmas celebration at the Pole in July included a gingerbread house competition

The team created a candy cane lane and life size gingerbread house out of cardboard to mark the month long Christmas celebration

The team created a candy cane lane and life size gingerbread house out of cardboard to mark the month long Christmas celebration

‘Granted, I haven’t seen any since the sun came back in September, but they were honestly out of this world,’ Michelle said.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever see or experience anything quite like the auroras we got at the South Pole again.’

Michelle has now visited more than 60 countries, often taking up working gigs such as being an English teacher in Japan and a youth counsellor on cruise ships.

‘Over the last 10 years I’ve taken a variety of jobs around the world that allowed me to travel to all seven continents for free,’ she said.

‘Antarctica was my last continent to visit and I didn’t want to have to pay to go there.

‘Tourists can pay tens of thousands of dollars to visit the South Pole during the summer, but no amount of money at the moment can allow them to visit during the winter and see the auroras this far south.

‘As of this year, only 1,702 people have wintered over at the South Pole, 261 of which have been women.

‘It’s truly a once in a lifetime experience.’

Michelle worked at the station as a steward between November 3 2022 and November 16 2023.

She now helps others follow in her footsteps by sharing her travel tips on her blog, Wander Eat Write and @wandereatwrite.

Find out more about Michelle’s travels by visiting: wandereatwrite.com

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Source: tit.edu.vn

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