Back from dinner after midnight, our evening consisted of reshuffling our bags, moving our toiletries and other daily essentials (pillow, Bill, etc.) from our South American travel bag to our Antarctica packs and duffle, and putting everything we wouldn't need in the next two weeks into our South American bag which would be kept landside until we passed this way again. By around 2am we were ready to catch a few hours sleep before waking at 6am and grabbing some breakfast before we caught our bus back to the airport.
Breakfast at the hotel was a surprisingly full spread, and our team were the only ones up so early on the day after Christmas. Daveen issued us our jackets and Rob distributed team hats and the rest of us filtered down two by two. until we were ready to leave at 7:15.
Attire for the day was full Antarctica gear: Lognjohns and jeans, our heavy coats and Wellington boots ('wellies'). The reasons were twofold: When we stepped off the aircraft we would be in Antarctica proper and would need the gear, and more importantly each of us had a 44lb checked bag weight restriction, and so wearing our heaviest items helped us stay under the limit!
Most people don't fly to Antarctica (they usually take the Drake passage, which will be the subject of a future post), and there isn't any regularly scheduled service. In our case, we were lucky enough to be able to piggyback off of a charter carrying a much larger group. For such trips an organization can charter a BAe-146, a high-wing jet capable of handling rough runways. The high wing helps minimize the damage caused when pieces of gravel fly up from the landing strip, and the undersides of the engine nacelles are coated with a rubberized paint to further deflect damage on takeoff and landing. The runway at King George Island is unpaved and consists mostly of dime-sized rocks, and this plane can handle that.
Of course, that's all great except when the weather at the landing site turns too warm (in this case, a few degrees above freezing) and the frozen material in the runway's foundation softens up a bit too much, in which case the BAe-146's landing gear is too small to support the aircraft's weight on a soft surface. In such circumstances you either have to wait for conditions to change or you need a heartier plane.
In our case, the heartier plane came in the form of a Hercules C-130 transport on loan from the Uruguayan Air Force. Unexpected, but an awesome way to start the day!
Our airport experience was surprisingly mundane, going through security, hanging out in an empty terminal, and going down a rather long jetway to the tarmac. That was pretty much the end of normal, as we were given earplugs and we made our way into the body of the Hercules, down the two rows of bench seating and webbed backs (think paratroopers). The only six windows were about 4 inches across and hardened against artillery attacks.
The in-flight bathroom was a port-a-potty strapped to a cargo palette at the center aft of the plane. The in-flight movie was us staring at each other. :-)
The most important note, if you ever find yourself in a lightly-pressurized transport plane wearing brand new wellington boots: The boots are made to hold their shape and not expand much. Your feet are designed to expand a bit as pressure decreases. If you dislike pain, take your boots off once you're on the plane because the alternative is ow. Ow, ow, ow.
After a flight time of just under 3 hours (and it's pretty fun not being able to see out the window (and you're not prone to air-nausea as Rachel was) and bracing for landing, and bracing, and bracing, and bracing, and easing off, and jolt) we landed in Antarctica! We made it off the plane and met the second half of our guide duo, Tim. Tim's from southern England (near Devon) and has been running expeditions in the Arctic, Antarctic, and other locales for nearly a decade, and it runs in his family. Like Rob, Tim is awesome and we immediately took a liking to him.
From the landing strip we had a half-hour walk down to the beach where our Zodiacs were waiting to take us to the ship. The walk took us past the Chilean air base, helicopters taking off and landing, taking advantage of the rare clear weather. A bit further down the road we came across the waypost:
Next along the path were two abandoned Russian amphibious haulers. They're just so anthropomorphic, like two wartfrogs (like a warthog and a frog) abandoned on the barren martian landscape.
At the shore, we make sure all our bags made it down from the Herc, and Rob says 'Hey, your first penguins!' Lo and behold, a small group of penguins are standing right behind us, completely casual. Our little welcoming party. Rob told us they were Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, and the chin straps were pretty clear. Little did we know just how much we'd learn about penguins over the next two weeks.
Our day's journey complete, we took the zodiacs to the Hanse Explorer anchored in the harbor, thinking our day mostly complete. It was the last time I'd think there would be an afternoon of rest for a good long time. We learned better quickly enough...
Read the next chapter: Day 1: Penguino
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Telling the Story posted Jan 10, 2009
Day 0: Positioning posted Jan 12, 2009
Leaving, on a jet plane posted Jan 12, 2009
» Day 1: The Herc posted Jan 15, 2009
Day 1: Penguino posted Jan 16, 2009
Day 2: Chicken posted Jan 17, 2009
Day 2: Leopard posted Jan 19, 2009
Day 2: Snow Day posted Jan 22, 2009
Day 2: Shipwreck posted Jan 26, 2009
Day 2: Totally Tabular posted Jan 27, 2009
Day 3: Gentoo Cute posted Jan 29, 2009
Day 3: Lichen Shag Glacier posted Feb 3, 2009
Day 3: Palmer Station Visit posted Feb 9, 2009
Day 4: Icy Penguins posted Feb 11, 2009
Day 4: Adelie Awesome posted Feb 15, 2009
Day 4: Leopard Seal Attack posted Feb 17, 2009
Day 4: Kayak posted Feb 19, 2009
Day 4: Vernadsky Station Visit posted Feb 23, 2009
Day 4: Vernadsky Sunset posted Feb 25, 2009
Day 5: Antarctic Circle posted Feb 27, 2009
Day 5: Polar Plunge posted Mar 5, 2009
Day 5: Mouth of The Gullet posted Mar 13, 2009
Day 5: Ice Camping posted Mar 18, 2009
Day 6: Flamingos on Ice posted Mar 20, 2009
Day 6: Mountain Climbing posted Mar 24, 2009
Day 6: Ice Textures posted Mar 26, 2009
Day 6: Antarctic New Years posted Apr 2, 2009
Day 7: Crystal Sound Icebreaker posted Apr 9, 2009
Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1 posted Apr 17, 2009
Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2 posted Apr 21, 2009
Day 8: Bird Watching in the Fish Islands posted Apr 23, 2009
Day 8: Icee Day - Part 1 posted May 5, 2009
Day 8: Icee Day - Part 2 posted May 11, 2009
Day 9: Port Lockroy - Base A posted May 20, 2009
Bonus Chapter: Baby Penguins! posted May 21, 2009
Day 9: Antarctic Humpback Whales posted June 3, 2009
Day 9: Dallmann Butt Sliding posted June 11, 2009
Day 10: Birthday Whales posted June 23, 2009
Day 10: Hannah Point Part 1: The Birds posted July 15, 2009
Day 10: Hannah Point Part 2: Elephant Seals posted July 22, 2009
Day 10: Deception Island - Part 1: Walking on the Moon posted Dec 11, 2009
Day 10: Deception Island - Part 2: The Martian Chronicles of Oz posted Dec 15, 2009
Day 11: Emperor Penguins posted Jan 8, 2010
Day 12: Black and White and Pink All Over posted Aug 4, 2011
More chapters posted every few days...
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