After a brief hiccup with our internet — we now have the ability to send messages again.
After a day of final business emails, websurfing and calls to home, we departed Cape Town. We left the hotel around 7pm to head to the airport. Our departure from Cape Town was surprisingly like a normal international flight. Our flight on the departures board, just like the flights to London or Dubai. We had our bags weighed and ticketed at the counter, just as you would with a normal flight. After we dropped off our bags at the oversized luggage area we went through security with the other passengers. Our flight had a special line at security where they checked us off against the passenger list for the Antarctic flight. Because our flight was international, we had to go through exit immigration before we got to the international gates. When the time came to board our plane, we got onto a bus that took us out to the plane on the tarmac.
Seeing the plane that would take us to Antarctica for the first time was quite the sight. The plane is wide and has four engines like a 747 but seemed much shorter. We boarded by row number. Our group was seated in rows 7 and 8 and was among the last to get on the plane. There were only 9 rows with six seats per row. Crew sat in the last row behind us. Behind the seats were two bathrooms (portapotties!) and our hand luggage that contained our cold weather gear. Behind that was netting that separated us from the pallets cargo (food, science gear, etc).
Because this is a military plane, there were no bells and whistles. There was no paneling that covered up the inner workings (wires and cables) of the plane. Also, unlike the inside of a regular passenger plane, the ceiling was quite high (~5 meters, ~15 feet). There were a number of flags from different countries hanging from the ceiling, which gave the interior some ambience. There was also a large TV screen at the front, which showed the video from the nose-cam. This may have been the first time that I flew in a plane with no windows, which made me realize how frequently I look out the window of an airplane! It was nice to have the video to see what it looked like outside.
Then we took off! It was strange to consider that six hours later we would be landing on the ice! For the first hour I slept. But I woke up when they were handing out the food. Just like a normal airline flight, we were given a boxed meal. At the front of the seating area there was an assortment of drinks. After the meal they even had a coffee service! During the flight they showed nature movies from Svalbard and Antarctica. Between the movies they would show us the view from the nose cam. It was fascinating to see the sun come back as we flew further south, even though it was the middle of the night. It was dark when we took off from Cape Town. But midway through the flight, the sun started to arise in the direction we were headed (south). By the time we crossed the Antarctic Circle it was bright like midday even though it was the middle of the night!
We landed at the airstrip by the Norwegian station Troll. When we landed the temperature was -13 C and the snow was somewhat crunchy when you walked. The airfield is about 10 km away from the station itself, so we never got to see the station. However at the airfield they had parking for multiple airplanes, a mess tent, a sleeping tent and a few toilet tents. So for a seven hour layover, it wasnt that bad! We had some coffee and cookies in the heated mess tent. Then a few of us went to the sleeping tent, where there were cots, with sleeping bags and blankets. I was able to get a few hours of sleep before it was our tour to fly away in a small plane.
They loaded our gear and gear for another team onto DC3. It was surprising how much gear they got onto the plane! After the gear was secured, we took off and flew to the airstrip for the Russian base Novo, about 45 minutes away. Just like Troll, Novo airstrip is about 10km away from the station itself, so we never got to see the station. However, at the airstrip there were multiple mobile living structures set up, included a cafeteria and toilets. The other team was staying at Novo for a few days so they left. Our team spent about in the cafeteria and had more coffee and cookies! It was really mild at Novo, around freezing. The snow was quite granular and you had to push to walk through it! After the pilots had refueled the plane, we were off again.
The flight to Princess Elisabeth was beautiful. The ground below us was not a single uniform texture or color. We saw blue ice, pink snow and various shades of grey and white. It was surprising to me that from our cruising altitude (probably 10,000 feet) we could see cracks in the blue ice that were filled with pink snow. Also there were small mountains to the south for most of the flight. When we arrived at Princess Elisabeth, we first flew over the runway and station, which give us a nice view of the station. We then circled around and landed. Because a plane arriving is such an event, we were greeting by everyone at the station! They enthusiastically helped us unload the plane. We flew in with 32 boxes of food, plus our own luggage. It was -8C and blue skies when we arrived yesterday.
Once we got to the station, we were given a station tour and shown where our room was. We got settled and have been resting up from the long journey. In another blog post, I will write about the station itself. But for the time being, I can say that we are very happy to call this home for the next month and are excited to start exploring the region!