Chile & Antarctica, Day 8: Welcome to the White Continent, Part 1

Day 8 and we finally embarked on our REAL adventure. 4:30 AM came dark and early. We boarded the airport van at 5:00 and drove the half-hour to the airport. The four of us got checked in at the DAP airport counter and then headed outside to board our small airplane.
The pilots greeted us and we settled in for breakfast during the 2.5 hour flight to Antarctica.
We flew over the Magellan Straits, Tierra del Fuego Island, the Darwin Mountain Range, Cape Horn and the Drake Passage. As we neared Antarctica and started seeing icebergs, the excitement and anticipation really started sinking in.
We landed, the plane doors opened, and it was COLD, gray, and windy. Our first stop was the bathroom - there hadn't been one on the plane - and then we layered on the rest of our clothes.
I was wearing a pair of 'Warmest' leggings, jeans, and snow pants on the bottom and an Underarmour shirt, hoodie, and a waterproof jacket on top - along with a hat, scarf, and gloves and they provided us waterproof boots.
We saw Alejo and met the members of our team, Ignacio, Teddy, and Alfonso. We spent the majority of our time with Ignacio and saw Alfonso the least. Almost immediately, we started out on our walk to the sea elephant colony located in the Drake Passage area with Ignacio and Teddy. Trekking through all this snow was exhausting!
But the payoff was more than worth it to see fur seals, crabeater seals, and a handful of penguins.
Fur Seal
Truth be told, we thought this guy was dead for a long time.  Then I happened to catch sight of him moving, thank goodness!
Crabeater Seal
He's alive!
After the long hike there and back, we went to Bellingshausen, the Russian station for hot cocoa and a snack, which was three ham sandwiches and a couple of side items. I was starting to get a little worried about food since I couldn't eat a single one of these sandwiches. Even though we had confirmed with the company at least three times that we are vegetarian [and they assured us time and time again that that wouldn't be an issue!], the food never got better.
Brown Skua
We headed out for another walk to the Russian Orthodox Trinity Church, the southernmost Eastern Orthodox church in the world.  Interestingly, beginning in the 1990s, there was a project to establish a permanent church on Antarctica. The structure was built in traditional Russian style by carpenters, then dismantled and shipped to King George Island, where it was assembled on high ground near the seashore by the staff of Bellingshausen Station.  The church is manned year-round by one or two Orthodox priests. The priests pray for the souls of the 64 Russian people who have died in Antarctic expeditions and serve the spiritual needs of the staff of Bellingshausen and the nearby Chilean, Polish, and Korean research stations. We climbed up the ladder to peer at the bells in the room above.
We ate lunch at Bellingshausen, where we officially confirmed that there were no vegetarian meals for us. :( We were joined by a Korean who had been stranded at the Russian research station for four days because the weather had been too rough for him to make the journey by boat to the Korean station.
Chinstrap penguins swimming
Gentoo penguin
We lazed about on the beach for a while watching some penguins play. The Australian Broadcasting Company was shooting a documentary here, so we watched them film for a while. They were actually interested in meeting up with the group to film some of us later, but Alejo didn't like that idea.
It had been a cold day so far, but we were outside getting a lot of exercise, so it didn't feel too bad. Seeing the seals and penguins up close was freaking awesome, and it was getting close to time to embark on our next mini adventure.



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