My first morning waking up in Antarctica! After a breakfast of creamy rice porridge (with an extensive option also of bread, cheese, fish, pizza, deep fried battered sausage roll, jelly and macaroons) we visited Bellingshausen’s closest neighbours – a few minutes trudge through (sometimes knee or thigh) deep snow past the Chilean Villa de las Estrellas (the only “village” in Antarctica and home to 47 people – which also has a school, hospital and post office, though this was rather snow covered and, not surprisingly, closed) – and on to Escudero, the Chilean base. The snow drift reaches the windows of some buildings here, and even the roofs of others. It has been snowing on and off all day (to varying degrees), though Lydia, in a tiny window of opportunity mid-morning, was able to take off to continue her journey to Halley.
In Escudero we met Frederiko, an Argentinian logistics officer who invited us in for a welcome coffee with condensed milk and chocolate chip cookies and entertainment provided by Chilean rock radio. Escudero houses INACH (Instituto Antarctico Chileno – the Chilean equivalent of the Dallman institute which we will be working in at Jubany). We were introduced to the Chilean base commander, Alan, who said he would see if he would be able to help us transport our cargo via helicopter to Jubany once the weather settles and explained the difficulties associated with boat travel at this time of year. The sea ice only started melting last week so there are no zodiacs on the water yet and, without the availability of a rescue vehicle, it’s not safe to launch a zodiac with no emergency backup. A helicopter is the only other potential means of transport to Jubany other than by sea but the Chilean military are not allowed to carry civilians without the permission of the relevant embassy. At almost 300kg a helicopter would be the preferred option for our cargo rather than several journeys by zodiac but we will see. Everything is determined by the weather so for now we have no option but to sit and wait for it to clear and be very grateful for our wonderful Russian hosts.
Back at Bellingshausen the wildlife population of one skua outside the dining building yesterday had become two by late morning and three by the afternoon – large, brown and distinguishable within the white snow. In the bay there was also a large flock of Antarctic tern at the waters edge. Within the cove the sea ice drifts slowly, large strangely shaped chunks of blue-white ice contrasting against the dark water and grey sky.
After a substantial lunch of delicious pork stew, slabs of roast turkey, lettuce and crab stick salad, bread, cheese, pizza, tangerine jelly, macaroons and raspberry drink, accompanied by the cooks choice of Chilean music, we tied up the crates of field gear (currently stored by the beach) in anticipation of a 40 knot afternoon breeze and headed back through the developing semi-blizzard to the comfort of our Russian accomodation. After dinner(turkey, cabbage, a Russian speciality which was a cross between tortellini and dimsun filled with meat balls, turkey and vegetable terrine and macaroons) the semi-blizzard had developed into the first sea storm since the last ice free period in May, with waves splashing energetically up the ice cliffs. Already our kit boxes were covered in snow. Maybe we should have placed bets on the depth of fresh snow cover by the morning.
A group of us migrated to the games room for some ping pong and billiards, looking out of the window regularly to gauge the progress of the storm outside. Eventually we braved it back to our accommodation, struggling through thigh depth snow as the path had already disappeared. Luckily the wind was behind us but I turned round to face it as we arrived back at the building, just for the experience which almost took my breath away. Dirk smiled at me and laughed “Welcome to Antarctica!”