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Day 7: the end of the beginning

December 16, 2010

Today was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning – for the Drake passage was finally going to give way at last to the first of the Antarctic Islands, King George Island which hosts Chinese, Russian and Chilean research stations monitoring the ice and the wildlife.

Emerging from my dehydrated hibernation in my cabin, I essayed once more to find my sea legs and get used to the (thankfully) less vicious rolling of the ship. Across the Drake, the crew had kindly consented to hold briefings and lectures regarding the Antarctic wildlife and history, and I was kindly filled in by my fellow group mates on board. One particularly interesting lecture was made by the ‘bird man’ Steven, who ran us through all the different types of Penguins that we would be able to see, as well as the more conventional flying birds, such as shags and petrels.

However, soon enough it was time for our first excursion onto the ice – and for us from Hong Kong we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to be greeted and welcomed by the scientists and researchers on the Great Wall Station, which sits proudly on the shore of King George Island with the Chinese flag waving in the wind on top of a flagpole. Before the excursion, the students had all been sharing ideas and coming up with meaningful questions with which to ask the scientists, to ensure that we made the most of the experience.

The researchers were very candid with us, and very open to all our questions ranging from how they were motivated to keep up their work on the ice in such an isolated place, to how they planned to measure the impact of a science station on the surrounding wildlife.

After photos, a souvenir presentation and of course the Q&A session, we were split into two groups and led on a tour of the station by the scientists. Not very large at all, the station only houses a maximum of around 40 people, and the permanent capacity year round (most scientists leave in
winter) is only around less than half of that.

Perhaps the most photogenic item down there was a tall signpost, with many many different signs pointing out the distance from the station to different parts of the Earth. Luckily, there was a sign specifically for Hong Kong, which read 16800KM.

After visiting the Great Wall station, we all moved off to hike to the Chilean and the Russian stations, which lay just over the hill from the ‘Great Wall’. Our first walk on the ice, we had to walk through two deep channels before we finally emerged to see the sprawl of the Chilean station around the ice. After a brief introduction, and a brief visit to the Chilean research station souvenir shop, we all made our way further up the hill to the Russian station, which was graced with an unexpected sight: a fully ornamented Orthodox Church lying on a rocky outcrop on an isolated hill.

Upon our return to the ship, we all gorged ourselves on good warm food in the bistro, before getting  ready for the next excursion, which would be a wildlife viewing trip in tough little polar transport boats known as Zodiacs – to view ice formations and the true beauty of the Shetland Islands in full.

Tomorrow, we sail deeper into the South, and explore Antarctica further!

Sent to you over a satellite phone using GMN’s XGate software.

Read more about Ben’s trip

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