2.45 AM: Wake up, do some last minute packing to ensure that I stay under the 20kg weight limit.
3.45 AM: Groggily meet up in the lobby with the other guests. Normal hotel guests are probably wondering why so many people are awake at 3 in the morning. But hey, there’s no better way to motivate a group of people to be up at such an ungodly hour than the threat of not being able to fly out to Antarctica for another 24+ hours due to weather. (One of the downsides of flying is the dependency on weather conditions, which we’ll become familiar with at the end of our trip).
So voila, 60 people up and ready to go at 3:45 in the morning! The hotel provides us with some boxed juices, crackers, and a ham & cheese sandwich for breakfast to-go, to sustain us at the airport.
4.30 AM: Head over to the airport, spend about 15 to 20 minutes to get all our boarding passes. It’s not too bad of a wait, considering it’s Christmas Eve morning and there are a ton of people here aiming to travel home in time for Christmas. I accidentally cut in front of a guy for security, but he was very nice about. Quite admirable, considering how stressed people usually get during holiday traveling.
6.00 AM: After waiting for the big LAN flights to clear, we finally board our plane. It’s surprisingly comfortable, just like any other commercial airline (well, probably even more comfortable, considering seats were 2×2). I had definitely been expecting the back-up Hercules plane, after reading up on some others’ Antarctic flights.
8.00 AM: Wheels down at Frei Station! Disembark into the crisp Antarctic air – which is actually fairly warm, as it’s only 32 degrees F. It feels surreal that we’re actually in Antarctica. As we walk to the main station for a briefing, we pass the returning group and wave at them, as they bid us a good trip.
Pit stop at one of the station buildings for refreshments and bathrooms – naturally, the women’s bathroom line trumps all.
Next, we get our first taste of Zodiac-ing to our ship, the Ocean Nova. Upon arrival, we get more refreshments and a briefing, although the latter is interrupted by a humpback whale sighting.
We all haul ass and gear up, jumping into Zodiacs to chase after the whales. We manage to get a bit closer, but no majestic arcs for us. Of the 60 people in our group, there are at least 30 equipped with DSLRs, and many others with one of the newer micro four-thirds cameras. Makes sense though – you’re only going to get one chance to shoot photographs in the Antarctic, unless you’re a researcher or lucky enough to come back for a 2nd or 3rd round.