Your flight to Antarctica: What to expect...
We talk about being ready on a moment's notice. This is merely an issue in planning your itinerary. Once we have all the guests organized, briefed and together in Cape Town, you are free to go about your tour without any worries of the flight to Antarctica. This is in the highly qualified hands of the flight-crew and tour organizers. We are in constant contact so that you can enjoy your stay. - and you will. Several times during your visit to the beautiful coastal town of Cape Town, you will forget that you are about to embark on the expedition of a lifetime. However, one glance to the southern sea will fill you with inspiration and remind you that you are here in preparation for what lies beyond that ocean. Antarctica.
On our first night, we receive a briefing about Antarctica, the Weather conditions, the Treaty and environmental issues relating to the journey. All guests are interviewed about their winter-gear. Passengers in need of additional gear are issued adequit pieces to assure that every attendee is fitted properly for his/her protection. Organizer, Ilka, needed a new pair of suitable boots. She was pleased to find them surprisingly light and comfortable.
On Friday afternoon, activities will come to a close and everyone returned to their hotel room. This is your time to pack your things and hopefully catch some rest before the leg. We are providing you with a list of effects that you need to bring. The issue of your cold-weather clothing will already have been resolved by now. Your room will be held at the hotel while you are gone, secured by double-locks. At 6pm, you will receive a phone call from organizers advising you that "we will fly tonight". Again, at 9pm, you receive a second call. You may opt for room service so as to stay in close phone contact. We discourage guests from leaving the hotel at this time for supplies. By 10:15, the coach will be loaded to take you to Cape Town International Airport. We will be the only travelers at the international terminal, and your checked bags will be routed directly through ALCI's cargo handlers. Here, you are presented with your boarding passes, and you can meet your pilots in an eerie and empty terminal. Security staff screen your bags, and Immigration officers stamp your passport for exit before loading onto the flight transport bus.
The Ilyushin 76 is fully loaded when you arrive, with its massive windowed nose-cone. Guests must board by means of a self-contained ladder; for there is no hooded stairway waiting for our arrival on the Antarctican ice. ALCI crew will demonstrate the aircraft safety equipment and procedures while the flight is preparing to depart. All of the baggage for the expedition is with us too. Passengers are all facing one another in an akward moment awaiting taxi and take-off, buckled-in and anxious for what awaits, while the staff and crew seem to move about in complete comfort and assuredness. Soon enough, the Ilyushin demonstrates its worth in seamless and powerful take-off; and a surprisingly turbulent-free flight.
The staff and crew begin to make you feel at-home right away, with their warm hospitality. In-flight snacks and drinks begin immediately and before long, each member still awake is invited to sneak into the navigation center of the plane, for a daunting view of the instrumentation, a tireless navigator working by slide-rule and the impressive floor of glass in the aircraft nose. As the temperature in the aircraft drops, you'll realize your latitude is placing you closer and closer to your destination. Many guests begin changing into their winter gear right away - and find comfort sleeping in fluffy hooded jackets.
As we pass 60 degrees of South Latitude, champagne bottle is popped to celebrate entry into the Antarctic circle. We're now past 2/3rds and nearly at the point of no return. The crew continues to post data on the overhead-screen with flight speed, arrival time and conditions for your reassurance. By this point, the crew and staff are 100% confident of a successfull landing. The sun rises as we draw nearer and passengers rouse from sleep to don parkas and snowsuits, gloves and boots. Now, the view from the navigators' windows is a blinding white as we pass over the white expanse of sea-ice and pack-ice on our final leg in to the airstrip. Baggage and supplies are quickly stowed in a flurry of last-minute activity in preparation for landing. The plane performs an aerial airstrip inspection in a fly-by pass of the landing strip. This is to assure there are no surprises on the strip when we set down. Then, as uneventfully as it began, the flight is over in one last impressive roar of engine-assisted breaking.
Half of the passengers rush toward the door in angst to step foot on the ice, while the others scurry to finish gearing-up for the environment. The hatch is opened. A ladder is dropped, and everyone is suddenly blinded by a sea of white light shining from beyond. Guests are helped down to the ice below in a daze and surely one participant will forget all of the warnings of the slippery ice, toppleing softly over, bundled in bulging winter layers. Only the staff and crew have their wits about them for these first few minutes. All new visitors stagger around hugging one another, gape-jawed at the vast nothingness that surrounds them. Meanwhile, busy vehicles begin their job to fuel the plane and transport cargo. Snowmobiles whiz by between hugs. Behind your back, a bulldozer has somehow silently appeared with an enourmous fuel cylinder. Two brightly colored twin-propeller aircraft are off in the distance as-if waiting to be boarded. Without much prodding, you will find yourself drawn towards the base-camp. Once the rush of excitement of your landing and moment of lifetime achievement begin to wane, the lure of hot coffee and comforts of civilization call all passengers to the main dining room.
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[ by Jen Winter - Based on Site Inspection and logistical expedition of February 7-9, 2003 ]
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