Sunday, 9 December 2007

Diary: Flying South

26th November
Run around like a headless chicken packing. Cycle up to BAS with big rucksack. Stephane - who has been building my ozone monitors - guiltily stops soldering and tries to cram some more circuit boards into my luggage. Not enough room. I take out several warm jerseys and stuff a few GPS aerials, tools and manuals into my rucksack. Still not enough room. Take a few more clothes out - who needs them anyway - and with zips and buckles creaking under the strain finally get all the essentials in. Jump on a bus for Heathrow, pay a whopping excess baggage charge, and board a jumbo for Cape Town.

Pleasant hotel in centre of Cape Town. Stuffing myself, running around Table Mountain to work up an appetite, stuffing myself, etc.

We return to the airport at midnight. We've been instructed to wear Antarctic clothing for the flight, so we're sweating profusely, clumping around in massive boots and great big padded orange overalls. The departure lounge looks like a set for 'Teletubbies go to Guantanamo'.

The aircraft is an Ilyushin 76. Its huge. Its Soviet military technology, and its scary. The interior appears to be patched together from scrap plywood. There are big gaps along the seams, and the panels are held together with a random assortment of screws and rivets. Quite a few fixings are missing. You wonder if the outside is in the same state of repair, but there are no windows so you can't look out. The interior is big enough to hold a couple of tanks, but we've just got a pile of luggage in the back end, two portaloos tied down with cargo straps, fifty seats holding fifty quaking Gnarly Antarctic Heroes, and a bunch of flags to make it look a bit more cheery.

The plane lurches across the Southern Ocean and sags in relief onto an ice runway at a Russian base in Dronning Maud Land. We sit in a tent for a couple of hours and drink tea and eat breakfast.

Sitting on a sledge we are taken in style back to the runway, passing the not-so-reassuring remains of a little plane lying upside down in a snowdrift with a wing broken off. We board a DC-3 for Halley. Yes, it really is a DC-3 - they were invented in the 1930s. I guess if it has lasted this long it might manage one last wheezy flight.

It makes it to Halley - hurrah. And 'cos of the time zones, we're just in time for breakfast again!

To be continued.


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