Dec 11, 2017 - National Geographic Explorer
Antarctica is a continent founded on the principles of peaceful cooperation, resource conservation, and collaboration. The collaborative efforts are designed to be amongst the claimant nations who have active research stations on either the Antarctic Peninsula or the South Shetland Islands.
King George Island is part of the South Shetlands and harbors the vast majority of research stations in the area. This morning we “entered” the countries of Chile and Russia and looked across the border towards China and Portugal, just a few of the flags flying along the banks of King George’s Maxwell Bay. Bright orange shipping containers, blue-roofed research stations, large all-terrain vehicles, and even a rope-tow marked the Chilean station. Right next door, on the same beach, the Russian station (Bellingshausen) comes off as a bit more drab in color palette and activity level. With one gleaming exception. Atop a hill overlooking both Frei (Chilean) and Bellingshausen Stations sits a charming Orthodox church, built from Siberian larch and cedar timbers transported by road and then ship down here in 2002.
Padre Sofroniy, himself from Russia, and on his sixth full year at this station joined us in the church towards the end of the landing. From a small bell tower on the second floor Sofroniy took a moment to manipulate the bell strings like a marionette puppet, sprinkling the white landscape and all its inhabitants with a melody of chimes.
After touring both stations we set course for the Antarctic Peninsula proper. Our first stop, tabular icebergs grounded in the shallower waters of Antarctic Sound (at the extreme NE tip of the peninsula). Captain Aaron Wood circumnavigated the largest, flattest iceberg we could find and gave the port side of the ship a most awe-inspiring window seat. After a beautiful lap under early evening light we swung head on towards another large ice sculpture for one more incredible pass before setting course for southern waters and the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
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