Betty Annis’ Excellent Adventure


by Betty Annis

The travel brochure read: Tierra del Fuego, Antarctic Convergence, and Penguins. Mysterious? Ever thought you would see penguins en masse and seals on ice bergs? And, as for Tierra del Fuego, hmmm.

Quite frankly, when the literature said that the tour to Antarctica would sail from Ushuaia, I thought, oh, yes, the port of Buenos Aires. Tierra del Fuego never entered my mind. Yes, I had seen on maps Tierra del Fuego, an island at the tip of Argentina. However, I had not realized that Ushuaia was the capital city of this island, and nor that the Russian tour ship would actually leave from there. The best thing about Ushuaia is its name. The town is poor and struggles against very cold weather in the wintertime. Tourism seems to be their main industry, with the town having many souvenir shops.

Why did I want to go to Antarctica? Because I had never been there. Some people collect pins or dolls. Some travelers collect continents, with Antarctica being their seventh and final continent, and some tourists just wanted to travel new and different places. Did we have a good time? Yes, particularly the people, like me, who were not seasick!

My friend and I flew from Albuquerque to Miami, then red-eyed to Buenos Aires. In lieu of catching up on our sleep, most of us visited an estancia just outside of Buenos Airs. This estancia, an Argentine dude ranch, was interesting, but most of us were eager to get to our destination. Leaving Buenos Aires the next day, we flew to Ushuaia, then we spent a few hours wandering the streets and souvenir shops of the town, while the returning passengers from the Antarctica disembarked from our cruise ship and flew to Buenos Aires. Before we could go aboard, the ship had to be cleaned and restocked with supplies.

We boarded our cruise ship about 4 p.m. and found our cabins and luggage. Quite promptly we had the mandatory life board drill. The ship, by this time, had left the Beagle Channel and was starting to roll and toss in the rougher Darwin Passage. By the time dinner was over, many of the crowd were beating a very hasty retreat to their cabins. Rocking and rolling, tossing and turning, we traveled through the Antarctic Convergence and into the sheltering South Shetland Islands. It took us two days. We had 40 foot waves breaking over the main deck. Looking out our port hole was really interesting, as we had a sea-level view of the surge and spray of the waves.

We had three wonderful clear and calm days in the South Shetlands. Because tour companies can do nothing about the weather, some unfortunate passengers are scheduled for seven or nine days in the South Shetlands and only get to go ashore once or twice! For our scheduled three days, we had a morning trip ashore and an afternoon trip ashore. We saw two of the five types of penguins everywhere, chinstrap and gento, both about 27 inches tall. We saw fur seals, who are recovering from their near extinction after being hunted for their fur. We saw marvelous, simply fantastic icebergs, huge bergs, big bergs, and bitty bergs. One particular bitty berg calmly floating in the ocean had 16 seals on it, all sleeping and relaxing.

The ROAR of a well maintained Zodiac motor is a most welcome sound, when a group is in a Zodiac and cruising around the ocean. The water is about freezing, so a person falling into the ocean could live only about five minutes.

     The South Shetlands are mountainous with rocky beaches. To get ashore, the Zodiacs are steered as close to dry land as possible. Then, passengers step into the water and wade a few feet to shore. Every one wears rubber boots with waterproof pants that keep the passengers dry. Passengers are also very careful not to slip on the rocks.

When our three days of shore visits were over, we then had the return trip of tossing and rolling and twisting to endure. We also had an extra thrill of Force 8 winds, about 35 knots. The ship had to slow from 15 to 5 knots. By this time, most of the passengers had their sea legs and ate heartily. When not going ashore, passengers have little to do by eat and drink. Because of this storm, we did not get to see Cape Horn, and we were half a day late getting into port. The cruise ship personnel rushed us ashore so they could clean and restock the vessel for the next group of tourists.

All in all, I had a wonderful time. However, if you ask me, “Should I go on this cruise?” my answer is, “If you have to ask, the answer is, No.”


The cruise to Antarctica should properly be called swing and sway to the drumbeat of diesel engines. Now for the details, as recorded in my trip diary.

February 13, 2001, Tuesday.

 Today was rush, rush, rush. I spent last evening looking for a key to unlock the big suitcase. Fortunately, my daughter, Alison had a key that fit. I needed the big suitcase to put in my rubber boots and my plastic waterproof pants. After a very restless night, in which I thought about packing and repacked everything, I got up early, found a smaller suitcase, and repacked totally. In a smaller suitcase, I put my down coat and carry-on items. I do not have to carry anything except a purse with my tickets and money in it. We drove to the airport early along with Tippy Dog and left for the airport about 6:10p.m. We arrived at the airport about 6:30p.m., and I checked in. Albuquerque had blue skies, but it was raining in Atlanta. My friend, Sybil and I flew business class, and it was marvelous. In Miami, we went to the area for Aereo Argentina. We left Miami about 9:00 p.m. and had to sleep sitting up. We were fed as soon as we were airborne. I slept a little bit, but I find it hard to sleep sitting up. Sybil takes a sleeping pill, puts eye patches on, and she has a plastic pillow she uses. So, she sleeps well. I had two seats but could not sleep lying down.

February 14, Wednesday.

After a breakfast on the plane, we arrived at Buenos Aires early in the morning. We found our luggage and went through immigration and customs. A bus was waiting outside to take our luggage and us to the El President Hotel. Then, we found our rooms. I went on a one hour walking tour of the hotel. Buenos Aires has downtown buildings with a European flavor. The buildings have balconies with plants growing on them. The roofs of many of these buildings are like little patios with plants and even small trees. Downtown Buenos Aires is very clean. Sybil and I went to the restaurant next door and ate. I translated the menu, since it was entirely in Spanish. That evening, a couple from Chicago and Sybil and I went to the Immortales Restaurant. We arrived very early, so we had superb service. The food was excellent. We had San Telmo cabernet savignon wine, which was absolutely marvelous, exquisite, and very smooth. The evening was beautiful, but Buenos Aires has many pickpockets and other undesirables in the streets, so we went directly back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

February 15, Thursday.

 We ate a buffet breakfast at the hotel. The food was quite like European food in many ways. Then, most people went on a bus to the Estancia Susann, a version of a dude ranch, outside of Buenos Aires. It was rather boring. We had a great deal of food. The souvenirs were very expensive, so I just bought two or three postcards. Argentina uses US dollars, therefore, paying for items is easy. I tried to ride on the back of a horse, but my tennis shoes would not fit into the stirrups. Eventually, I made it onto the horse. However, the horse trotted, and I thought I would get sick. That particular motion makes me seasick.

February 16, Friday.

We were up and ate breakfast by 4:00a.m. Then, we and our luggage were at the local airport, and soon we were off for Ushuaia. We flew into Ushuaia, the capital city of Tierra del Fuego about 10:00a.m. This airport was new, having been built by private capital. The roof had huge beams across the ceiling. The theory is that more and more tourists, including large cruise ships, are going to be coming to Ushuaia. Ushuaia is the jumping off place for the Antarctic. The weather was cold. Being as far south as it is, the weather is probably always cold. Alas, I was wearing my black wool jacket only. I could have certainly used my khaki and orange down coat.

The group was rather unceremoniously let out in front of a hotel within a short walk of the pier and told to come back to the hotel about 4:00 p.m. So, the entire group wandered the streets for approximately four hours. I bought some postcards and mailed them to Russell. I also bought a map of the Antarctica. Sybil tried to find a store that sold seashells, which she collects, but she had absolutely no luck. At last, the bus returned. The reason for the delay was so that the cruise ship could be cleaned, since it had just returned from Antarctica with a group of tourists.

This ship was Russian, not the American flagship we had been promised. The captain had very fair skin, very black curly hair, and a full beard. He really made quite an imposing figure.

We found our cabins, #418 in our case, got the suitcases inside, and immediately had a life raft drill. We took our life jackets out of the top of the wardrobe. They had probably never been near water and did not look like they could save anyone. We all went up on the proper deck to receive a short lecture on life rafts and how they swung easily out over the side of the ship should the need arise. A discussion arose as to whether we should put our arms through the loops on the life jacket, or just how was it that we were supposed to wear the things. After that was straightened out, we all answered to roll call. Attendance at this type of drill is mandatory.

Back to our cabins, to unpack. About 8:00 p.m. we ate dinner, as we steamed across the Beagle Channel. By bedtime, the ship was rolling somewhat, so Sybil and I each took a preventative dramamine and fell into our bunks.

February 17, Saturday.

The ship was rolling much more as we were in the Drake Passage, which is just beyond Cape Horn. The Drake Passage leads to the Antarctic Convergence, which we had to cross. The Antarctic Convergence sometimes is called the Antarctic Polar Front. The convergence is a natural boundary between the cold, north-flowing Antarctic Surface Water and the relatively warm Subantarctic Surface Water. The Antarctic water is low in temperature and salinity, as a result of summer melting of sea ice and icebergs. It sinks to the bottom, as it flows northward. It plays a major role in governing the planet’s climate.
 Sybil and I took a second dramamine and went to breakfast. The only tourists eating breakfast then consisted of a small handful of hardy souls. The chairs at the end of each side of the table were chained down, and the tablecloths were wet. Many passengers took no medicine. Patches behind the ear were the fashion. However, the patches required a doctor’s prescription. Some people had dilated pupils and were rather giddy. Ginger was also used in food to keep the squeamishness down. Neither Sybil nor I took more than two pills and survived very nicely.

Today, the ship changed course slightly. Instead of lying in our bunks and rolling side to side, we were suddenly going up and down, head to foot. The waves were about 22 feet from bottom of the trough to top of the crest.

February 18, Sunday.

 Sybil has a towel that she wraps items in when they are wet. This towel wicks the water out of the items so they dry quickly. Sybil ordered the towel from a catalog and said that the towels were very expensive but that they seemed to work.
The ship was really rolling, but we ate breakfast anyway. Getting to the tables with food was tricky, because we did not have our sea legs. I always eat oatmeal for breakfast. The coffee served is that very strong European coffee, so I take two swallows and do not drink more. We had a lecture on penguins. The penguins on shore will be young penguins that are molting, and we are to leave them alone. Molting takes all their energy. Should they not have a successful molt, they will die. Also we saw dolphins jumping out of the water in the wake of the ship. The weather is getting cooler. The ship is doing 14 knots, its maximum speed., and the seas are very rough. Sybil has been taking moving pictures of the waves breaking above our porthole.

To change from Centigrade to Fahrenheit, double the C and add 26. This formula works for positive Centigrade only.
February 19, Monday. We arrived at our anchorage about 1:00a.m. Suddenly, the ship was not rocking. The ocean was calm. The temperature outside was 32 degrees F. We will see chinstrap penguins and gento penguins. They are about the same height, approximately two feet tall. There are also white birds, sheath bills, and fur seals. The fur seals have increased greatly in number, now that they are no longer hunted. The penguins sound rather like chickens. They walk, and they hop. Penguins look like ducks in the water, with a duckbilled head and a perky little tail showing.

The Zodiacs had Yamaha motors attached. The Zodiacs and their motors are what keep us alive out in the ocean Because the water is so cold, we would live only a maximum of five minutes before we died of hypothermia. We needed our calf-high waterproof boots and our waterproof pants when we landed. The shore and the landing area in the water were full of cobblestones. While we were on land, we heard the ice wall calving several times but never saw where the ice was falling off, nor did we see any waves. On shore, we saw many penguins, mostly young birds, standing around, and one fur seal. A fur seal tried to steal someone’s camera case and take it into the ocean. When we go on shore, we put our life jackets down, outside down, and put rocks on them to hold them down. People also put their camera cases on the rocks. A sheath bill bird tried to steal someone’s purple scarf. The bird was busy pulling the scarf away from where it had been held down by a rock. Someone chased the bird away and hid the scarf.

The first landing was on Hannah Point on Livingston Island. Then, we went to Deception Island, a volcano that erupted in 1970. We are having beautiful weather. Deception Island has a few pools of hot water and people can swim in the water. Several people from our group swam. Neither Sybil or I swam.

February 20, Tuesday.

 We traveled on to Paradise Bay off of Anders Island. The temperature was 5 degrees C this morning. That would be 36 degrees F. The weather was warm and sunny. We saw a minke whale on our bow. We saw gento penguins today and fur seals. We also saw crab eater seals, and I took a picture of a crab eater seal. We are surrounded by beautiful snow covered mountains. On shore was an Argentine Rescue Hut. We looked at it but did not go inside. Then, we took a 45-minute cruise with Steve looking at an iceberg graveyard. In this cove, a great variety of icebergs were floating around. I found the fantastic forms of these icebergs really interesting.     

The weather is incredibly warm. I am not wearing the various clothes I brought for extremely cold weather. At lunch time, we moved to another anchorage. Next time, small binoculars will suffice. I must bring more film and a more flexible camera. Movie cameras are ideal here.

We are at Paradise Bay now and going through some narrows. The scenery is fantastic. The mountains have really been carved, etched, and chiseled by glaciers and have very steep sides. Sometimes they have snow and glaciers on them, and sometimes not.
We went on an hour and a half Zodiac cruise around the bay. We saw fur seals and heard some calving of glaciers but never saw any. The mountains are almost perpendicular and rise about 5000 feet high. Around the corner, where we cannot see, there is an 11,000 foot high mountain. These are really fiords, such as are found in the Scandinavian countries. While we were in Paradise Bay sightseeing, on top of the mountain, a man and a woman from the ship were married. They had made previous arrangements. The couple will need to make it official when they return to the United States.

Tonight, because the ocean was so calm, we had free champagne and a BBQ on the bow of the ship. This was a welcome change from your usual meals indoors. Once the sun went down, of course, the temperature dropped. I wore a micro fiber suit with a jacket of micro fiber and was quite comfortable without a coat. However, my hands got cold. At 10:30 p.m., I bathed and washed my hair. I could not dry it, because Sybil’s hair dryer did not work with the ship’s electrical system. I just combed it out and then wrapped a dry towel around my hair and hoped that I did not get pneumonia. The mountains out the porthole were beautiful.
February 21, Wednesday. I took some photos of the iceberg graveyard at the north end of Lemaire Channel. We landed at Pleneau Island and saw a king penguin with orange ears.

Incidentally, yesterday we landed on Antarctica itself!   Today we saw many fur seals. One iceberg had approximately 18 fur seals on it. We saw also a leopard seal looking for dinner. I took a picture of a young Japanese man “driving” the Zodiac. Many bitty bergs drift by with fur seals on them.

We have had three beautiful days in a row, and tomorrow we go back to Ushuaia. After lunch, we landed at Port Lockroy. It is British and has a PO. Port Lockray has a new name and is being run by Ukraine scientists doing research on the ozone hole. The ozone hole only happens in the middle of winter, and February is the middle of summer here. When they are outside in the winter, they wear hats that cover their head and face, put on a great deal of sunscreen, and wear sunglasses. Without ozone, the rays of the sun are really headed directly toward people.

A gale warning is out for the Drake Passage, so we leave hurriedly after the Captain’s dinner tonight. The storm is going east, and we hope it goes east fast enough so we can head for Cape Horn. The sun is always in the north. Not much calving occurs, even though the ice is quite rotten. Sybil and I are fortunate to be invited to eat with the captain at the head table, and this table was served wine. The captain is tall and very impressive. He has a great mass of curly black hair and a curly black beard. His skin is exceedingly white. Heads would turn if he walked down the sidewalk. We both received printed signs, indicating the captain’s table and signed by the captain.

February 22, Thursday.

 Wow! Such high winds and rough seas. The ship is going about five knots an hour, instead of the normal 14 or 15 knots, and is encountering force 7 and 8 gales. Force 8 gales are winds of 35 miles per hour. No one goes out on the open deck. At breakfast, only about half the passengers ate. People are getting their sea legs. The ship rolls, wallows, and swings up and down and sideways. The footing is very unreliable, as we never know which way the ship will swing. The rule is never let go of a handle unless you have a destination in mind. Walk fast and grab hold of the support that you were heading. The chairs are chained down at the end of the tables again, and the table clothes are damp. When getting your breakfast food, always keep one hand free to grab a support, if necessary.

 We hear big bangs and then a silence that is quite nerve racking. The engines just keep going. I think the silence is because the screws are out of the water for a short time, but I am not sure. I assume that the BANGs are caused by the front of the ship being very high and then banging down into the ocean. The ship should reach the Beagle Channel at about 11:00 tomorrow. We will not see Cape Horn, as the ship was delayed by the storm too long. At Beagle Channel, a pilot is picked up and stays with the ship until the ship docks in Ushuaia, approximately four hours later. Because we were approximately six hours late in arriving, due to the storm, all sorts of people had to change their airline tickets.

The people on this tour were very young. Only about ten people were over sixty. We had Shubert, a Japanese man from New Jersey who knows David Wu, another Japanese who lives in Albuquerque. We had Fred, who had been on the tour that went bankrupt in Tahiti last year. Two young married couples from Japanese were also aboard. Several 30ish women were around. One was a registered nurse, and she worked a while in one place, saved her money, and then traveled. When she returned, she had another job somewhere, saved her money, and then traveled. She had just finished a job in Minnesota. After this cruise, she was going to Hawaii to work. The other women were variations on this theme. One was entering law school in Lubbock, Texas in the fall. She had just been notified that she had been accepted. Her home was in Amarillo. One couple had an RV, and they were traveling around South America. She was American, and he was German. He had retired early. They had left their RV in Ushuaia. A small group of RV’ers were with them touring the world. The Gomez family was also on board. Westin, their son, was about seven years old. He was sick a great deal of the time and was also very, very picky about what he ate.

February 23, Friday.

 We had more violent weather.

February 24, Saturday.

 When we docked, we were unceremoniously told to walk to the hotel at the end of the pier so we could be picked up about 4:00p.m. The ship’s crew had to clean the ship immediately, because another group of tourists was arriving on the 4:00 p.m. plane to begin their cruise of the Antarctic. We were soon back in El Presidente Hotel in Buenos Aires with our luggage.

February 25, Sunday.

 I bought a one-way ticket to Iguassu Falls at the domestic airport, because I had lost my tickets. Sybil, Donna, a psychiatrist from Anchorage, and I were met by our tour guide, Dalma, and taken to our hotel, the Sheridan. We were on the Argentine side of the falls. Our guide led us along the path beside the falls. Seven major cataracts were running. Sometimes the water is clear, but this time, it was muddy because of a recent rain. These falls are fantastic! The falls are on the boundary between Brazil and Argentina, with the falls themselves being visible from the Brazilian side. Brazil had built a walkway out in front of the falls at the end. This walkway was built to last! Sybil and I both walked out to the end. Unfortunately, I got very wet from the spray of the walls. I had already acquired a sinus infection, and now I had a terrible cough. Because I had not realized that I had no change of clothes, I ate dinner in my wet clothes. We then went to our room and hung the wet clothes up around the room. By morning, they were all dry, but I still had my cough.

We also went to an aviary run by a nonprofit organization to save endangered species of tropical birds. We did not have enough time at this aviary. We would have had to return to Brazil on Monday, and the return was impossible because of time restraints.
Monday, February, 26. Because I had lost my tickets, Dalma, Sybil, the driver and I spent Monday in the town of Iguassu, Argentine, at the travel agent who specializes in Marine Expeditions work. Since I was returning to Buenos Aires in the afternoon and then leaving Buenos Aires that night for Miami, I needed tickets replaced. This matter took all morning! I had to go to the police station with Dalma and sign a paper stating that I had not stolen them. Marine Expeditions usually does not replace tickets, or acknowledge problems, for 24 hours. Because I did not have 24 hours to wait, the agent finally called Toronto and received the necessary number to reissue the tickets. At last!

We went back to the Sheridan, picked up Diane, and bought some souvenirs. We then ate a quick sandwich in the bar at the Sheridan, and left for the airport. We arrived back in Buenos Aires to find Noreen Thompson sitting there. Her passport had been stolen when she and a group of our tour had shopped at a seedy Sunday market. She had spent all day getting her passport renewed so she could return to the US. We all went to the airport to leave in good time. I went with Noreen for another necessary paper, indicating that Argentina knew she had a duplicate passport. Then, Noreen and I both had to sign papers indicating we had lost our exit papers. Fortunately, we had no problems with customs, and finally we were on the plane for Miami. We parted ways there. Sybil and I had electronic tickets with Delta. We were lucky in that we caught an earlier flight from Miami to Atlanta to Dallas/Fort Worth to Albuquerque. We went standby and fortunately made the list every time. Therefore, we returned to Albuquerque about 6:00 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m.

When I had lunch ten days later with Sybil, she handed me my tickets. Her suitcase and my suitcase that we had taken on the trip were identical. While my suitcase had been searched and researched, neither of us thought of searching her suitcase.