Joan Larsen’s Tales of Very High Adventure: Start the Revolution Without Me

Posted on October 30, 2013


By Joan Larsen


As we have all come to know, it is a single phone call that is often responsible for changing the direction of our lives – for good or for bad.

Rarely do I recall dancing around the room after a call… in fact, never.  But this time – when the phone rang — I was told that, for a short time, the Argentine Navy’s polar supply vessel, headed to Antarctica to supply its 5 bases, was offering cabins for the first 60 people from around the world to apply for it.  What did this mean?  To me, everything.  Few cruises were going down to The Ice in the first place in those early days… but none were offering to allow passengers to stay at an Argentine base for 3 weeks and be picked up on the following trip.  No one – before or since – would be allowed to wander free for as many hours as it took to offload the supplies needed for year-round bases, hang out with 300,000 penguins at a time, take dogsled rides, Snowcat rides, cross-country skiing – if so inclined – as well.  Unheard of!  And did I mention the reasonable costs?

Vista aerea de la base

The word YES was a given in this household. The dancing around my living room went on for days.  Yes, days!

EggFlying in to Rio and then Buenos Aires with their reversal of seasons, laden with armfuls of polar parkas in January when their temperatures were well over 100 degrees there, made us stand out.  Newspapers showed people frying eggs on the sidewalks!  But people lined up to take photos of us as well, looking like polar explorers who had lost our way.

Hours later, at the very foot of the Andes and the tip of South America, the temperatures had moderated considerably.  The Argentine Navy ship, Bahia Paraiso, lay at anchor, waiting for the very lucky 60 passengers from ‘round the world. 


The Argentine Navy expedition provided more adventure than most people would have in an entire lifetime.  Certainly it will deserve a story in itself  — of the “blow you away” kind.  That will wait… but as we once again anchored in Ushuaia, Argentina on our return trip, a double rainbow appeared over our stern.  We knew we had been blessed!


2-MapLittle did we know that our adventures were far from ended though.

We had been told to pack for the trip home in the hours before we docked to be ready for an early morning flight.  The evening was to be for as much “fun” as we could find in this little town.  Several dozen of us poured into a local pizza parlor, rearranging the furniture to accommodate the group and settling in for the evening, ordering many beers and many large pizzas.


ArgieRevolt002We were only on our second or third swallow of beer when shipmates rushed in with the news we had not been told.  There was a revolution going on in Argentina – an attempted coup developing up north – and they wanted to get foreigners out of the country immediately.  A military plane was waiting until 9:30 p.m. only to fly us to Buenos Aires.  We had to run back to the ship quickly. 

Try to imagine the looks, the embarrassment, as our one Spanish-speaking friend tried to explain to the owner that, after rearranging his restaurant and ordering all the pizzas, that we were not going to be staying after all.  (I think you would have had to be there when this news hit!)

Back at the dock, suitcases were sitting in rows and passengers getting into waiting buses.  The first load of luggage had already been sent to the military plane that we could see waiting on the rather primitive landing strip across the channel. 


We loaded onto the buses.  And then we waited  – and waited.  For a breath of air, I had stepped off… and quickly stepped back on.  I still remember announcing:  “Look across the channel at that runway.  Cows are wandering across it, and I really don’t think we are going ANYWHERE!”

Much later, we found out the truth in my words.  The trip leader came onto the buses, suggesting we get back on the ship sans luggage for the night.  We would now be waiting until daylight to go.  Psychologists would have had a field day over the gambit of words and body language  that the effect of his words had.  Much later that night in the ship’s lounge, I left a large group of passengers still rehashing the night’s events… and wondering what lay ahead for us when the sun came up.

???????????????????????????????Early the following morning, still on the ship, we prepared for what we now called “the next go-around.”  But this time the military plane — with the “First Aero Brigade” painted on its fuselage — was waiting to fly us to Buenos Aires.  What we had begun to call “the latest story” was told to us.  The pilot said that the airstrip at Ushuaia has only a short runway with water at either end.  Only a plane that does not have a full load of fuel can take off and make it.  Refueling must take place at the first town north – Rio Grande.  But we must understand that the Rio Grande airport closes daily at 3 p.m. and so there was really no way we could have gone that prior evening.  What?!

Let’s just say there was much rolling of eyes of the former shipmates, and now passengers on the First Aero Brigade.  I will refrain from telling you the words that were used at this point.

A bathroom stop was allowed at Rio Grande and the males saw men with rifles only in the men’s room.  At the various local airports we saw soldiers with pistols on their hips only. 

Three hours before our arrival in Buenos Aires, the army had surrounded the airport, protecting it fully — we were only told later, after the rebels were ousted.   Nevertheless, it was suggested that those planning an extended trip to the famed Iguazu Falls, should play it safe and head home.

Everybody did.  One revolution and its possibilities will never be forgotten.  It could have been so much more and we all knew that.  We see the aftermath of such things on every newscast.

Home again… with unbelievable memories of the vast and haunting icebound landscapes of Antarctica that will forever be embedded in our hearts.

Many later expeditions to this land of ice have been always full of adventure – but have come without moments of terror.  But somehow – somehow – the memories of that time forever remain.



JoanAvatarWriter Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”