The author, Juanita Richardson, along with her husband and travel partner Walter at port in Punta Arenas, Chile. (Courtesy photo)

By Juanita Richardson, Special to The Tri-State Defender

To close out 2023, my husband, Walter, and I embarked on a 22-day cruise to South America and Antarctica, visiting various countries and ports in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. 

From bustling Buenos Aires to tranquil Montevideo, each stop, including Puerto Madryn, Punta Arenas, Puerto Chacabuco, Ushuaia, and Santiago, was unique and captivating. 

Yet, the true highlight was Antarctica, the Ice Continent.

As the fifth largest continent, Antarctica, primarily uninhabitable, is a polar desert known for its extreme windiness and coldness. Aboard our cruise ship, the Oosterdam, we had the privilege of learning from an Antarctica Experience Team. 

This team, including Antarctic scientific researchers Graeme Ayers and Dr. Fiona Shanhun from New Zealand, and Simon Shelton, an experienced Antarctic pilot, enriched our journey with daily talks and updates. Their stories brought to life what it’s like to live, work, and play in this icy realm and how a land owned by no one is so effectively managed under the Antarctica Treaty of 1959, which now has 56 member countries.

Our adventure was a world apart from a regular cruise. In Antarctica, the weather is famously unpredictable, with extreme temperatures, sudden storms, and blinding blizzards. We experienced this firsthand, almost being blown off a pier into the ocean at one port. 

After departing Montevideo, strong winds and raging storms led our captain to bypass Punta del Este, Uruguay. We then sailed straight for two days to Puerto Madryn, Argentina, where we were briefly delayed by immigration.

Spending Christmas Day through December 28, 2023, in Antarctica was surreal. Despite scientists reporting that it rarely snows in Antarctica’s interior, we witnessed snowfall on Christmas Day. The journey through Bransfield Strait, Hope Bay, Elephant Island, Charlotte Bay, Gerlache Strait, Palmer Station, and the Beagle and Lemaire Channels was awe-inspiring. We marveled at icebergs of various sizes and shapes, some dwarfing the Oosterdam, as our captain skillfully navigated around them. We even saw Alpha23A, reportedly the world’s largest iceberg, which had been lodged on the Antarctic floor since 1984.

The wildlife was a constant source of wonder. We observed numerous whales, penguins, seals, and birds. On the Falkland Islands, the sight of the endangered Black-Browed Albatross was particularly poignant. 

Our journey also took us through the Drake Passage, Cape Horn, the Magellan Strait, Glacier Alley, the Sarmiento Channel, past the El Brujo Glacier, and through the Chilean Fjords. The story of the single family living on Cape Horn — a husband, wife, two kids, and a cat — was fascinating, as was witnessing their solitary post office, flag, and church.

Our adventure concluded in Chile’s largest city, Santiago, and the nearby towns of Casablanca and Valparaíso. Surrounded by the snow-capped Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coast Range, we explored Santiago’s highlights and marveled at the vineyards near Casablanca and Valparaíso. Witnessing gauchos, the iconic cowboys of the Argentinian pampas, and enjoying a traditional meal and gaucho performance at a local ranch was an unforgettable experience.

Reflecting on our journey, I’m grateful to my seventh-grade geography teacher, Mr. Willie Lindsey, from Melrose High School Class of 1963. His lessons prepared me, 67 years ago, for this awe-inspiring adventure across South America and the majestic Antarctica. 

This expedition was a dream come true, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that brought our geography lessons to life in the most spectacular way.