When Deborah and I go for a long walk, we like to kick a post or railing or building at our turnaround point — there are a couple of signposts along the seawall in Stanley Park that used to regularly bear witness to this ritual. Now that we’re on the road, when we walk through cities, or hike on trails, we continue the practice and give a post or tree a gentle tap with one foot. What we have not done is think bigger – is there an endpoint from which we will be turning around as we tour Central and South America? When we were initially thinking about this trip, we decided we would plan as we went along, but would try to stay in warm places as much as possible. That went out the window when we realized the natural thing to do would be to head down to the southern tip of South America, and kick a penguin.
It’s not easy to find them this time of year – two days in a row our plan to see the large colony of small penguins on Isla Magdalena was thwarted by high winds and rough seas, so on the third day we changed plans and joined a bus tour of Tierra del Fuego to see a relatively new and small colony of King Penguins – a penguin one size down from the Emperor Penguin.
It was a long day – bus travel, ferry crossings, stops in small towns, and passing by a large flock of flamingos – and then finally, late afternoon, we reached the pinguinera, on the windswept southern edge of bahia Inutil (Useless Bay), at the mouth of a small river. It was utterly fascinating to watch them hang out – about 20 penguins were in sight, we’re told the rest were feeding in the bay. The ones you see lying down are preparing for the night – they’re secreting an oil for themselves and the babies underneath that will keep them warm when they later stand up to sleep. Penguins wisely set up their camp just out of reach of tourists – in a small clearing just across the creek so they are about 50 feet away in these pictures.
In addition to flamingos and penguins, we also saw lots of upland geese (pictured), wild llamas, eagle-like caranchas, and thousands upon thousands of sheep. It is the invasion of sheep farmers near the end of the 19th century, and their practice of hunting down and killing indigenous people who did not understand property in the same way as the invaders, that resulted in the near extinction at the time of the Selk’nam people, whose camp fires three centuries earlier had prompted Ferdinand Magellan to call this island Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire).
Near the end of the day we ferried back across the straits named for Magellan, at the only point in the Americas where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans naturally meet. It was dark and the nearly full moon was rising and casting much light on very cold looking waters.
The last couple of photos show some of the mud that crashed through part of Punta Arenas just a few weeks ago. We’re told there were several days of heavy rainfall, combined with a very high tide that resulted in a large portion of the commercial core being submerged in mud – in some places you can see the marks, in other places the mud is still caked or piled high. Many businesses were destroyed, a bridge was washed out, and it looks like the city has dug up the main street to rebuild the drainage system which was plugged and backed up with all the mud and debris.
We’re boarding a boat this afternoon for a five-day cruise through the islands at the end of South America which will take us right around Cape Horn and then back up to Usuaia, Argentina, the southern-most city in the world.
*(please note: no penguins were harmed during the preparation of this blog)