Penguins enjoy snow in Calgary

It’s a bit of a shock to the system to leave the wet but moderate west coast and land in the thick of a winter blizzard in Calgary. The snow wasn’t just coming down hard, it was being blasted horizontally across the prairie by high winds – fortunately I could see the bus stop from just inside the airport doors and only had to brave the sub-zero chill for a moment. But what is it with Calgary bus drivers, keeping the buses hotter than an oven, and here I am bundled in every piece of winter clothing I own!

There are two inexpensive ways to get downtown from the airport – the regular #100 bus that takes a wide drive around the perimeter of the airport to eventually connect visitors with the C-Train for access to the downtown core for only $3; or the #300, an $8 bus that runs directly to downtown via several major hotels. I rejected the five buck money grab and took the 45-minute scenic route.

I was in Calgary for some meetings, so Deborah stayed home this trip. Just as well, because although the blizzard ended the next day, temperatures dropped to 20 below for the rest of my time in Cowtown. That didn’t stop me from slipping over to the Calgary Zoo, just a few minutes east on the C-Train. I saw a bit on the Rick Mercer television show a few weeks ago that featured the relatively new penguin compound, and after seeing so many penguins in the wild over 2012, I was already missing the funny little flightless wonders.

Regular admission for adults is a whopping $22 – but flashing my Hostelling International membership card cut the price in half. It was a very cold and quiet day and I headed straight for Penguin Plunge, an indoor/outdoor exhibition space that on the weekends and during the summer attracts thousands of people a day who wait up to 90 minutes in order to spend 15 minutes inside with the manufactured rock formations and glass-walled swimming areas. Oh yeah, and four kinds of penguins: King, Gentoo, Humboldt (which we saw in Chile and Argentina) and Rockhoppers, from a couple of small islands off the coast of Chile that we did not get to.

I had the place almost to myself; only a couple of other visitors passed through while I studied my new friends, all of us watched carefully by volunteers eager to talk about their little charges. Once in a while there is some chatter from the Humboldts or a howl from a King as they walk around. When they dive into the water, they glide at hide speed despite their sometime clumsy on-land waddle. The ever-curious Rockhoppers really do hop from rock to rock.

One of the volunteers told me some of the King penguins came from a zoo in Texas, which meant that when they got to Calgary, they experienced snow for the first time and quite enjoyed it, and now stay outside in the snow most of the day. The Gentoos also like the snow, while the Humboldts prefer the slightly warmer inside area.

The Calgary Zoo covers a lot of ground, and while most of the outdoor areas were closed due to the snow and cold, most of the large indoor areas were busy with birds and animals from around the world – finally got to see an Andean condor, and although the enclosure was quite large, I felt bad it was not free to soar high among the mountains of Peru. That’s the problem with zoos and why I mostly avoid them, so I’m conflicted around recommending everyone go see Penguin Plunge on a cold weekday when you can have the place to yourself.

by the way, whenever I’m heading for Calgary, I book a dorm room bed at Hostelling International city centre for $29 per night, which includes bedding and towels, free breakfast with pancakes, muffins, and bananas, free WiFi, and free coffee or tea all day. Amazingly, its only two blocks from the east edge of downtown and the City Hall C-Train station. Not even Hotwire can offer a better deal.

One more bit of travel advice: bus #300 direct from downtown back to the airport is only $3, and it gets you there in less than 30 minutes. That’s more like it.

Gentoo penguins in the snow outside

Gentoo penguins in the snow outside

King penguin

King penguin standing tall

Gentoo pengion

Gentoo pengion

Rockhopper penguin

Rockhopper penguin

Humboldt penguins

Humboldt penguins up in the rocks

Indoor penguin pool

Indoor penguin pool

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