Monday, February 26, 2018

Patagonia 2017: Penguins at Isla Magdalena - Día Catorce

Patagonia 2017:  Penguins On Isla Magdalena - Día Catorce – 2/21/17

It’s Penguin Day! 

Hostel Keoken’s breakfast in its light-filled and cheery common room: hot tea, yogurt with delicious granola, cheeses, coffeecakes, quinces (new to me) and bread/butter/jam/Nutella, all a notch above what we were accustomed to.  We made our lunch sandwiches from the leftovers.  No packing up because we’re staying tonight too, after our day trip and some time exploring the town of Punta Arenas.

With help from Google Translate, we asked the hostel owner to arrange a taxi to the marina for our excursion to the Magellanic penguin colony at Isla Magdalena.  The five-minute ride delivered us to the mini-chaos of boarding the Transbordadora Austral Broom for the two-hours-one-way trip across the Strait of Magellan – the Strait of Magellan!  A place I knew vaguely from the world atlas but never thought I would see from a ferry boat. [Note: we bought advance tickets for the penguin tour, about $50].

And it’s summer here!

Fun facts about Magellanic penguins:
·       -    Adults are about two feet tall and weigh between 8 and 14 pounds (wide range) 
·        -   They are burrowing penguins, meaning they dig dens under big rocks or in open areas and then make a nest (where they find nest material is a mystery to me)
·        -  Penguin couples return to Isla Magdalena each year to hang out from September to March
·         - Mamas lay two eggs and takes turns with papa incubating and caring for the chicks that hatch in December
·         - Isla Magdalena is Chile’s most important Magellanic penguin colony, designated as a national monument, with 120,000 nesting penguins living on the island
·         -  All penguins have distinctive markings or bands; our friends on Isla Magdalena have a white band that loops around the eyes, down the side of the neck, and under the chin
·        - A group of penguins in the water is called a raft while a group of penguins on land is called a waddle. Other nouns to describe a group include a rookery, colony, or huddle.
·        -  The island is easily accessible to humans, so let’s not mess this up, folks

A welcoming committee of penguins greets us. The lighthouse on the hill is an information center.

At first the island appears to be nothing but bare sand with holes in it, and if penguin poop is a problem for you, well, don’t go on this tour.  The humans’ walkway is cordoned off, a circular route from the dock to the lighthouse and back.  The rule is that humans stay on the path, but penguins are allowed anywhere.  If they wander onto the path, visitors should stay a few yards away (most people interpret this to apply to everyone but themselves).  Upon disembarking, the staff gently shoos people to the left in the clockwise direction, so massive patience is needed for everyone’s selfie requirements (you know you want one, too). 

What is it about penguins?  The stilted waddle, for sure, the puffed-out chest and the formal tuxedo look.  The movie “March of the Penguins” depicting each individual’s dependence on community for survival is a must-see to appreciate these magnificent creatures. 

Why, yes, we have a few photos.

A motley (molting) crew


Home sweet home

The original planking?

Howdy neighbor!

Cathy, myself and flags

The reason for shooing us in the same direction at the beginning of the visit became clear:  all the easier to shoo us right on around back to the boat.  Folks became downright stubborn to get one more perfect photo of the perfect posing penguin.  In the shuffle along the walkway I said hello to a random couple.  The young guy said he lived in Washington D.C., I said I was originally from Virginia, he then said he was originally from Roanoke, VA and…you guessed it…underneath his coat he was wearing a Virginia Tech tee shirt!  Hokies.Are.Everywhere.

Any ferry ride on open water has the potential for whale spotting, and we were not disappointed on our return trip.  You’ve gotta be quick to see them!

Rick and Cathy and I were getting hungry.  After a quick change at the hostel, we walked to the town’s main square and quickly got swept up in the colorful buildings, shops and people.  Rick particularly enjoys picking up Christmas gifts on his travels and he loved perusing the handicraft street vendors. 

Plaza Muñoz Gamero

Statue of Ferdinand Magellan in Plaza Muñoz Gamero

A breathtaking mosaic inside the Catedral Sagrado (Sacred Heart)  
 “Yo Soy La Vida” I Am The Life

We climbed stairs to the Mirador de la Cruz.

All this sight-seeing pushed us over the edge of the hunger cliff and we began roaming without a plan.  We landed at guidebook-recommended La Luna, a quirky little place with so much off-the-wall stuff on its walls that one visit couldn’t do it justice.  My king crab casserole was absolutely delicious and I regret that I could not eat more.  Next time…

Missing our buddy Carol

Lifesize artwork inside La Luna's ladies’ room:

On the walk back to Hostel Keoken in the waning light, we encountered five guys with instruments – trombones, bugles, a French horn.  They were walking in between the lanes at a traffic light, playing lively music, not collecting money, apparently just for fun.  A celebratory end to a penguin day!

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”  ~Aristotle

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Patagonia 2017: Salto Grande - Día Trece

Patagonia 2017:  A Little Salto Grande on the Way to Punta Arenas - Día Trece – 2/20/17

Maximizing our commitment of money and time for traveling in South America, and to ward off the post-trek blues after hiking the “W,” more adventures awaited our merry band.  Today was our last day as a foursome because Carol was heading off to join her hubby for a fantastic two-week cruise from Buenos Aires to Santiago.  Rick had plans for a ten-day excursion to Antarctica (!) and we were all jealous of that. Prior to his departure, Rick was sticking with Cathy and me for two days and nights in Punta Arenas.  What’s there, you say?  Wait and see!

But today was all about getting from Point A to Point D via Points B & C.  The first leg was the morning ferry from Refugio Paine Grande to Pudeto. 

Goodbye Los Cuernos

With a couple of hours to kill at Pudeto before our bus departure, we got a bite to eat and took the half-hour walk to see Lago Nordenskjöld's outfall to the Paine River and then to Lago Pehoé.  The river is short but mighty as it narrows to rapids and plunges over Salto Grande, an impressive waterfall.  The noise, the volume, the spray, and the glacier blue water made this an unexpected and delightful ending to our visit to Torres del Paine National Park.

Los Cuernos as a backdrop, water flows from Lago Nordenskjöld...

...through Salto Grande...

...into Lago Pehoé

The rest of the day was buses, retrieving our belongings from the apartment building in Puerto Natales (yay, still on the high shelf in the laundry room!), saying goodbye to Carol.  Next stop for Rick, Cathy and me was Punta Arenas, the largest city in Patagonia.  [Relatively speaking, it’s a small city, and I wish we’d had an extra day to explore thoroughly, but we gave it our best effort in our time there.]

Rick, Cathy and I arrived in Punta Arenas after dark, a bit of a challenge finding Hostel Keoken.  We knocked on the locked front door until another guest let us in (the owner was not to be found) and the housekeeper gave us our room key.  Three beds with a bath – luxurious after the refugio circuit – but little floor space for our exploding backpacks.  Supper was just the second half of our lunch sandwiches. Did we share an evening toast, maybe on the rooftop patio?  After the long day, all we really cared about was charging phones. And wifi.  And sleep.

Tomorrow – penguins!

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” ~Martin Buber

From Lago Nordenskjöld