Penguin style in Southern Patagonia

Sea lions

Sea lions

We were up at a rather unconventional 3:30 am, in preparation for our 3 plus hour drive to Punta Arenas from Puerto Natales. On the docket for today was a trip by boat to Isla Magdalena, an uninhabited island. Well uninhabited by humans that is. Penguins on the other hand run wild here, with as many as 150,000 on the island at any given time. These small Magellanic penguins are just two feet tall, and totally adorable. These penguins are even monogamous, which is pretty amazing, and not just for one season like most penguin species, but for their entire lifetimes. We still don’t understand the full depth of what drives their mating habits, but it’s so fascinating to think about and witness. The penguins are hilariously notorious for bumbling and stumbling around, much like I am. They’ll trip on rocks, stumble on uneven ground, and look adorable doing it. There are plenty of small burrows around as well, which causes them no end of trouble as they make their way around the island. In the water on the other hand, they’re transformed from awkward to awesome, swimming powerfully and flawlessly as they hunt for food and do so quickly.

The crew of the boat introduced themselves as we boarded, and stated somewhat ominously that the conditions would be difficult. They did so with a completely straight face, making it tough to tell whether they were joking or not. The area is notorious for bad weather, but today was nothing but crystal clear skies as far as the eye could see. It turned out they were indeed kidding, as the trip to the island was as smooth as can be.

Isla Magdalena

Isla Magdalena

There weren’t many seats available so I sat down on the flybridge near the captain and studied some of the equipment he used to navigate. I used to work as a boat sales rep, so I was familiar with different navigational equipment used in sailing and boating, and found items on the ship like the depth finder to be of particular interest, where most people were more concerned with watching the waves. Speaking of the waves, they were rather fierce considering it was a relatively tame day. I’m sure it would’ve been nice to surf.

We stayed on the island with the penguins for an hour, and the time flew by far too quickly. I snapped off hundreds of photos in that time, occasionally finding it tricky to keep a steady hand with the winds picking up. We caught pics of penguins doing all manner of different things, be it mating, feeding themselves or their young, swimming, hunting, snuggling with each other, and playing around. This penguins are particularly fat looking, which makes them all the more cute. As you can imagine, with that many penguins in a relatively small area, it was like total chaos. It helps that the penguins in general are not afraid of humans, partly as they have no land predators. They don’t mind being fairly close to humans, but will usually back off if approached too closely. We would have loved to stay longer, but our time was up. We made our way back to the boat and returned to the mainland.

This return trip was not quite as pleasant as the journey there, as the small boat was being viciously tossed around by large waves and fierce winds. The crew was very skilled and did a tremendous job to keep us on course and upright. The choppy ride back made many people nervous, and more than a few got sick from either the motion of the boat, their anxiety, or a combination of the two.It definitely made me feel woozy as well, though luckily I managed to hang on to my lunch, at least figuratively, as I hadn’t eaten anything yet today. Maybe that was what spared me.

In the end though we made it safely back none the worse for wear, save for wobbly legs. We were rather messy, so decided to hunt down a hotel and get ourselves composed before trying to find a place to eat. We found a nice place that more for business types than for the adventurous tourist. We found a nice place called Lometi’s to grab some sandwiches, and even ran into another American there, from Alabama. We had a nice conversation, about many things related to American politics, and he definitely defied the common stereotype of people from that area of America.

Seno Otway

Seno Otway

We then took a quick nap back at the hotel in preparation for a long night ahead of us, as it was New Year’s Eve. We only found out around this time that most businesses would be closed earlythis night, which isn’t common in America, so we were unsure what to do about dinner. We ended up cooking on our camping stove right in front of the upper class hotel we were staying at. We definitely got some strange looks, but it was a lot of fun. We toured around the city at this point, looking for a place that was open, and still couldn’t believe how quiet the streets were, and how many places were closed. It seems like everyone had personal parties to attend, which we unfortunately did not. We headed back to our hotel and watched the ball drop at Times Square in New York. It wasn’t a great way to ring in the New Year, as we were hoping for something a little more festive, but all things considered it was a great day, and a nice end to 2008.