Not wanting new readers to be ignorant of the truth: that that is blog is not entirely, but only maybe a little bit, devoted to penguins.. and also not wanting to disappoint.. this is a follow up to the post about the island trip near Ushuaia in Argentinian Tierra del Fuego.
I am feeling the distance from the Earth’s intense south anyway.
I adore mad latitudes and the rough cold. 54/55 degrees suits me just fine and random penguin appearances can only be a good thing.
New readers will not know I went to Antarctica in January for work as an Australian journalist. I covered the 100th anniversary of the landing of Sir Douglas Mawson’s first Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
The main inhabitants of that part of the world are adelie penguins and at that time of the year they are nesting.
The ship was “parked” by the crew on a thick field of fast ice so helicopters could be launched to hold a Mawson centenary ceremony.
At it’s edge, the ice was 20 kilometres away from the true Antarctic coastline where the penguins were nesting on rocks.
This made it hard for the penguins to gather food to bring back to the nest.
The adelies were attracted to the ship and the people on board. In turn, we were entranced by them.
There was was 24 hour sunlight when we were there in January and the penguins could be seen out of every ship porthole lying, lolling, sleeping, fighting and generally looking adorable.
That brown orangey colour is krill flavoured penguin poo and both chicks and parents were all revelling in it.
You can see the grey fuzzy chicks. They grow big very fast and shed the fuzz to become black and white swimming and fishing machines.
It is hard not to notice the weird strung out look in the parent’ eyes. Parenting is hard, but imagine it in 24 hour sunlight buffeted by fierce katabatic winds.
On my last day on the fast ice, I was lucky to see this emperor penguin wandering towards the water’s edge on its lonesome.
It has a little bit of fluff on the back of his head. Sort of like a scarf or a some sort of party mullet.
But back to the trip near Ushuaia. Here are a few more photos that did not make the last post.
Those two king penguins were quite aggressive, but the gentoos and magellanic penguins gave as good as they got.
When not fighting between species, the penguins had it all sorted out. These magellanic penguins were sharing the spoils of the day’s fishing.
Nothing like a bit of regurgitation between friends and relatives.
This photo will give you an idea of the high number of penguins on the island. The magellanic penguins have well and truly moved in.
You can see the lighter fledglings in the photo as well as the brown, pesky skua hoping to pick off a penguin lunch.
.. and here is a baby magellanic penguin. A very big baby at that.
This creature is getting ready to launch itself into the biting cold waters at the bottom of South America and go live its life until it is ready to nest itself.
Well.. right after this nap.
They appear to be such innocent, beguiling creatures. So adorable. So darn cute.
Well, from previous experience, I already know they attack. The Adelie penguins that came at me en masse while I took photos around the Aurora Australis will forever be a disturbing highlight of my life. Now I know penguins can lull you into suicidal behaviour.
My friend Sharon and I found ourselves in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego thwarted by boat scheduling difficulties in a last minute attempt to scoot over to the Chilean Antarctic territory of Isla Navarino.
Our Antarctic cravings would have to be satisfied elsewhere. Plan B would have us spying on penguins hanging out on an island a kilometre or two north of the most southerly part of Chile.
As we hurtled out of town in the mini-bus, Sharon was wondering whether the penguins were worth it. The suspension on the bus was clearly shot and the driver was far too comfortable on the road.
I noticed from the back window seat that our vehicle was being overtaken on the double yellow lines, so clearly everyone’s confidence was high.
After a fascinating trip to a remote museum to see the work volunteers are doing on the bones of locally washed up sea mammals like whales, seals and dolphins, we were in a zodiac rocketing over waves towards our little penguin friends.
The boat repeatedly smacked hard against the waves.
Our bodies weren’t thrown around, but the jarring motion was intense. Grimacing too hard could cause jaw damage. In one case, a woman’s head was donged against the canopy. This appeared to be an urgent mission to penguin land.
Again, the tour guide was great. She had lots of great information about the local colony along with the usual information of not approaching the penguins and letting them come to you.. if they want to.
This was a magellanic penguin colony that only formed over the past few decades.
It is the most southerly place to find magellanic penguins. Gentoo penguins had arrived fairly recently and the guide seemed most surprised to see two king penguins there that day.
I was surprised too to see the kings. I though that was not something I would see in Tierra del Fuego. It can be good to be wrong.
They like this particular island between Argentinia’s Tierra del Fuego and Chile’s Isla Navarino because it is spongy to walk on and it has easy access to the Altantic Ocean.
The penguin fledglings ambling around at this time of year are quite large and independent, although skua birds appeared still keen to pick them off.
I admit I could have been dressed better, but I survived.
The things you do for penguins.
They pecked away at any other sort of penguin that came near. The kings are similar to the Antarctic emperor penguin, but with different patterns and they are not quite as big.
The gentoos were also fighting amongst themselves. These two appeared to be squabbling over who could stand on this geometric block of concrete.
.. and at last, just as we were to be sent back to on our bone jarring journey home, I had time to pull out the penguin toy I have been carrying these past six weeks from Sydney.
I did not have much time for the birds to waddle up and bond with it, but they were clearly interested. Just as they were about nest, or do whatever to the toy, we had to go.
I carefully slid my hand over to the stuffed version, grabbed it and returned to the zodiac exclaiming, “it is not a real one” and they said “I know.”
Chile’s famed Navimag ferry has an oversize deck chessboard that no one appears to take very seriously. The black and white patchwork is used more for photo stunts than games. When one of the highlights of the four day, three night journey happened, a rendezvous with an advancing glacier, two Australians briefly got down to their undies for a chessboard photo with a glacial background.
I was busy taking a photo for a couple at the time otherwise I would regale you with the momentary expression of Australian backpackerdom.
Anyway the temperatures were just above zero so they weren’t that brave.
It is a cargo vessel that doubles as floating backpacker hostel. That is not that a criticism. You are extremely well looked after and it is delightful that you are roughing it a bit. Many of the passengers are going onto doing treks and other wonderful wilderness hardships.
The Evangalista just happens to be going through beautiful Chilean Patagonia allowing passengers to see sights impossible by road and only by the most epic trekking.
I learnt about guanaco spitting and the mating habits of a few creatures I’d not set eyes on before.
On the second night at about three in morning, I listened faithfully to a guy who’d been arrested as some sort of concerned tourist in Iraq in 2003. At points it was hard to concentrate on his singular tale as people behind him had started badly juggling fruit.
Ship life can be fun and offers an unparalleled viewpoint, but it can also be relentless and overwhelming. There is no getting off because you have had enough, seasickness is as anti-fun as it sounds and you are taking potluck with your fellow travellers.
It is also a little squeezy.
We were in CC cabins: a womb-like cave with four bunks and no porthole. There was room for perhaps two people standing, but this was reduced to one person in our case. Our Dutch cabin mates had brought large ports on their trip that could not be folded into the space’s small cabinets.
As we were escorted to our sleeping quarters we heard one of them exclaim “My God!” at the size of it. They ended up spending a lot of time in the cave as it turned out one had sunstroke and the other had a stomach bug.
A misdirected entry into a bunk could end in a lump on the head or a bruise to the thigh.
The crew were fantastic. The Captain, here on the right, remembered me cause I sporadically wore a knitted cap with black horns. Between looking serious on the bridge and navigating us safely through tight waterways he made horn gestures whenever I passed.
Sandra in galley always singled me out sweetly for being a vegetarian and Jean Pierre, (the second officer on the photo’s left), and I talked ships, weather and navigation.
Apparently I became known around the Navimag as the girl with the big lens. Lens envy they call it. I am carrying a big 150-500mm lens that I got for the last Antarctic trip and no one on the Navimag had bigger than that. It might look cool and help take great shots, but it is weighing me down.
If there is a prize for the most uneconomical backpacker ever this bulky object will help me win.
The Navimag crew says the remote fishing village of Puerto Eden was supplied with a steady sugar supply for several years after that accident.
The ferry could have just sailed through a gray wall of fog for four days.
Sunshine was not out that often, but the passengers not glued to the bar could see everything; mountain top glaciers, mirror views on the water and leaping sea life.
I can tick off Magellanic penguins, seal lions and very small dolphins. An environmental scientist using the ferry to get to a research spot said the northern fjords are home to blue whales, but we would have passed that during the first night.
The scientists are doing rare surveys of the wildlife in the area and finding scores of new species.
Burgeoning salmon farms were pointed out. All had floating mansions attached and we counted one that had 23 massive nets. The sea floor is dead underneath these multi-million dollar ventures.
The Navimag ferry seems to make up the bulk of the tourism and it only passes by twice a week.
It was quite the exercise to get us all off the ferry in lifejackets, onto small fishing vessels piloted by locals and onto land for an hour long wander.
We bought coffee and a giant wheel of fried bread or batter from a local woman and ambled around on a designated wooden path still wearing our bright lifejackets.
You quickly become institutionalised on ships. Food is provided at designated times and entertainment is never far from your cabin.
Pisco sours started off several rounds of bingo. Usual thoughts of never winning ended with me taking out the major prize.
I won a cap, a much-needed warm jacket and a less-needed bottle of Johnny Walker red.
I gleefully shared the spoils after one sip much to the delight those around us.
Sharon and I are wondering how to get back there and do the return ride from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.
She’s also pointing down the quaintly coloured and alluring suburban street we were headed towards.
He has a child with him so perhaps it can’t be that bad, but the woman overhead is insistent. It is path towards some unknown sort of crime.
After a few steps, a non-descript car with two men pulls up beside us. We are attracting a lot of male attention and I think these guys should be best ignored.
One flashes a bronze badge and ID card I am immediately suspicious of. The laughing man in the passenger seat does not add to my confidence in this scene.
One Valparaiso hill may be ok for non-locals wandering aimlessly eyeballing graffiti; the next rise is apparently where you can say goodbye to all your goods and chattels. They don’t put that in guidebooks.
Numerous requests for directions have been met with long distance escorts, even if our new acquaintances don’t really know the way.
Women have stood next to Sharon and I while we have used cheap petrol station coffee dispensers and given repeated, and excited, verbal encouragement.
.. and hiring a car for a long distance, one way car excursion may prove to be three of the most bizarre three hours spent on this trip.
We were not to know that and driving from Santiago to Puerto Montt more than a thousand kilometres away over four days had firmly become part of our ill-researched plans.
We got it in our heads that cabbing it to the airport where car hire companies are sequestered was the best thing to do. All the rental places would be in one spot to fight over us and driving south from the airport would allow us to avoid Santiago’s mad traffic.
However, hearing our plans unveiled the nurturing side of our cab driver.
Julio, as we came to know him, knew a better ways go, while we insisted on going through with our great idea.
Julio said “there was a place very close by” and quicker than you can say, “Are we getting taken for a ride? Where the hell are we?” we were back in Santiago about 100 metres from where we began the morning’s journey to the airport.
Various “looks” were being exchanged in the cabs backseat.
Sharon’s Spanish was being tested as Julio instructed her to chill out. The first place we were taken to explained how the rare request to drop off a hire car somewhere else would involved the paying for the car to be returned to the point of origin.
Our plans were sinking like the pisco sours and wine we drank the previous night. We only had a few days, a few off road locations to travel to and half a case of wine to carry.
We were driven to one of the biggest, most expensive car yards in the capital where he proudly introduced us to the English-speaking owner. Julio’s friend knew someone else who could help us and he was on his way. Meantime, Julio expressed his admiration for us, in particular me.
The car arrived with accompanying scratches and without its logo, but this red beast would do the trick. We had to leave a place of residence on the form and Julio said we could use his place. He joked he only had one spare room.
We did and we were soon on the great Panamerican Ruta 5 heading south.
It is on my clothes, in my bag, under my fingernails, and unfortunately, it is in my camera.
Easter Island wants to come with me on the rest of my trip.
They are back over there, thousands of kilometres to the east; men who ride horses, women with flowers in their hair and people who say ‘iorana or hola to strangers in the street.
It frantically flapped a tail that would soon be someone’s dinner.
As for the gift I got earlier on, I can smell my reed bracelet that Moa gave me. It has dried out now, but it still pulses out its musty grass scent after a shower.
There are just over five thousand people living on this remote speck in the Pacific. Roughly half are Rapa Nui, while most of the rest are Chilean. The flow of people from mainland Chile is a great concern to the islanders who are trying to preserve their way of life.
I heard the Rapa Nui language often during my stay, but it seems it is something for the older generations. I am told it usually takes the experience of going to Chile for education that makes young Rapanuis realise how good they have it and return to older ways.
Easter Island has only one radio station and two television channels. One channel is from Chile. The local people have resisted cable television and are hoping to keep it that way.
They are not going to get worked anytime soon. People are using 4WDs and scooters more and riding horses less. Easter Island is not that big, but it has a lot of cars that have to be shipped from Chile.
I also rode scooters at night, clubbed till 5 am, ate fish for the first time in 17 years and just hung out for a bit.
I am with my friend Sharon and we have a lot of road to cover.