Friday, March 20, 2009

In Search of Penguins

Punta Arenas is right on the famous Straits of Magellan.

One of the 'must do' things here is to go see the penguins. There are 2 standard trips... one is an all day affair in a big Zodiac, out to Isla Magdellena, where there is a large penguin colony--30,000 penguins. The other is shorter, a shuttle bus out to a smaller colony on the mainland--'only' 5,000 penguins.

Though we would normally have opted for the Isla Magdelena trip (who would turn down a boat ride?), they quit running that trip on a regular basis on March 15. Partly due to changing weather (it's Fall here now) and partly because the penguins migrate north starting in mid-Mar.

So we booked the shorter Seno Otway Penguinera trip at a cost of about $20 per person. It leaves daily about 4:30pm from Punta Arenas (several tour agencies arrange the same general trip). We had 6 people in our very nice new van. After about an hour drive on succeedingly worse roads, we got to the waterfront on the other side of the peninsula. We drove on gravel roads across miles of 'Estancias' (sheep and cattle ranches), and past a coal mine, before arriving at the small Penguin preserve.

Though the weather was reasonable in Punta Arenas, it was cold and very windy out at the Penguinera. We estimated that it was blowing about 25-30 knots. The Penguinera reserve has about a mile of boardwalk winding through a penguin colony. At sunset, the penguins surf in from their afternoon fishing trip, and hang out on the frigid beach, before making their way to burrows slightly inlad. So we saw some penguins on the beach, some standing around outside their burrows, and several we could see by peeking into the burrows.

It was fun watching them, and we got some great photos.

After an hour of wandering around in the freezing wind in search of Penguins, we were happy to meet back up with the driver of our van, who had hot chocolate and coffee waiting for us.

Another side trip we made was to the Naval and Maritime Museum in downtown Punta Arenas. There were old photos of the shipping activity and the waterfront, and models and mock-ups of Navy ships and equipment. We also watched the Mystic Seaport documentary 'Around Cape Horn' which is really good, showing real onboard movie footage of one of the last sailing ships still sailing a commercial route between Chile and Europe, in 1929.

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