Penguin Affair

Our love affair or maybe I should say my love affair with penguins did not have an auspicious beginning.

Imagine this.  It is February 13th. I am not subject to triskaidekaphobia.  The number 13 is just that.  It was  Ash Wednesday, the middle of summer.  Yes, we are almost at the southernmost end of the world though that would come the very next day in Ushuaia, and it is bitterly COLD.  We are in Punta Arenas,Chile.  Everyone is shivering and bundling up in all kinds of layers.

I want to see penguins. The ship’s penguin tours to Magdalena Island were all cancelled because of the inclement weather.  We had not signed on for any, rather preferring to go on an overland tour to the Penguin Sanctuary of Otway Sound with a private taxi/guide.  It is a smaller colony of some 60,000 Magellanic penguins spread over quite a large breeding ground and park for public viewing.

We bundled up and went ashore even as the weak sunshine turned to rain.  So what, we thought, we are only a hop, skip and jump from Antarctica so summer can be wintery.  We were very lucky.  There was this taxi driver who seemed to be just waiting for us.  I told him where we wanted to go.  He looked at me with a slight air of bewilderment and said: “It is wide open space and windy today.  Here in Punta Arenas, even in summer we can get rain, sleet, snow, ice and even a bit of sunshine in a matter of hours.  Today is not a good day to go to Otway”.   I said with the confidence of the ignorant.“Well, we can stand a bit of rain and we are Canadians, we know cold weather.”“OK.” He said and it sounded as if he swallowed “but it is your funeral.”

We negotiated a price and felt very simpatico towards eachother.  Bert suggested we go to his favourite bar on our return for a drink. If I was clairvoyant I think I would be able to read a bubble over Carlos’ head saying: “You’re going to need it!” However, we were becoming fast friends.  Carlos told us his wife taught English and would love to speak with us to get some practice and would we mind if she came along on the trip.  Sure, no problem.  Carlos called then drove home and there was the beautiful Ximena waiting.  She had two very heavy overcoats, both belonging to Carlos and said:  “These are for you and your husband.  There is a cold wind out at the colony and you are going to need these.”  How thoughtful.

Off we went. The rain turned to sleet.  We arrived at the Sanctuary with driving sleet and a biting wind.  The attendant asked:“Are you sure you want to walk out to see penguins in this weather?”  I answered: “Oh, yes.”  She shook her head, told Carlos to go on,that we could pay her when we were leaving and waved us in.

I did not think about this being somewhat foolhardy until Carlos opened the door and Ximena gave me a coat.  We were the only visitors.  A blast of wind rocked us as bits of ice hit our faces head on. What a walk!

Penguins!  They approached us all ready for the formal ball!  A group of about seven came toward us.  I crouched down, and mindful about not touching them, spoke softly to them. They spoke penguin and I spoke English and some Spanish and we communicated.   They came right up to me and followed wherever I went.  One came close enough to peck at my hand.  Carlos was quite surprised how comfortable they seemed with my presence and joked with Bert that I must speak penguin.   However, even with the extra coats, both Bert and I were shaking with the cold.  I looked at Carlos and he was not too happy either.  With regret I said goodbye to my penguin companions.  They followed me as we walked away.  I had the biggest closed mouth smile as I thought my teeth would freeze if I opened my mouth.

I approached the attendant with the fee ready.  She looked at me and said: “Senora, if you were so determined to see our penguins in this weather, you don’t owe anything.  Was it worth it?”   ”Oh, yes it was a short but sweet encounter, and they came to me.  It was a love affair.”  She smiled, shook her head and handed me some pamphlets.

Ximena, who had wisely stayed in the car, invited us back to their home saying we needed to have a hot drink.   At the mention of something hot Bert forgot the bar date.    We accepted and were soon chatting animatedly with Carlos and Ximena , their children Carlos Jr, Gabriel,Stefan and Paulina.  The tea was ambrosia and a panacea.  They offered a meal but that we politely refused citing the plenitude on the cruise ship.  I could not stop talking about my penguin affair. A Good English lesson, I thought.

The Meander:  I fell in love with penguins on that miserable day.   I have seen them in South Africa, In Ushuaia, The Falkland Islands, all over.  I have penguin memorabilia.  February 18th in Puerto Madryn, Argentina we went on tour. It was a marvellous summer’s day.  I was surrounded by penguins.  If only I had waited!   No, Otway Sanctuary remains my penguin first love.  Why?  As the only visitors the experience was personal.  It also had Carlos and Ximena and their kindness.   Gosh, I love to travel.

14 thoughts on “Penguin Affair”

  1. Enjoyed reading your penguin post. On a cruise this past February, my visit was from Puerto Madryn harbour to what was billed as the largest penguin colony in South America: Puerto Tombo National Reserve. Long trek from the beginning of the reserve to the sea where there was an army of them. Friendly creatures. Seemed to pose for photos.

    1. Hahah, your comment brought the memories back. If Only I had waited. The weather in Puerto Tombo was so much better than in Punta Arenas. Yes, they are friendly creatures and I do love them. Otway Sanctuary still holds a special place in my heart.

  2. Well, one story of yours I did not know was this one on penguins. Nor your connection with these interesting creatures. Thanks for sharing. I am so delighted that you are writing! And as well as providing pleasure for others, you are enjoying it yourself!
    Mary Lou

    1. I am surprised you did not know this. Next time you visit I have to show you my penguin memorabilia. Yes, my travel journals delight me very much and I am happy you and others enjoy my travel stories too.

  3. Love this story Paula. What an incredible encounter to have to penguins. The amazing bond and connection you had with them is very rare I would say. Very special too. I just love hearing about your travel experiences. So much awesome adventure you had. So lucky you are. Fantastic story.

  4. It is a simple but great story like this one that says everything about you and Bert as world travellers. Heaven help us, you have been everywhere like few people on the planet. And, who can appreciate what you have seen and done more than you do?! Love it!

    1. Oh, Larry I am grateful each and every day for our travels. My travel journals offer up something whenever I am feeling sorry for myself. Then I can read and marvel that this human being have been able with the help of another travel fan to see so much. We have been truly blessed and we know it!

      1. Don’t I know it! In spades! But great travel requires great travellers and I cannot think of anyone fitting the definition more than you. That is why you appreciate what you have done. See you Thursday.

    2. Paula, what incredible basket of beautiful memories you have with your sweet Bert. Thank you for sharing. I always look forward to our online visits.

      1. Thank you, Carol. Whenever I dive into my travel trunk of memories it never fails to serve up some wonderful adventures. Am glad you like what I share. When you make a comment the online visit becomes complete.

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