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South America » Argentina » Chubut » Punta Tombo
January 20th 2012
Published: January 21st 2012
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LAST CHANCE FOR PENGUINS

My case of penguinitis it chronic. Although I have had ample opportunity to treat it, I fear it cannot be cured.

We take a bus from Puerto Madryn to Porto Tumbo where the largest colony of Magellan penguins is, about 1,000,000 individuals.

The drive is through the typical Patagonian landscape, reminiscent of the drive from Las Vegas to LA, except that the land is flat, flat, flat and dry, dry, dry! This region gets about 7” of rain per year. There are no trees. The winds from the west are dry and strong. The bushes grow low and are thorny. The only animal that feasts on them is the guanaco. I have now seen three of the four camel-like animals in South America, the llama, alpaca and the guanaco, but no vicuna.

Our guide, Marta, has excellent English skills and is well versed in geology, biology and Patagonian history. She made what could have been a boring drive interesting.

We entered the colony and walked on a gravel path and boardwalk between the penguin burrows. Everywhere you look there are penguins. Adult and chicks and every age in between, either ignore you or give you a quizzical look over as you pass by. Penguins have the right of way and they pass across the path on their way to feed or return to their nest or just get to the other side. Penguins were in the shade under the boardwalk bridges. Gulls would land by the burrows checking for a quick meal. Hawk and skuas soared overhead for the same reason and a guanaco grazed on the torn bushes. Down by the water the adolescents played in the surf. If will be there job to teach the chicks to swim and fish after mom and dad head for sea. All too soon our two hours were up and it was back to the bus for the long drive back to the ship.

Once again I lucked out. One of the busses had a flat tire and a second stopped to help so their time at Porto Tumbo was shortened a bit. Still, since it was a ship’s tour, the ship delayed its departure for over an hour until everyone was aboard. That is the benefit of a ship tour. On the other hand they are usually twice the cost of a private tour.

The Patagonian region is the least populated region in Argentina and the government has made efforts to “Populate Patagonia”. The main industry for Puerto Madryn is aluminum. The plant employs 4,000 workers, almost the total population of Puerto Madryn when the plant was built. Today the population numbers 82,000 and growing. After aluminum, fishing, wool and tourism are the main sources of income in the region.

One of the biggest problems in the area is trash removal. Landfills are used but before the trash can be covered by bulldozers, the wind picks up the plastic and blows it all over the steppes. Trash is everywhere you look. In places it is the equal to Kenya. Last year the government banned the distribution of plastic bags but is will take decades, if ever, for the mess to be cleaned up.

Gerald deserted us for dinner as he met a lady on tour. He is a great person and the woman who marries him will be very lucky. I had opakaopaka, Indonesian soup and cinnamon ice cream. Played a little poker and went to my cabin for a great nights sleep.

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