Antarctic Adventure

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South America » Chile » Magallanes » Punta Arenas
January 11th 2012
Published: January 12th 2012
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Sunrise comes early here and today’s was spectacular. I have no idea what time it was but I’m guessing around 4:00am. The sky was crystal blue with bands of orange and red at the horizon. It promises to be a good day.

We docked in Punta Arenas and met out tour guide. There are twelve of us from CruiseCritic doing our own thing. After a brisk walk to the van we headed out of town to the Otway Bay penguin rookery. Too soon we headed off the paved highway and onto a gravel road. It was rough but compared to Kenya it was a super highway.

There are two ships in port and the main attraction is the penguins so we passed bus after bus and a few vans as well as we headed for the bay. The land is flat, fenced and used for grazing and all privately owned. Along the way we spotted caracara, a rhea (called a nandue, a small ostrich like bird) and of course sheep and cattle.

There is an open pit coal mine on the bay and a long pier stretches out to deep water for shipping the product. We pay our toll to the road owner, $3 per person and arrive at the penguin preserve, privately owned by Croatians, pay our $14 and join hundreds of our new best friends on the mile walk to the shore.

Midway the path splits and I take the left fork, no surprise there, and soon the penguins are right there. These are Magellan or jackass penguins because there call is like a donkeys’. They live 25-30 years and always come back to their birthplace to breed. They mate for life and usually have one or two babies. The parents take turns swimming for food every 8 hours or so while the other watches over the nest.

I was glad I brought my earmuffs as the winds were picking up near the water. Other than that the weather was fine if overcast. There is a boardwalk for the humans and the penguins, who nest in burrows, have dug tunnels under the walk to get to the sea. Right next to the walk was a mom and two babies. Calling them babies is a little misleading as with their down, they are as large or larger than mom.

While the march of the humans converged on the beach-viewing platform, penguins, some solo and some in groups were marching in single file to the sea to feed. They are so cute that it’s hard to believe that they are wild things. Mutual grooming is common. I was surprised to see an adult with two or even three young.

After spending time penguin watching we walked the mile back t the van for our tour of Punta Arenas. On the way back we were lucky to see a condor. These birds have a nine-foot wingspan and a white head. They are carrion eaters like the caracara we saw earlier feeding on a sheep carcass. We also saw the Chilean version of the Canada goose.

Punta Arenas was buzzing with tourists. Surprisingly the highlight for me was the cemetery. All burials are above ground in mausoleums or vaults. Each family seems to have one and the ground is decorated with flowers, real and artificial. Pictures of the deceased are often displayed and occasionally an angel or cross marks the tomb. As is usual everywhere, there are massive monuments for the leading families. I was fascinating to read the different names. About 90% were Spanish but there were Russian, English and French as well.

We drove to the central plaza of the town and walked through the park enjoying the crafts and monuments and looking for a camera store. Unfortunately the stores were closed for siesta and I had a choice. Stay in town until they opened and make my own way back to the ship or return with the van. I felt uncomfortable making my own way back so I chickened out and returned to the Veendam. I can always get batteries in Ushuaia (oo shy’ wa) tomorrow. Just in time for tea and scones and that hit the spot. It had been along time since breakfast of juice, coffee and yoghurt.

I tried the Canaletto Restaurant for dinner. It is an Italian specialty restaurant and I had antipasto, frita del mar and lemoncello pudding. I wondered if I would have a reaction to the shellfish but since there were only two of each, clams, mussels, shrimp with a few scallops and lots of pasta I was fine.

Bummer! The Captain just announced that because of impending weather conditions we would not be able to land in Ushuaia (just when I learned to pronounce the name). Nor will we able to see Cape Horn but instead will transit the Drake Channel directly to Antarctic. Details to follow tomorrow when the Captain will have a talk at 10:00 am. The upshot is that I will not be able to get batteries on shore and believe it or not, the ship’s stores do not carry AA. Lemonade! Lemonade!


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