Isla Magdalena

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November 27th 2014
Published: December 9th 2014
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My first day in the Chilean Patagonia area I checked into the beautiful hotel where we were staying in Punta Arenas, Dreams Hotel, unpacked my warmer gear for the trip to the island, and met our driver from the tour company in charge of showing us around the area (Patagonia Carioca, named that because of one of the owners being from Rio de Janeiro) in the Lobby promptly at 4:30 PM to meet the ferry. The ride to the ferry was not long, Punta Arenas is not a very large town and, guided by the advice of our knowlegeable guides, were some of the first to board and, managed to snatch a prime location table inside the ferry, next to a large window with full view of the passing scenery. The deck was open, but the trip to the island takes two hours and it was cold enough that we deemed it unnecessary to spend all the time exposed to the weather.

The Island is located in the Strait of Magellan, approximately 35 km north of Punta Arenas and we cruised along Tierra del fuego on our route. There is a colony of about 200 Emperor Penguins there, but they were not visible from our distance. Eventually, we came closer and closer to the smaller Isla Magdalena and we precariously disembarked through planks from the back of the boat onto the very rocky beach, where we were already welcome by curious penguins, along with watchful rangers that made sure we obeyed the restrictions. The constant honking calls of the penguins is almost deafening.

70,000 pairs of Magellan Penguins come to this island yearly during breeding season, from September through April. The males arrive first and start preparing their homes, and the females arrive a few weeks later. They need the extended hours of sunlight for mating season, and there the sun comes up around 4:30 AM and doesn't set until after 10 PM. They cannot, however, handle the intense cold of winter, at which time they head back to Brazil until the following year.

The entire island, which is a beautiful island of itself although covered in very sparce vegetation, is dotted with the little caves that the penguins dig themselves and where the pairs of penguins make their nests. We were told that they use the same place every year, unless it is not there and they then have to make a new one. We saw some that were still busily preparing their nexts, and at least one little mamma who already had her two little chicks. Whatever chicks there were at this time, however, were too young to be visibly out and about. We were told that in a few weeks, the population in the island will double, and the penguins will be so thick it is practically hard to avoid tripping over them.

However, there were plenty of juveniles that were mostly playing on the beach, still uncumbered by the need to mate and frolicking instead, like the teenagers that they are.

Because of the amount of penguins, there is a marked path that you must follow while you are on the island so as not to disturb them or damage their nests. However, the penguins themselves are not bothered by human visitations at all, and they are constantly walking back and forth, and were totally unconcerned by our proximity, although some inspected us as closely as we were inspecting them. They have an adorable way of tilting their heads to look you over, and some would preen and flap their little wings.

I adored their waddling walk!

The path climbs progressively to the top of the island, where there is an old lighthouse. The stairs are closed, but the building is accessible, and I signed the welcome book, of course. In addition to the attraction of the penguins, the views from there were spectacular. Visible was an even smaller island (Marta) where the sea lions live, but we were not close enough to see any.

I cannot express how priviledge I feel to have been able to see this. We were told how lucky we were that this particular day the temperatures were mild, and there was hardly any wind. It was much more comfortable being on the island that it could have been otherwise. I was even able to take off my down jacket after a while of walking up and down the trail. Not to mention that with too much wind the trip to the island gets cancelled. It happened the day we were coming back to Santiago. It was blowing 50 MPH with gusts that made it difficult to walk. We watched the white caps on the water get bigger and bigger. I would have been heartbroken if I had gotten that close, only to be told that mother nature had made other plans.

Fortunately, there is an alterntive option during these occasions. The smaller colony of penguins in Seno Otway can be reached by land so, at least, people who have made the trip to the end of the world to see them are not entirely disappointed. All too soon, it seemed, we were embarking back on the ferry for the trip back. I managed to get back on board without slipping on the uneven rocks and falling, there was at least one person who was not so lucky. Hot chocolate was consumed, and there were plenty of smiles all around.

We did not get back to port until after 10 PM, when it had just barely become fully dark. We had not realized how long our days were going to be, so we had to forego our plans for an elegant dinner in town and went to the restaurant and bar at the top of the hotel for a drink and something light to eat, and then to bed. We were being picked up at 6:30 AM the next day for our visit to the Torres del Paine Park. I had my first Calafate Sour there. The legend says if you eat this fruit you will come back to the area. I hope that drinking it also counts!

I could not resist soaking in the tub in the luxurious bathroom after I got back to my room though, and was really not prepared for the alarm to go off at 5 AM, after barely three hours sleep, to be ready for breakfast at 6 AM before our drive. Very bleary eyed, however, I made ready to depart for our next adventure.

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