Monday, 29 November 2010

... Patagonia: P-P-P-Pick Up A Penguin

A 3 hour bus ride from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, the capital of the Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena Region, started the day... in style.  The bus had big reclining leather seats! Coast Mountain take note! I could get used to this.

Punta Arenas is the third largest city in the entire Patagonian region. Founded as a penal settlement and military garrison, it later flourished with sheep farming and now has a thriving petrochemical industry and port status. It is a good base for travelling around the Magallanes region, much of which is remote. The town itself has a nice tree lined plaza in its centre surrounded by opulent mansions and there's a monument commemorating Magellan's voyage. Crazy dogs run amok and play a dangerous game of chicken with the local traffic and there's lots of graffiti. So a pretty typical South American town really.

But I wasn't here to visit Punta Arenas.  I was here to head about 65km north to visit the Seno Otway Pingüinera, one of two substantial Magellanic penguin colonies. This colony is moderately sized with over 6000 pairs making this spot of shoreline their home. These penguins normally live 25-30 years and always come back to the place where they were born for the mating season. They usually have 1 or 2 offspring and both the male and female penguins take turns to watch & feed the young 'uns. They live in small burrows in the ground where they raise their young.

The tour of the colony is usually self guided over a boardwalk and viewing platforms that criss cross the reserve. Penguins are known to be loveable, comical creatures in their little black & white suits and this visit provided numerous incidents that had me in stitches. On land the penguins certainly aren’t the most graceful of creatures, just watching them waddle along makes you smile and laugh. You can't help it! That and "awwww I want one!", although the stench of penguin poo might make that thought pass rather quickly. They frequently fell flat on their faces when presented with the smallest of obstacles and whether intentional or not, this would occasionally be in the form of a penguin tripping another one up! But the power and agility they show when entering and exiting the water is in impressive contrast to their exploits on land as I got to see first hand on a number of occasions. This tour really does offers a fascinating close up view of these unique birds! This was such a wonderful outing that I had been looking forward to since I knew I was heading down to these parts.

And boy are they cute! What do you think my chances are sneaking one of these through Customs?

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