Torres del Paine: Final days – bring on the penguins!

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise in P Natales and picked up our rental van to head south to Punta Arenas.  We took a side road and enjoyed some great scenery that included lots of geese and an intriguing sculpture in the middle of nowhere that evoked either a giant squid or a baleen whale or something else.  We stopped at the Magellanic penguin colony at Seno Otway and enjoyed the hijinks of the penguins as they sheltered on the beach.  The colony was in the life cycle stage where the young were making their first trips to sea.  So we only saw about 50 penguins of the 10,000 that are reportedly at this colony – the rest were busy chasing fish.  But it was fun (and, of course, windy!).

After a night in gray and semi-depressing P Arenas, we met our guide for the next day who would take us, at our request, to Tierra del Fuego on another penguin quest.  Being Monday, the regular (long) ferry to Tierra del Fuego was not operating so we had to drive east about 2 to to take a shorter ferry across.  After the very windy but short (20 min) crossing, we spent a couple of hours of driving across the pampas (which featured guanaco and rheas and, of course, a large number of sheep.  We stopped for a while to watch a “huaso” (NOT a “gaucho”, those are in ARGENTINA) work with his dogs to move a big herd of sheep into a new pasture.)

Eventually we arrived at our destination:  Bahia Inutil and its very unusual colony of King Penguins.  These gorgeous penguins normally inhabit oceanic islands, being found by the 100’s of thousands on South Georgia Island, the Malvinas (aka “Falklands”), etc.  But, for unknown reasons, some set up shop at this wind-swept beach about 15 years ago.  A small “preserve” was set up (the area is fenced and a guard stays there more or less full-time), creating a new destination for eco-tourism out of P. Arenas.  Unfortunately, our guide didn’t know that the preserve was closed on Mondays!  After some negotiating, the owner was summoned and she was very friendly and eager to meet us (our connections to biology, Science magazine, and National Geographic didn’t hurt, especially the latter).  So, we got a “private tour” and enjoyed the 17 or so penguins who were hanging out (the entire colony is about 75 or so; the rest were out fishing).  The group included a few chicks, being “tended”  (sat on) by males and females alike and peeking out from underneath for an occasional snack. After an hour or so we started the long trip back, highlighted by the tiny (~5 feet?) black and white Commerson’s dolphins that played in the bow wave of the ferry.  One more night of seafood and pisco sours and our time in Chile had ended. But a final thrill awaited:  a view from above of Torres del Paine as we flew out and then, minutes later, a view of spectacular Mt Fitzroy (in Argentina), perhaps enticing us back for another trek?  More pics HERE.

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