We arrived in Punta Arenas in the early morning hours; as we stepped off the plane into the main terminal, we were warmly greeted by a freezing climate (did you get my word usage there? don't smile too much) Keep in mind that in the middle of December we are talking shorts, flip-flops, and happy-go-lucky weather in Valparaíso, CHILE. Different hemispheres, opposite seasonal rotations than in the USA. Nonetheless, we were about 6 hours from Antarctica -- so here we are, Dove and I, busting out the Eskimos in Punta Arenas when our friends are burning at the beach back in Valpo.-
Next, we organized our things (4,328 packages total) and headed to find a taxi. We had a stellar tour guide disguised as a local taxi driver. He showed us where the museums, downtown, and famous statues all were. Since we had not the slightest clue which hostel to stay in, he simply dropped us off with all our junk in the downtown. From there, we walked around and priced 2-3 hostels. NO WAY! Expensive. So, we walk "towards" one of the hostels that a friend of mine recommended. As we walked "closer", I told Dove to look at her map again. It didn't feel right. Oh wait, we were walking in the WRONG direction. She just smiled with guilt and said, "I just am warming us up for our grand hike. You know, a little bonding time with our backpacks." It wasn't until later into the journey that I found out she was directionally challenged: however, I'm not busting open that can of worms yet.-
Southern Chile is one of the safest and most common places to hitch hike. Golly, I had already successfully done it in Chiloé Island, might as well not let the thumb get rusty. Since we were on the opposite side of town than our hostel, I told Dove we would give it a go. There in the distance, we spotted a truck with an open, clean bed calling our backpacks' names. As his four wheels approached, the thumb made its way out into the open. Failure was accepted as he sped past us. We determined it probably wasn't the best place, you know, in front of a stop light and all. We decided to take a taxi instead, saving hitch hiking for later.We arrived at the hostel, relieved ourselves of the backpacks, and decided to walk around downtown before our tour left at 2pm. People walk everywhere in Chile. I was telling someone the other day that my daily average is anywhere from 30-50 street blocks, either because of pleasure or obligation. Either way, I got some great gastrocnemius muscles (look it up). Then, at 2pm, our hostel's van drove us to the PENGUIN ISLAND tour. Yes, the penguins were waiting for some cuddling.-
It's a 1.5 hour boat ride to arrive, 1 hour with the little guys, and 1.5 hours to return. On the boat tour there, our whole next 9 days were foreshadowed: ISRAELIS. That region of Chile attracts a multitude from Israel, first time in my life to meet so many Israelis. They tried to teach us Hebrew to pass the time, but it was highly unsuccessful. Spanish is hard enough, thanks. On our way, we were able to see "Tierra del Fuego" from a distance (really not a big attraction point). Then, from a long ways off, we saw the penguin island. Dolphins were jumping in and out of the water leading us to the island, like some magical scene from the little mermaid. Where was Ariel? MIA.
All these little black dots added up to be the 60,000 breeding pairs on the island. For my fellow penguin lovers, these were all Magellanic Penguins. Want to know why they're called that? Yeppers, I knew it! Well, you see this guy named Ferdinand Magellan went through this strait (*cough* Magellan Strait) on his trip around the world. He saw these animals at the time, calling them "black geese", but obviously they were later named in honor of him, the "Magellanic Penguins." Black geese- Ferdinand, what were you thinking there bubba?
Penguins are one of my favorite animals, ranking up there with kangaroos and dogs. It was such a privilege seeing them in their own habitat. I loved watching them waddle everywhere; it reminds me of a mellow tap dance, like on Mary Poppins. (Why do all my comparisons end up in cartoon characters? Bah.) Another things that I adored were seeing the babies in their underground nests with their mothers. Word to the wise: don't mess with mama penguins. Lastly, the thing that really caught my attention was listening to them. I mean, I've never really listened to a flock of penguins, but I find the Magellenic Penguins' noise highly unique. I think it might have been mating season, but I honestly am not sure. This was the closest I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqDQwLd8RuU&feature=related (just click)
We arrived back at the hostel, ate a small dinner, and passed out. You know the funny thing, though, is we are at the ends of the world ... we are talking about EIGHTEEN hours of daylight!! Only from 11pm until 5am was there complete darkness. I went to bed at 10:30pm that night under a brightly lit sky. Welcome, to the South Pole.
Listen, we still have to travel to Puerto Natales and our 6-day Torres del Paine hike. Are you in for the ride? Stay tuned. :)