Punta Arenas, Chile; Isla Magdalena Penguins

Latitude 53.16202°S Longitude 70.91132°W

Thursday, February 20, 2003

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From Puerto Natales it was only a few hours bus ride south to Punta Arenas, the most southerly city in Chile. We found Punta Natales to be a sleepy, laid back town. Located on the Straits of Magellan, it's a center for sheep farming and fishing. Patagonian lamb was a specialty on many menus here and (when we weren't being served mutton on the sly!) it was some of the best we'd ever eaten.

There was not a lot to do in Punta Arenas except unwind a little, and our primary purpose for being here was to visit the Monumental Natural Los Pingüinos on the tiny island Isla Magdalena, about 25km away in the Magellan Straits. The island is the breeding ground of a colony of over 120,000 Magellanic penguins who return there every year from November through March to mate and hatch their young. In March, after the chicks have learned to swim and take care of themselves, all the penguins exodus en masse for warmer climates up north, and the remainder of the year the island is completely deserted. Being mid-February, it was an ideal time to visit the island and personally meet every single one of those cute critters.

After a 2 hour navigation down the Magellan Straits on the transport vessel Melinka, we arrived on the island and were greeting by thousands upon thousands of penguins. The curious little black and white creatures could be seen standing about like a butler's convention, stretching out in every direction to the distant edges of the island. They were all going about their business completely self absorbed; waddling about, occasionally popping into the water for a swim, flapping their flippers, chirping and yowling at each other, grooming, and falling asleep on their feet; and quite unperturbed by the arrival of a boatload of humans, who they would sometimes waddle up to and regard with a curious eye. Baby penguins were about everywhere, dressed in comical oversized coats of fluffy grey down feathers.

At the top of the island stood a solitary lighthouse, beaten and battered by the fierce gales that blew up from the Antarctic. As the sun slowly set over the tiny island, we sat and huddled together, buffeted by the incessant wind, and soaked in the magical twilight sights and sounds of this huge colony of strange, flightless birds preparing for the long cold night ahead.

Photos: (click on images to see full size)

Arriving on Isla MagdalenaHome to over 50,000 Magellanic penguinsAnd one lone lighthouse

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