This is the second guest entry by South American cruiser, Joyce McDaniel.
As we boarded the cruise ship bound for the tip of South America and Patagonia, I am sure I heard the chant of “penguins, penguins, penguins!” coming from the ship’s guests, mostly retired folks like me. For who does not envision visiting a giant colony of penguins as well as a variety of other wild life when thinking of a trip to Patagonia?
Globe Trekker and other travel shows on PBS had really pumped me up for the Patagonian experience and filled my head with visions of waddling, black and white tuxedoed penguins jabbering in Penguinese for as far as the eye can see.
Reading the excursion literature we discovered that there were 3 different kinds of penguins living in the Patagonian area: the Magellanic, Gentoo and King. I had plans to visit all 3 kinds so we signed up for 3 different excursions.
Disappointment upon disappointment filled me as first one excursion to see an island reserve of penguins was cancelled due to rough and unnavigable seas, and then a second excursion to Falkland Islands and a visit to King and Gentoo penguins rookeries was cancelled as the cruise ship was unable to park due to rough seas and high winds! Bummed was too weak of a word to describe my disappointment!
I had to settle for the too-cute and delightful towel animals that filled my stateroom. Our steward Jamie made one every day of the voyage; I really enjoyed these little animals, but they were not penguins!
I even bought 8 stuffed penguins (for the grandchildren of course!) at one stop, hoping that they would not be the only ones I saw.
On Day 8 of the cruise we were able to take a catamaran tour that visited some small rocky islands that were filled with blue-eyed cormorants -that were black and white and kind of looked like penguins They were awesome, but not penguins. Some other small rocky outcrops were filled with lazy noisy sea lions, also pretty cool, but again, not penguins.
I wanted penguins and pouted mightily!
Finally on Day 12, we moored in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. The day dawned calm and sunny and we were headed to a Penguin Reserve two hours away. Trying not to get my hopes up too high, I boarded the bus to the Peninsula Valdes Wildlife Sanctuary with promises from our guide of not only penguins, but many many other wildlife endemic to the Patagonian region.
And I was not disappointed that day! We saw Lesser Reas, an emu like creature and it was never explained why they were “lesser” rather than “greater” as they were huge. Guanaco herds covered the dry sandy landscape blending into their surroundings. They are the wild cousins to our llamas. We saw this giant rodent called a Mara which looks rather like a cross between a rabbit and a dog. It is actually a Patagonian hare. We were able to walk to within a few hundred feet of a huge colony of sea lions, mostly black shiny pups and their moms, enjoying beach time.
But still no penguins! The guide said “don’t worry, you will have your fill of penguins; I promise!”
As we traveled to see the penguins, the guide related some history of the early explorers visiting this area and encountering penguins. She shared that the early explorers wanted all animals they discovered to be useful to humans and since penguins were not edible due to their oiliness nor were they useful for clothing making or any other purpose, early explorers decided to take a burning log and light them on fire. They found a use for them- as a torch! I was and still am horrified. Fortunately that practice did not catch on and the poor penguins are no longer used as a torch.
Our mini-bus then veered off the main dusty dirt road to a small rutted dusty dirt road heading to our final destination: The Peninsula Valdes Private Penguin Reserve. As we entered the Reserve, penguins sightings began to pop up and everyone began to shout out when they saw a penguin. As far as the eye could see, penguins dotted the shrubbery covered landscape. It was a penguin watchers paradise! We quickly hopped off the bus and began our walk around the Penguin rookery and down to the ocean. Here a penguin, there a penguin, everywhere a penguin! It was wonderful. Words cannot describe the sight that beheld my eyes so be sure to check out the pictures I posted as they will give you a small glimpse of the world of penguins we entered. There were thousands! We were able to walk right up to many of these cute creatures and some walked right in front of us; for the most part they just ignored us but we delighted in them. What a sight to behold- they were cooing and chirping and waddling and just being cute.
I found my penguins! And I was happy! And I have pictures to revisit that delightful experience. I could leave my cruise having pursued and found penguins.