Guest Blog: In Pursuit of Pengins

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.



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Guest Blog- 59⁰ S. Latitude or Bust!

This blog is written by Joyce M., retired elementary teacher/counselor, world traveler and most importantly, my fabulous mom!


If it isn’t on your bucket list, put it there! I just returned from a most unbelievable and awesome travel experience – cruising around Cape Horn! (59⁰ S. Latitude) You will remember from your geography class in high school, it is the tip of South America and the passageway around South America that we heard horror stories about during class!

I have a very vivid imagination and the idea of sailing around Cape Horn brought images of sailing vessels with lots of sails battling their way through wickedly huge waves and strong winds. Also pictures of ships being dashed to pieces on jagged rocks and sailors being swept overboard came to mind! It was (and still is) an extremely dangerous route, but it was the only way to get from the Pacific to the Atlantic in those early sailing days. Now ships can safely slip through the Panama Canal (another cool trip by the way!)

The idea of cruising around the tip of South America really sounded like a once in a life time experience and peaked my interest, but with my out of control imagination, I also felt some major trepidation about whether I would survive the experience!

The seas and winds have not changed since those early sailing ships made the voyage! In preparation of the actual “coning” of South America, we had the opportunity to watch a 40 minute documentary filmed back in 1929 by Irving Johnson, then a trainee on a sailing ship but he went on to captain his own ship! Johnson’s documentary so entranced the British historians, it was placed in the British Museum and in 1980 they had Capt. Johnson himself narrate what was happening in his film. The film was an actual freighter sailing ship with several masts and at least a zillion sails going around Cape Horn. Johnson filmed it over the course of the voyage which took about 3 months. For those of us who love history, seeing the real voyage was incredible. There were many scenes of waves washing completely over the deck and the ship rocking and rolling violently. Capt. Johnson mentioned briefly that 2 bunks became empty after one massive storm! The name of the documentary is “Around Cape Horn” and can be found by googling this title or Capt. Johnson! If you want to sail vicariously around Cape Horn in the 1929, watch this film!

After watching the documentary of the voyage filmed by Captain Johnson, my anxiety rose a great deal, and I expected the worse! I slept restlessly the night before we were to round the Horn!

Early on a Sunday morning in February, our giant cruise ship sailed around Cape Horn! From the comfort and relative safety of my stateroom balcony, bundled in 3 sweatshirts and armed with my camera, I coned South America! We pulled right up to Cape Horn, which by the way is an island, and went “full on” to Cape Horn! The winds gusted up to 130 knots (80 mph) and the waves were cresting at 17 feet. We stayed near the Cape for 15 minutes as the ship rocked and rolled! Then our ship’s captain said he had had enough battling the sea and we headed on around the continent! Safely. And I survived!

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of having accomplished an enormous challenge, especially as I reflected on the history of sailing in the area and the documentary that showed the reality of what the sailing ships experienced as they made the voyage.

Definitely a Bucket List item!


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From Zaijian to Aloha and Back Again

I love the idea of having an R&R. It’s brilliant. I work in a stressful job (okay, my job is minimally stressful, on the average day, but my location definitely can bring on the headaches) and as a “reward” for that, I get a plane ticket to either Sydney, Australia or anywhere in the US. Fantastic! (Side note from my previous life: teachers should all get a once-a-year R&R!)

Originally, I thought we’d opt for the koala bear option, but once I discovered how incredibly hard it is to get to hold one of these cuddly little creatures, I was less enamored with the idea.  (Plus, out of KL, we’ll be even closer to the land of the Vegemite sandwich, so we’ll probably make that trek in 2015.And I *will* find a way to hold one. I will.) So, with no need to exclaim, “Crikey, mate!” we set our sights on another land of blue skies and sunshine- the Sandwich islands.

The sunshine I had been dreaming of met us at the airport when we touched down at 8AM, nearly an hour before we took off from Chengdu that morning. (Oh, the magic of international dateline time travel!) I couldn’t wait to see everything the islands had to offer, but within hours my lungs rebelled against the clean air. After flying all night, we checked into the hotel, filled up on a giant plate of IHOP pancakes and then decided to take a nap for a few hours, rejuvenating our batteries after seventeen hours in airports and airplanes. In the space of that two hour nap, I went from healthy and full of energy to having a throat that felt like my pancakes had been made of porcupine. Not a good sign. By the end of the day, I had a full blown cold. I swear it is because my body is so used to a certain level of pollutants that it can no longer function correctly without at least triple PM2.5 digits.

While my cold was bad enough that had I been home, I probably would have called in sick to work for two days in a row, there is no calling in sick on vacation! I had sites to see, stores to hit up and a hair appointment that was not to be broken.

Luckily, we were able to wander around Honolulu for a few days before boarding our cruise ship, so I nursed the worst of the cold on solid ground. (Buying out the clearance rack at Old Navy was some great retail therapy that I am sure boosted the powers of my Target OTC cold medicine.)

Next up: cruise time!

With my purple flower lei draped haphazardly around my shoulders, Thad and I posed for what would be the first in a lovely series of cruise-forced photos. (Each time we got off the ship, there would be someone in a random costume, lining up guests for photos. One day it was a dolphin in a coconut bra, while another day it was a giant, squishy pineapple. These pictures were then developed and for sale on the ship for a mere $12 each. It’s too bad they were so pricey, as Thad and I made ridiculous faces in each and every one. It would have made a fantastic photo album.)

For the next seven days, we cruised the Hawaiian Islands. From snorkeling at Molokini, where I spent an hour following my favorite fish, trading “favorites” each time I found one that was more awesome to watching whales breech and tail slap their way across the bay, our first outing was fantastic.  I have the swimming skills of a house cat, which means I wasn’t able to dive several feet below the surface of the ocean, but Thad said he could hear the songs of the humpback whales that we shared the area with that day.  I did learn that snorkeling with a clinging cold can be a bit, well, gross. Put your entire nasal system inside a tight-fitting plastic mask and then float face down for an hour. Things drain. It just happens. But, I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to float with the fish because of a bit of congestion.  Ick. I know.

The cruise was filled with four-course meals (I had dessert every night!) and nightly shows heavy on the choreography and hits from a handful of decades ago. (Side note: there was a group of deaf vacationers on our cruise who attended these shows each night. I was mesmerized by their interrupter. She rocked out to musical hits through the decades and Polynesian war chants alike.)

Wandering through lava beds at Volcanoes National Park. Kayaking up a river to swim in the pool below a waterfall. Hopping through tide pools to visit sea turtles on Kona. Quietly walking the memorial at Pearl Harbor.

R&R is definitely full of rest and relaxation, but it wouldn’t be a fantastic vacation without days full of activities and adventures. Really, I’m up for just about anything as long it is warm and there is sunshine involved. Blue skies, golden sunshine and a touch of color on my skin- that’s what I needed after an already long winter in Chengdu. (As I write this, our AQI has been over 400 for more than twelve hours. And this is why my lungs didn’t know what to do with fresh air.)

I do have to wonder though, will I want to R&R in Alaska once we move to Malaysia?

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