Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thursday (2/24/11) – My God, Look at All of the Penguins

We had an early day, so arranged to have room service delivered at 6am.  They have an amazing room service menu for everything from omelets through pancakes and everything in between.  It arrived at 5:50.  The ship arrived in Puerto Madryn at about 6:30.  We were to go on an excursion arranged by a Cruise Critic member to Punta Tombo to see the very large penguin colony.  We had 17 people that went in a small van.  The tour guide (Martin and driver) met us on the dock right at 7am and we were the first bus to leave.  It was a 2.5 hour drive down to Punta Tombo.  We drove most of the time on Route 3 – the same route that we saw the end of down in Tierro del Fuego National Park (part of the Pan-American Highway).  After about an hour, we stopped for a short break to use the restrooms and grab a cup of coffee if one was so inclined.  We then continued south.
The area is all part of Patagonia, which is essentially the lower big triangle of Argentina.  There are no trees because there is very little rain. Plus there is a lot of wind.  He told us that on average they get about 200 mm of rain every year.  He did mention that they had a very unusual storm two days early that came up from Antarctica and dumped a ton of water on them.  So, there were still signs of standing water all over the place.  I guess we know which storm that was.
On the bus ride, we learned a lot about penguins.  They come to Punta Tombo every year in November to breed.  The have “nests” that they burrow in the ground, often under trees.  A male returns to the same nest every year.  They are monogamous per breeding season, but not necessarily for life.  The best nests are closer to the shoreline because it reduces the time that a parent has to walk on land with food for the chick.  Anyway, they breed and produce two eggs.  The male sits on the nest first and then they alternate every week or so.  When the chicks hatch, they then take turns protecting the young and also going out and feeding themselves and their chicks (through a regurgitation process).
Eventually they molt, during which there is no eating because they can’t go into the water (they haven’t got the dense feathers and oil to protect themselves).  Once the molting period is over, they then head out and migrate north toward the middle of Brazil.  They go that way because the fish that they eat migrates that way toward warmer water.  The type of penguins in this rookery is the Magellanic penguin, the same kind that we saw in the Falklands.
On the way down we saw some guanacos, which is related to the llama which are all related to the humpless camels. 

We arrived at the reserve, paid our $10 admission fee and entered the reserve.  It was actually pretty cool, with temperatures of around 50 degrees, and pretty windy.  There was a 3 kilometer walk down a path.  As soon as we got there, we saw penguin nests right near where the buses parked.  BTW – we were the first bus there, which was a great thing because it got REALLY crowded once all of the ship’s tours started showing up.  There were zillions of penguins (they estimate roughly a million of them). 

They were in various phases of molting as you can see from the pictures.  Also, the young ones did not have the stripes of the adults yet.  In general, you just walk along the path and there they are, either wandering around, fooling with their burrows, or just sitting around and sleeping.  They made this weird honking like sound (kind of like a goose that we did capture in video format).  It was very loud from all of the penguin noises.  It also smelled pretty bad (not as bad as the sea lions, but still unpleasant). 
Some of them were fairly aggressive.  One chased Bob, while we later learned that three of the 17 people were bit (mostly the bit pant legs and not people).  They were amazingly cute and also, just plain cool.  These pictures try to give you a feeling for what it looked like.  It was totally impressive and a great trip.

Doing that noise thing:

Love the smile!!!

Two babies:

The beach area with a ton of them swimming and hanging out at the beach:
The way home was a reverse of the way down.  One scary part happened while we were on the first 1.5 hour leg to the gas station rest stop.  One of the German passengers noticed that the driver was nodding off to sleep.  They told the tour guide, who helped remedy the situation.  Everyone was pretty much snoozing at that time, so it was good that she noticed it.  We arrived back in port at about 2:45, with the ship scheduled to leave at 4pm.
We did trivia with our friends from England again and still did not win again.  It turns out that the team that wins an awful lot of them has one guy that actually appeared on Jeopardy.  Definitely a ringer.  But we had a lot of fun.  For example, did you know that in 1963 Winston Churchill was given an honorary US citizenship and was the first person to ever receive US citizenship honorarily?
The evening show was a guy named Peter Rock.  He was billed as this famous rocker type who had been around for a long time in Chile and Germany.  We thought he was terrible (kind of like watching the Who at the Super Bowl – a bunch of really really old dudes trying to rock). For being an “amazing” rocker, he only sang covers of things like Elvis and other artists.  Just a lounge lizard if you ask us.  We left after 15 minutes of the show.

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