The real fun started yesterday though, being our first full day ashore. As the cruise progressed without any real problems or time delays we arrived in port 2 days early, we were scheduled to dock on Monday but arriving Saturday evening presented us with a day off to fill. This was because the containers for packing had been pre-booked for the Monday, and with no prospect of bringing this forward we were free to entertain ourselves, what a shame! Given this was going to be my only day off in South America I was very keen to make the most of it, explore the city and if possible get out into the Chilean countryside. The only problem was being a Sunday the chances of anywhere being open to hire a car were remote at best. So with Ross as an experienced Punta guide we headed off to find some good coffee, a few post cards and the real Chile.
Having received our caffeine fix and having sent the necessary holiday correspondence it seemed like lady luck was on our side, one of the local tourist offices was open and amazingly they were running an excursion to a local penguin colony. Result! So without a second thought we were packed off into a large people carrier, along with Joe, Rob, Amanda and Denise and driven to Seno Otway, one of two breeding sites near Punta for the Magellanic penguin.
The drive there was an experience to say the least; it took around an hour and was virtually all on dirt tracks. In the UK you can pay a lot of money for a good massage but here it was delivered completely for free by the excessive vibration of the car, so much so that by the end of the journey I couldn’t feel my legs because they were so numb! I’m pretty sure the car was about half its original weight too, what with all the parts we must have shed. The scenery was incredible, it’s very much like the Scottish highlands (or so I’m told as I’ve never been there!), very barren vast expanses with a snow capped mountain backdrop. The wildlife was also abundant with snow geese everywhere; guanacos (wild lamas), ñandú (similar to an ostrich but brown), a condor and Denise even saw a skunk. But the icing on the cake for me was the sound track. I think it’s safe to say Michael Jackson will never sound the same again having heard a full rendition of his greatest hits album on pan pipes, it was just beautiful!
The penguin colony was incredible; the setting was a little surreal as it seemed as if we were just walking through a typical field covered in what seemed like large rabbit holes. This wasn’t particularly odd until you spotted a small black and white head that had popped out to scan the surroundings. When the coast was clear a small troop of penguins, looking like smartly dressed businessmen, would emerge and purposely waddle their way to shore. There is something about the motion of penguins on land that is rather amusing, their ungainly sway interspersed by what seem like random hops create an image of a very small person who has been spun around very fast on a playground roundabout and then told to walk in a straight line to the swings!
They might be awkward on land, but in the water these birds can really move. They negotiated the surf with consummate ease and could be seen gracefully gliding out to sea to fish. Mating pairs take it in turns to incubate the young at this time of year, with the other partner heading out to sea for extended fishing trips. It’s just a good job they are adept fishermen. Having returned to Punta, accompanied by a second dose of the soothing sounds of pan pipe Jackson classics it was time to call it a day. When the containers arrive it’s going to be a pretty busy day and I for one could definitely do with the sleep first!