Today is the day we were supposed to fly to Antarctica. But alas we are still here in Punta Arenas along with countless others who are also waiting. Some are more patient than others, but this decision is beyond our control.
In the morning we had a team meeting to decide what to do with our time. After some back –and-forth we decided to look into renting a car and driving to Torres del Paine. The drive of 398km we figured would take us about 6 hours. We would stay the night, hike for a day and return the next day. Translated into English the Torres del Paine are the Towers of Pain and have earned their name for inflicting just that on its visitors. It is a spectacularly beautiful and rugged area comprised of crystal blue glacier fed lakes and piercingly tall and sharp granite spires. Hiking and climbing opportunities are abundant along with kayaking, fly fishing and mountain biking.
Just as Ryan left the hotel to investigate the rental car options one of the other teams got a call from ALE telling them the first flight of equipment and crew would go out tonight and that if all went well their flight may be pushed up by 12 hours. If they got pushed up then there was a good chance we would also get pushed up. I ran out the door and called Ryan back. After a brief discussion we decided that it would not be a good idea to disappear for a few days with the flight situation in such an uncertain state.
Torres del Paine was now off the table, so we switched to a more local and less time consuming activity; penguins.
With the assistance of our hotel staff we arranged to go on a penguin tour to Monumento Natural Los Pinguinos located on Isle de Magdalena in the Strait of Magellan. The Strait of Magellan is named after Ferdinand Magellan who in the year 1520, while in the employ of Charles I of Spain, discovered this shortcut that connects the Atlantic to the Pacific . Although the Strait is a difficult navigational challenge due to numerous islands and unpredictable winds it is an important shortcut that allowed early sailors to avoid the extremely dangerous task of sailing around the horn at the bottom of South America.
The tour would cost us 35,0000pesos each (about $70). We were picked up by a crazy van driver at our hotel at 2:00 and escorted to the port with a group of other tourists and stranded Antarctica people. There we boarded a boat for the 2:30 trip to the island. The wind was low and the seas were calm making for a comfortable crossing to the island. Cormorants (a large sea bird) and Dolphins accompanied us on our short voyage.
As we chugged across the water the 210 acre island came into view. This island is the home to over 140,000 penguins. Yes, you read that right, it is not a typo. There are 140,000+ penguins living on this island. In the early years after the Straight was discovered sailors and fishermen would seek shelter from storms on this barren island and they would collect Penguin eggs and hunt the Penguins (not an overly challenging task) to provide food for their voyages.
The island is barren of trees and the only vegetation consists of short tough grass that the penguins use to line their nests. It is quite a desolate place. As we landed at a small dock, the island was alive with movement. Penguins were everywhere.
Isle de Magdalena is home to the Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) also known as the Burrow Penguin because they dig burrows in the ground where they live, lay their eggs and raise their young. They are a smaller penguin of about 2 feet tall and weighing about 144oz when fully grown. They have the classic penguin tuxedo look of black and white with bright brown and black eyes.
There is a narrow trail that rings part of the island and leads up to the old light house on the top which is now home to the island curator and a small museum. The trail is closed on both sides with wooden stakes and two lines of rope to create a small fence. Humans are not allowed to step off the trail, but the penguins dart back and forth at will.
As we slowly walked up the trail towards the light house the penguins went about their business like we were not even there. I think to the early sailors they would have been an extremely easy prey to hunt. Penguins return to this island in September as this is where they were born. They find a mate and will remain with that mate for life. The eggs are laid in October and are incubated for 40 days.
Penguins hung around in pairs and occasionally small groups. Frequently I observed penguins tugging at the tough short grass with their beaks trying to extract some insulation and padding for their nests. Others stood tall on their feet with their heads thrust to the sky and let out a series of hoots, brays and calls not unlike that of a wolf howling at the moon. I have no idea the reason for this display, but it was quite entertaining.
The walk to the light house took about an hour. Not because it is that far, but because I was walking very slow to take in the experience and to snap picture after picture. The return walk to the boat was a little faster, but there was always something new to see.
We spent about 1.5 hours on the island and then made our way back to the boat. The tide was going out so the gangplank was no longer usable so we had to climb over the side of the dock, step across some bumpers and into the boat. It was pretty simple for us climbers, but for the tourists it was a little more challenging. Eventually everyone was on board and we started to motor back to Punta Arenas. On the trip back they gave us wine and sandwiches and put on a movie "Walking Dead" about an American town that had been overrun with zombies. I did not watch.
We got back to town around 8:30pm. Ryan was meeting a friend and Ron and I went to the grocery store and bought a roast chicken, some fries, and an avocado for dinner. After dinner I made a skype call home and spoke with Susan and Amy and then I went off to bed.
As I have mentioned before, there is no heat in our hotel. Well there is heat, but they have not turned it on. It is cool in our room, but not too bad. Tonight when I opened the door to our room it was freezing cold. Somehow the window and the patio door had blown open and the room was the same temperature as the outside which was just above freezing. We left the door to the hall open for a while to try to warm it up, but there was not much else we could do.
All in all it was a good day. We did not fly and are now behind schedule, but I was able to experience the penguins which I would have not have done if all had gone as planned; the silver lining in the cloud.
Hi to Marg at Georgian Peaks and all the others who are following along.
Summit Life! Scott out.