A Chile Reception

Bearing due south, we flapped our wings for 7,000 miles (11,300 km) until we ultimately made landfall in the Patagonian town of Punta Arenas, Chile. Located on the renowned Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas is the largest city in this windswept part of the world, and is only 850 miles (1,400 km) from the mainland of Antarctica.

Es & Cass

Cassie and Esther can’t wait to see the penguins

So close to Antarctica, we were thrilled to be formally greeted by a colony of 150,000 Magellanic Penguins. These elegantly tuxedoed creatures occupy the Los Pingüinos National Monument on the small uninhabited island of Magdalena, which is accessible from Punta Arenas by a popular two-hour boat trip.

Penguin greeting tourists

This handsome fellow posing for the cameras

Our transport consisted of a shallow-draft barge similar to a large D-Day landing craft. After beaching the vessel, the crew lowered the bow ramp, and our battalion of fellow tourists rushed ashore in an all-out amphibious assault of the island. Armed with cameras of various calibers, our photo shots were returned only by the curious stares of countless black-and-white clad onlookers.

Penguin juvenile2

Juvenile still sporting its baby feathers

The Magellanic Penguin is a mid-sized flightless bird that comes to Magdalena Island each year to birth and raise their young. Our late February visit coincided with the end of the breeding season, when the nearly full-grown chicks are molting the last of their downy soft baby feathers.

Estrecho sign

Quincentennial of the discovery of the Strait of Magellan

After bidding farewell to our fashionable friends, we returned to Punta Arenas through the vital Strait of Magellan. First sighted in 1520 by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, this inland passage opened a short cut around Cape Horn that expedited the first circumnavigation of the globe.

Shipwreck

Shipwreck along the Strait of Magellan

On this, the 500th anniversary of its discovery, the Strait of Magellan continues to be the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Although it allows mariners to avoid the notorious open sea route around Cape Horn, the narrow Strait of Magellan itself is also hazardous and difficult to navigate.

Magellan boat

Replica of Nao Victoria (first vessel to circumnavigate the globe)

To better appreciate the perils faced by these 16th century explorers, we boarded a full-sized replica of the Nao Victoria, the only one of Magellan’s five-ship flotilla to complete the around-the-world journey. Aboard this cramped and spartan Spanish carrack, it is no surprise that only 18 of the expedition’s original 270 crew members completed the full global circumnavigation.

Penguin group

Formal welcoming party

Regrettably, when the Magellan expedition encountered the penguin colony of Magdalena Island, they easily captured these slow and clumsy birds and ate them. Five hundred years later, the charming and debonair penguins have successfully repopulated the island, and seemed delighted to offer us a prim and proper Chile reception.

Penguin sleeping

Now go away. It’s my nap time.

 

Blogger’s Note:  On March 17th, the President of Chile announced that he would be closing the country’s borders within the next 48 hours. With more than two months still left in our South America trip, we considered staying and weathering the corona virus pandemic from the comfort of our rental apartment in southern Chile. Instead, faced with the likelihood of several weeks in self-isolation in a foreign country, we decided to abort our trip and fly home. On March 19th, after five flight connections and considerable expense, we returned to our hometown of Reno, Nevada. Now, despite the perils of breathing questionable airplane air and sitting for hours in close proximity to other travelers from around the world, we are feeling alright and happy to be in quarantine in our own home. Take good care, everyone!

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “A Chile Reception

    • Thank you! On the bright side, we were fortunate to have a month of travel before cutting our trip short. It was very interesting to experience the southern hemisphere for the first time. We also saw some stunning scenery and had many memorable adventures.

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  1. I’m so sorry you had to cut your trip short! But I don’t blame you…..if we have to hunker down somewhere, it’s so much better to do it in our own homes. As for the plane rides, no matter how much we try to quarantine ourselves, we’re going to risk exposure to the virus since it’s everywhere. I’m sure you washed your hands and disinfected everything you touched, which is all we can do. But how cool to see penguins in their natural habitat and to see the Strait of Magellan! (If we begin to feel sorry for ourselves in shelter to home mode, we have only to think of those poor sailors). I always love reading travel blogs, but this one really made me think, “I want to go there, now!!!” Maybe someday….

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    • Thank you, Ann! Now that we have been home for four days, with time to reflect on our decision, it was definitely the right choice to rush home. It was unnerving in the planes and airport terminals, not knowing if the strangers around you were infected. We did try to disinfect everything we touched, and washed our hands every chance we had. It is impossible to protect yourself completely though, especially when the enemy is microscopic. I am happy to know that you enjoyed hearing about our penguin encounter, and that the post inspired you to visit them yourself someday. In these trying times, it never hurts to see some cute animal photos, and think of the wonderful travel possibilities that will be out there someday in the future. Take good care!

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    • I think so too, Neil. If we had stayed in Chile, we would be cooped up in a small apartment in a foreign country 7,000 miles from our family and home. It was also difficult for us to understand the Spanish language news and obtain other important information from the local authorities. So far, we are all doing well. I hope you and yours are also healthy and able to avoid unnecessary social situations for a while longer. Thanks for checking in, Joe

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  2. Eee-gads, I never knew anyone actually ate penguins. What a horror to contemplate. Fascinating about the Straits of Magellan, and also to see the replica ship. I’m currently reading James Michener’s “Caribbean,” and his descriptions of the ships in earlier centuries seems similar to the one you visited and have pictured here. It’s hard to imagine this particular ship could have held 270 men.

    Sorry for your aborted trip (and also what sounds like a challenging trip back home), but I’m glad you’re all safe and sound now. I hope you have more to post from this adventure. – Marty

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    • Thanks Marty. I hope you and Gorgeous continue in good health and high spirits. I read that even some scientists in Antarctica still eat penguins. They say it is an odiferous oily meat that tastes like a cross between mammal, fish and fowl. Pretty gross if you ask me! The ship replica museum in Punta Arenas was excellent. We also toured a replica of the Beagle that passed through these waters with a young Charles Darwin on staff. To quickly clarify, the entire Magellan expedition included 270 men on five ships. The other four ships either returned early to Spain or were damaged beyond repair during the voyage. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I have some more great photos, and hope to publish a few more posts in the coming weeks. Take good care, Joe

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  3. I’m sorry that you had to cancel the rest of your trip, but I think you made the right decision. As crazy as things are here in the states, there is something so comforting about being home. Good to know that you and Esther are doing well. We’ll get through this, I’m sure, and there will be plenty of adventures ahead. Take care, my friend!

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    • We really appreciate your friendship and reassuring words, Janis. Remaining in the house and maintaining social distancing hasn’t been too inconvenient for us, so far. I have joked with Esther that all this personal space is an introvert’s dream. Seriously though, enduring the isolation and uncertainty far away from home would have been more like a nightmare. I hope you and your husband are continuing to enjoy good health, positive perspectives, and lots of quality time together. Take good care!

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  4. I’m so glad you made it home safely, and yet with tales and pictures to keep us entertained. What a thrill to see penguins in their natural habitat!
    Curious, how was the tour of Beagle replica? Was it worthy of a blog post? 😉

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    • Thank you so much, Christi. Now that we have returned to the comfort and predictability of our own home, we can only imagine how anxious we would be if we had stayed in Chile. During all the current worry and unease, I figured some cute penguin pictures might be a help. They are even cuter waddling around in real life. The Beagle replica was also very interesting, and the history of that expedition is fascinating. Maybe I will do a blog post about it from the Galapagos someday? It may be a while. I hope you don’t mind waiting.

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  5. The Magellanic Penguins, really are (as you described) such elegant birds. Wonderful to be able to see them in their natural habitat, and to learn that there is a good colony of 150,000 of them there. It should ensure the future survival of these species. A visit to this part of the world has been at the top of my wish list for a long time, I was so pleased to hear that you had made it there. I could travel vicariously. But like other people, you had to change your travel plans and return home a lot earlier than planned. It was absolutely the right thing to do since this pandemic can go on for many months. Also, it is so hard for the people who have been stranded abroad, unable to get home. I am very glad that you and your family have made it home safely. Chile will still be there once this pandemic is over. Keep well 🙂

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    • Keep well too, Gilda. It was really fun to see penguins in the wild. They are such adorable and amusing birds. On land, because they are top-heavy and have such tiny feet, they actually waddle. In the water, though, they are swift and agile. Even though millions of Magellanic Penguins live along the coasts of southern Chile and Argentina, they are still classified as a threatened species. The poor little guys are pretty susceptible to oil spills and the effects of global warming. We too are thankful that we got home, and concerned for those that are stranded in foreign lands. You are so right that Chile will still be there when this is all over. Someday, we hope to pick up where we left off. Until then, take good care!

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  6. Sounds like you made the right call. Who knows how long this thing is going to last. I can image nervous time cooped up in airplanes all that way. Stay safe, and enjoy the memories.

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    • Thanks! Stay safe too, Dave. Flying right now is really unnerving. On one of our flights, a 44 year old woman in the row behind us had a medical emergency in flight, and required a doctor. The doc took her vitals and administered oxygen. It was a spooky situation, until we learned that she had only suffered a panic attack. After that, and all the other close and unsettling social interactions during our transit, it is good to be back home in our old uneventful and sequestered life.

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