Exploiting nature for money is a thing of the past. Yeah not really; but it should be. All across the globe humans are furrowing their brows, concerned about the sustainability of and our effects on wildlife.
Muscles were tingling, cinching up somewhere inside as I was surrounded by the “typicals” swiping from photo to photo on their phones at the harbor in Ushuaia. We had just gone from hut to hut elbowing past swaths of people lining up beside business signs on the walkway. The signs had crouching humans taking selfies with Magellanic Penguins. “Visit Penguin Island!” they said. This was where crouching people turned into an encroaching species. I hurt for the animals.
Watching the wildlife in the Beagle Channel was what I was most excited about during our stay in The America’s southernmost city.
“Which one are we going to pick?” Andrew asked nodding toward the tour huts.
I was at a crossroads of what I wanted to do, and what I knew we should do.
“I don’t really want to go” I said unsure. To his credit, he was totally supportive and on board as to why. We opted out for the better choice, conservation friendly Parque Pingüino Rey.
We saved one of the most, if not the most, exciting part of our Patagonian backpacking trip for last. Parque Pingüino Rey is the only colony of King Penguins on the South American mainland. The park is managed by the Chilean government who does a surprisingly good job balancing the education of the public with respecting the privacy of the penguins. The big factor is keeping a responsible distance behind a bird blind.
King Penguins are the second biggest species in the world. They look very similar to their cousins, the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica.
The colony felt surprisingly inland. It felt kind-of strange to see penguins in the middle of field in summer. But they were next to a river that jetted out to a bay.
The first moment of wonder was being entranced by how alien-esq penguins look like. I never really got past just how weird they were, but impressive. Their gold throats caught the sunlight. Their silver frosted feathers did too. They cooed then swashbuckled each other with their needle beaks. Eggs protruded out of their parent’s bellies. We observed the rule makers and the outcasts. Each penguin had a different personality. A pair courted and mated on the outskirts of the huddle and folded necks. A chick pestered its mother (who was smaller than he) for feeding. Clearly she was annoyed.
Dogs guarded the grounds to protect the penguin chicks from foxes.
If you’re like me, you think of penguin chicks being tiny and adorable like the character from Happy Feet. No one ever thinks about the ugly teenager chicks that look like Chewbacca– ugly future bearing fuzzballs.
Penguins waddled over to the bay for fishing trips. It took me so long to arrive at this little sanctuary, years waiting to visit Patagonia and many miles backpacking around the region. But for as long as it took me, they bobbled out into the surf and disappeared back into the wild just as quick.
So far from the crowds at the Ushuaia harbor, I stood in the bird blind with 8 fellow photographers. No, I wouldn’t have a penguin hop into my lap. No penguin selfies here. My mid-grade camera lense didn’t zoom quite as far as I would have liked. But I left with the feeling that I had observed something truly wild and unspoiled. And there aren’t many places like that left on Earth.
Which is the perfect end to my 5 part Patagonian Chronicle. There just aren’t many unspoiled places like Patagonia left on Earth.