You never know where life will take you, if you had asked me three years ago where we’d be spending our third wedding anniversary I’m 100% sure I never would have said the end of the world. And technically we didn’t, we were in Torres del Paine, but given the tent and wind situation, we decided it was better to celebrate it at the end of the world. Funny how things change, for to celebrate our anniversary all I really wanted to do was stay at a nice hotel and have a few days where we’re not “traveling” but rather relaxing like we’re on vacation.
As the main port for Antarctic cruises, Ushuaia was a lot less touristy than we expected. We expected to find Antarctic Disneyworld, but instead we found a very industrial port town with all the graffiti and smells you expect to find in a port city. Of course there was a tourist street with upscale outdoor clothing shops, chocolate shops and travel agencies, but we didn’t have to walk too far to find a cheap hole-in-the-wall empanada place. Yes, everything was more expensive in Ushuaia, but coming from Chile we hardly noticed!
There was nothing we were dying to do in Ushuaia except to go to say we’ve been to the end of the world. Of course there are about 100 different tours and excursions to do from the city, most of which we found to be completely uninteresting. Friends of ours went through Ushuaia last January on their trip around the world, and found an excursion where you go to a penguin colony. That was a little more up our alley than a bus tour of nearby lakes, so we booked the tour thinking we’d be standing on the beach with penguins curiously surrounding us. As our little boat crossed the bay to the penguin’s island, our guide, who was also a biologist gave us a laundry list of rules: don’t touch the penguins, don’t approach the penguins, don’t walk off the marked path, don’t smoke, eat or drink, don’t leave anything behind, well you get the picture. Needless to say I was very excited, thinking that we’d have a chance to sit on the island and allow the penguins to approach us.
This time of year the penguin eggs should be hatching and I definitely expected to see tons of little penguin chicks like in a not-to-be-named recent penguin film, but the weather here has been crazy this year and the penguins are still nesting and finding mates. As we stepped onto the penguin’s island, it was clear our experience was going to be different. A group of about 50 penguins lay on their eggs about 100 yards away, completely uninterested in us. It was clear they weren’t going to be approaching us, especially since the female penguins were playing just off shore. Our disappointment was palpable, in fact one girl in the group declared that it “sucked”.
Continuing around the island, we came across a dead penguin (just what I wanted to see!) that had been nibbled by seals. Gross. Completely disheartened at this point, thinking we’d wasted a good amount of money to see a dead penguin and penguins further away than at the zoo, I followed the group up the hill to what the biologist was calling the “main avenue” of the penguins. Skeptical to say the least, I was shocked when we got to the top of the hill and saw literally hundreds of penguins nesting. A few males lolled about calling for a mate, while others seemed to be frantically trying to build a nest. Not one so much looked in our direction, each was completely focused on his task.
With males still arriving to find a mate, and eggs not yet hatched, the penguin colony is going through a rough year. The biologist told our group that the eggs laid this late in the season have a small chance of surviving to be hatched if the weather quickly reverts back to normal. For about 30 minutes we walked among the nests, watching the males build their structures and even peaked in on a few sitting on their eggs. The penguins literally could have cared less that we were there, in fact as we walked down the hill a penguin came out of her nest to visit with a friend next door. It wasn’t exactly the penguin experience we were looking for, but it was neat to see them nesting and hear the call of the lonely males. Would we do it again? Not so sure, but we’re not too disappointed. Word on the trail is that the penguins can still be found further north….at our next stop, Puerto Madryn. Stay tuned…:)