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Penguin Watching in South America

We’d seen mention of the Seno Otway tours in a couple of guidebooks, and they seemed a much more reasonably-priced adventure than the Isla Magdalena tours. The way to keep them more reasonable, though, was to simply buy a bus ticket. Our Bus Fernandez fare was 5,000 pesos, a bargain next to the Turisma Comapa tour that we nearly bought and would have cost 20,000 pesos, with the only added benefit being a small snack on the ride to the colony.

It was a great thing that we just bought the bus ticket. Although the ‘bus’ was actually one of those improbably narrow Mitsubishi passenger vans, our driver was incredibly friendly, and stopped many times along the road to point out various wildlife (ranging from rabbits, to more ands, to the unusual skunk-like chingue). Upon reaching the colony, we had about one and a half hours to stroll along the boardwalk and watch the penguins.

That’s right, I said watch the penguins. Yes, we’ve all seen penguins in the zoo. But never did I imagine that I’d ever see real penguins, living in the wild. It was surreal, seeing these Magellan’s Penguins waddling about their business. In surprisingly organized lines, they bobbed along from the water to their burrows. They were unbelievably cute, and amazing to observe up close and with the binoculars (thanks, mom and dad!) preening their feathers and building their nests within their burrows.

Amongst the penguin crowd on the beach, there was a lone Emporer Penguin (you know, the starring breed of March of the Penguins). Much larger, and sporting arguably more formal plumage, he stood on the beach preening and looking a bit morose. What was he doing there?

Magellan’s Penguins, we’d been informed, return to the same place every year to mate with the same partner. Even more remarkable, a penguin will become sterile if its one partner should die. Newly armed with that information about Magellan’s Penguins, we extrapolated a bit, and guessed that it was the remaining half of a mating pair of Emporers that called Seno Otway home.

The real story, though, is somewhat more exotic, though maybe no less lonely.

We were told that the lone Emporer, looking large and awkwardly out of place, like the first of the penguin classmates to hit puberty, was not actually from Seno Otway. Rather, it had been found out at sea, stranded, and picked up by a well-meaning fisherman. This fisherman, the story goes, then brought the penguin back to one of the places where he knew that penguins lived, Seno Otway.