Monday, 24 February 2014

South American Adventure - Day Five, Monday 24th February, 2014

Another early morning call – this time we have breakfast to eat before we go.  Well – if you could call it breakfast.  No egg station here – in fact, not a an egg in sight.  A couple of loaves of bread and a toaster, but you need a spare hour or so to wait for it to toast.  The coffee was hot though, and there were muffins!

Filipe picked us up at 8.00am for our trip to Rawson, initially for our zodiac trip to see commerson dolphins. Just before we left the hotel it started to spit with rain – it had finally arrived, the first rain since October!  Across the whole of the bay was the most vivid and complete rainbow I have ever seen.  One end actually went into the bay – never seen one where the end is so clearly defined.  We travelled through a few showers for about an hour until we came to Port Rawson.  Unfortunately the harbour master had decided that it was too windy, and had just closed the port to anything going in or out.  Bugger!  We drove and had a look at the entrance to the open water through the harbour walls, and there were some quite hefty waves smashing down.  Hmm – I am sure it would have been OK, but I could see the look of relief on someone’s face!

We then had to retrace our steps to get to the road to Punta Tombo – the largest Megallanic Penguin colony in the world.   It took around two hours to get here, travelling along lonely roads with nothing but a great expanse to either side.  The desert like soil only allows a very small amount of vegetation to grow, and not very high at that.  All of the surrounding lands are sheep “estancias” – although there was a distinct lack of sheep.  I suppose when you have the run of hundreds of miles of land you aren’t likely to want to be beside a road!  The only place where the terrain changed was along the valley of the river, where there were trees and greenery abound.  We did learn that it was the Welsh that came over and started the villages here – Filipe’s wife has Welsh ancestors.  Apparently there are many Welsh descendents in this part of the world.  Probably why there are so many sheep!  We turned off the normal road surface with about 20 kilometres to go – and then it was gravel all the way.  Good job we had a 4x4.  We first went to the Visitor Centre – a fairly new building but not very well built.  Most of the toilets were out of order, and it apparently leaks when it rains.  Luckily for us we had left the rain well behind.  It showed what animals we were going to see, and an insight into the life of the penguin.  One room had TV’s all the way round, and were meant to be showing a film where the animals move from one to the other seamlessly.  Some were day, some were night, and all were doing their own thing!  Must have been installed by the same people that installed the toilets and built the roof.  At the height of the season, there are over 200,000 pairs of penguins here. We had to get back in the car for the last kilometre down to where the boardwalk starts.  As soon as we got out of the car there was a penguin sitting under a tree.  We may have left the rain behind, but the wind certainly came with us, and we needed the fleeces and coats that we had brought. On the way down the paths, it was simply littered with penguins.  They build their nests either under a bush, or dig a hole – small or large will do.  Some were in pairs, and some were on their own. 

They arrive back to the colony in September/October time from warmer waters.  They make their way back to usually the same nest as they had vacated at the end of the previous summer.  These nests can be up to three kilometres away from the ocean.  If the lady of the house is in, the male will stick with her from last time.  They mate, and the eggs are laid October/November time.  Both male and female will look after the one or two eggs until they hatch.  They will hatch after forty or so days, so usually be the end of December all the young are born.  The young will feed from their parents until February time, when they will make their way into the sea and that will be the last they see of them.  Unlike children these days!!  By mid April all the penguins disappear in the water, and don’t come back until the weather has warmed up again.

Consequently, most of the chicks had gone by today.  There were a few left, and it was absolutely fascinating watching them take food from the back of their parent’s throat.  One of the first things Filipe pointed out was a sparrow.  Paul and I looked at each other and thought he was mad!  We have them back in the garden at home – we were here to see penguins.  Not sure how many times he has been here though – he probably makes it his mission to try and spot anything other than penguins because of the amount of times he has been here.  He did point out some beautiful Harrier Falcons and other birds of prey that the name escapes me now!  Had to get a few bird shots in!  The penguin sheds its feathers once a year, and this was the back end of when this was happening.  Some of the penguins looked as if they had fur coats on, as the new feathers were under the old feathers and make them look very fat.  Some had half and half, and looked a bit scanky!  Most were absolutely adorable.  Some were resting in their holes alone or in pairs – some were doing more than resting in their holes with their partner!  Some were making a noise like a donkey – sticking their beaks high in the air and shouting at the top of their voices to make themselves heard.  No idea why! Probably a male having a paddy!  Others were waddling about, either with somewhere to go or someone to see.  Penguins have right of way here – if they attempt to cross the path you must let them go.  The rule is you mustn’t get any closer than three feet to the penguin.  If there was one just the other side of the path, and you bop down to get a picture, it keeps putting it’s head from side to side to see you better.  Looks as if it is talking to you!

Going down to the beach area, there were many, many more.  They were swimming and jumping in the water, and generally having fun.  Once they were in the water, they were like a rocket propelled grenade with the speed that they got to when chasing for fish.  They swam on their sides and back and splashed around – supposedly to clean their feathers, but looked as if it was good fun to me.  Back around their nests, little rodent like creatures kept darting around – a bit like a guinea pig.  Nobody bothered anyone though – the penguins only eat fish and the rodents only eat from the undergrowth.  Other animals were wandering around also including a guanaco which is a llama type thing related to a camel.  Amazing.  It seemed like we had only been there an hour or so, but we had been there over three hours.  It is just timeless to watch these creatures going about their business.

On the way back, Filipe spotted an armadillo – well he said he did but I didn’t see it.  Would have liked to have done though.  We had a sandwich at the little café place – run by one person who was making the tea as well.  This place has up to three thousand people visit in a day in high season – hope they all don’t want a cup of tea!!  Today there were very few – at some points it was as if we were all on our own.  Perfect!

It took us a couple of hours to get back, and the sun was shining when we arrived.  Time to relax in the sun – it doesn’t actually go down until around 8.30pm so heavenly after a long day.  Think there may be a few more of them coming up………….

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