In one of my junior high classes circa 7th or 8th grade, we were instructed to write 20 things we wanted to accomplish as part of a “Time Capsule” project. I can’t remember now if those 20 things were goals we wanted to realize before we graduated high school, college, or in our life in general. Anyways, my parents kept this time capsule and showed it to me before I went to college. I was and still am impressed with the fact that at an early age I wanted to travel, particularly to Australia at the time. But I also couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous or unrealistic most of the goals were. The items on that list that I remember distinctly were to become a singer or an actress, to pet a llama and to hold a penguin. Feel free to laugh.
My love for penguins began (I think) with one of my first Lisa Frank folders. It’s an image of two emperor penguins hugging in the psychedelic style of Lisa Frank (any girl who grew up in the 80’s or 90’s will definitely remember this). I had probably every Lisa Frank image ever created in the form of folders, pencils, and trapper keepers (ha!) but for some reason I was always drawn to the penguins (the orca whale came in a close second maybe because there are also penguins in that image).
A few years later, I received a “Ty” stuffed penguin for a gift. It wasn’t a Beanie Baby but an actual stuffed animal that I adored. From then on, whenever someone asked, penguins were my favorite animal (besides my cats at the time).
As an adult, I still feel drawn to penguins. They are just so adorable and awkward (on land). I can’t help but laugh when I watch them waddle around and wonder if they are ever jealous of other birds that can fly (then I remember they swim like champs). And seriously, the babies are so cute it hurts to look at them. Besides their outward appearance and demeanor, I admire and respect them as creatures. They endure such difficult existences in horrible winters, finding food, and caring for their young. I too admire the fact that penguins are social animals who tend to stick in groups and look out for one another. What amazes me even further is their commitment and loyalty to their partners who they keep as companions for life.
With my love for penguins in mind and the fact that I’ve never seen them in the wild, Dan and I decided to take the trip down to Punta Arenas, Chile for 5 days. From Punta Arenas, there are two penguins colonies that tourists can visit: Isla Magdalena and Seno Otway. We heard that Isla Magdalena is home to many more penguins than Seno Otway so we booked our tickets with Comapa Tours to take the 3 o’clock boat to the island.
The boat ride ended up being pretty unenjoyable. It’s 2 hours of riding through rough water out to the island and 2 or more hours back (depending on the wind) with approximately 200 other people onboard. Two of my most hated things: too many people and motion sickness. However, I kept those fuzzy little birds in mind and tried to best control my situation by sticking in headphones and closing my eyes.
As we began to approach the island, Dan and I decided to stand on the incredibly windy deck to get some first glances. Isla Magdalena almost looks like Shutter Island from a far with a creepy lighthouse and seagulls flying around everywhere (we couldn’t see the penguins quite yet at this point).
Once the ship docked, we immediately saw hundreds of penguins trying to walk down the rocky shores into the freezing water to hunt. Beyond this shore lives 59,000 penguins. We learned that these penguins swim all the way to Brazil for 2 months during the winter and then return to the same island and the exact same den that they had lived in previously. Pretty amazing!
After we descended from the boat, we realized that there is a marked trail that all of the tourists must follow that ropes off all of the penguins dens to keep them safe. I definitely appreciated this and the fact that most of the tourists were very respectful towards the animals (no one tried to chase them, touch them, or even get too close to take a picture). This is something that always worries me when visiting natural locations with animals especially.
Even from this trail we were easily able to see many penguins cuddling and feeding their young, walking down to the ocean, flapping their wings, walking across the path, etc.
Dan and I were just in awe. We couldn’t stop taking pictures, pointing out different penguins to each other, laughing at how funny they are, and just all out reveling in their presence. We very unfortunately only had 1 hour on the island to wander down the marked trail. I could have easily stayed for many hours simply sitting and watching them.
I was obsessed with the babies and watching the parents care for them. We learned that both parents share the responsibility equally of caring for their young. One more reason to love them even more!
Although I didn’t fully realize my teenage dream of actually holding a penguin, I think what I got to do was even better. I now have the knowledge and respect for them to know that holding them isn’t really something I want or should be doing. I was able to see them living in their natural habitat and only slightly disturbing them when they wanted to cross over the walking path. This experience was so much better than holding one that lives confined in a zoo or aquarium. Therefore, I think it’s okay to change or modify your dreams as time goes on.
It was a humbling moment for me to realize that I had this goal, this vision as a teenager and I actually lived it! Even though some of the other adolescent ambitions I could care less about now, it’s reassuring to know that teenage Christie would be ecstatic and proud. Ecstatic and proud to know that she ends up achieving one of her dreams even if it took 16 years to do so.
I mean, come on!