Aboard the ms Veendam: Pinnipeds and pinnacles

A representing committee of penguins greets cruisers on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan. There were hundreds more where they came from.

ABOARD THE MS VEENDAM-“I simply can’t believe where we are!” a woman said.

Many of our group of about 100 felt the same way. We cruisers had deserted the Veendam to board a local ferry. It resembled more a World War II vehicle beach assault boat. In this craft we would invade an island penguin colony two and one-half hours away from Punta Arenas in the Strait of Magellan.

In the staterooms, the TV keeps us informed of our location and other current information.

Luckily the weather was just about perfect for this latitude – nearly 60 degrees and partly sunny. The penguins, the Magellanes variety, named for the strait and of course for the 16th century navigator, seemed glad to see us.  However we could spare them only one hour to investigate them and their sandy burrows before we had to return ultimately to our mother ship.

Punta Arenas (pop. 100,000), and which means “sandy point,” is the southernmost town on the continent of South America, our Chilean guide points out. The city of Ushuaia, Argentina, is farther south, but technically it’s on an island.  After traversing the Beagle Channel, we’ll be there tomorrow afternoon.

Two penguin chicks in a burrow on Magdalena Island.A petrel almost seems to walk on water as it skims the ocean looking for a fish at Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas flourished during the California Gold Rush.  After the Panama Canal opened, of course, things cooled down a bit. Plenty of sheep moved in to take the place of the Fortyniners, and Sandy Point eventually became known as a center for Chilean wool and mutton.

Local boosters claim there is plenty to see and do here. But for me, it was all about the penguins.

Back on board, this was a night with friends for a special meal. We gathered in the premium (extra charge) restaurant called Pinnacle Grill. My seven-ounce filet mignon (I could have had 11-ounceer) was as good as any I’ve enjoyed anywhere in the world. With good wine and topped off with a sip or so of Grande Marnier, it guaranteed a night of solid sleep sans sheep-counting before greeting Argentina in the morning.

Photos by Robert W. Bone

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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