Thursday, December 29, 2011

Penguins, part two.

Yes, the penguins in Chile were cute, but they weren’t the only penguins we saw. The second set carried British passports and live on the Falkland Islands. And visiting them turned out to be quite an experience. The information for the shore excursion said that we would be met by a bus at the pier and driven to a farm, where we would transfer to 4x4 vehicles for a hour ride to the penguin colony. Instead a fleet of 7 land rovers was waiting for us pier side. We organized ourselves into groups of four and set off. As it happened Wilf and I were in the leadvehicle with Patrick. He turned out to be an excellent driver. But as a tour guide…. let just say that he was the least chatty person I’ve met.
Off we went, about 10km from Port Stanley, crossing the Murell River and turning onto Murrell Farm, an operation of some 10,000 acres. The road along the way was paved or hard packed gravel and we sped along, looking at where peat was being harvested and dried for fuel. At the farm we passed between the house and the barn, turned right at a cow, waved at the geese and headed off across what looked like the tundra.
Patrick did admit that there were a few trees in Port Stanley, but other than that the next trees are, literally, thousands of miles away. The Falkand Islands are actually much bigger than I expected. Looking on the map they look small, out there alone in the ocean. But really, we drove for a long while and covered only a tiny little corner of one edge. But anyhoo, tundra. That’s what it looked like – low scrubby growth, peat, rocks, hills. Off in all directions. And no obvious path. Did I mention the rocks? We crept and lurched along, shifting gears and hanging on for dear life. I could see why the shore excursion brochure warned people with bad backs and necks from taking this trip. Every so often we’d come to a gate. I think the locals have a gentleman’s agreement with the cattle and sheep, ‘cause. Really? I don’t think the fence would slow down a determined cow or sheep. At one point we pulled up to the fence – about 15 feet from the gate. Patrick and another driver got out, yanked the fence posts out of the ground and laid the fence down. ‘Too boggy at the actual gate’, he said. Okay, then.
Picture from the truck window, looking back at the group following.
For an hour we banged and lurched along, wondering just where we were headed. We could see that we were heading toward the coast.

And we were there. And there they were! As cute as the Magellanic penguins were, the general consensus was that penguins should be black and white. And these Rockhopper penguins fit the bill. There are several hundred of them living at the top of this cliff.
Cute, huh?
The chicks are born over a period of a few weeks, so there were parents sitting on eggs, little brown fluff ball babies and chicks that were already grey and white. All so cute!
And the crazy thing is they nest and live at the top of this huge wind swept cliff, but they feed way down below:
And, like their names says they sort of hop along rather than waddling like most penguins do on land. So, hop hop hop they go, down down down to the lower area. At the back they jump in the water and swim through a crevasse out into the ocean, then reverse the project.
And yes, it was windy. There was a little tea hut up there  - I noticed that two big sturdy straps had been tossed over the roof and they were attached to big iron spikes driven into the peat moss. So – chronic wind situation going on if you need to tie the tea house to the ground.
After we had been with the penguins for about an hour, and were utterly charmed and totally windblown we piled back into the land rovers for another bracing one hour bounce across the tundra. It was a crazy day that ended with a wild tender ride back to the Veendam in a stormy sea, but it was a great and memorable day.

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