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Pinguini Island 24.2.15

March 2, 2015

Near Puerto Deseado. 24.2.15

Rio Deseado, the river Puerto Deseado stands next to, is quite a unique harbour; aeons ago the river abandoned its course, I’m not sure where it went to, letting the sea to invade up to 40kms inland. The result is a haven for many sea birds and mammals like the 1.5 metre Commerson’s dolphin. It was shelter for voyagers like Magellan, Drake and Darwin who spent some time here in 1833.

Of the two camp sites in town we picked a crook one first off. Looked OK until we checked things out more closely. A quick exit found us at Harry’s Municipal Camping where the colours were bright and the instant hot water actually hot.

It was also good to catch up with other overlanders as well: Kirsten and Thomas who, would you believe, were from Namibia. And Paula and Jeremy from Scotland and England respectively. The chances of a Namibian registered vehicle (ours) being in the same camp site as a couple from Namibia in Patagonia must be very long. Kirsten and Thomas had a big Man truck that had a hydraulically operated top half, and Paula and Jeremy had been travelling in their VW Caliifornian for three years.

Today we all decided to take a guided tour to nearby Penguin Island. The island is home to rockhopper penguins as well as elephant seals and many other interesting birds. To get there was a fast 40 minute bash in an inflatable then staggering over firstly kelp covered then guano stained rock for the next five hours. Called penguin Island by the harvesters of the fat and oil rendered down from the penguins and elephant seals some time in the past. All that remains now is the rendering bowl reminding the local pinguinis just how lucky they are now that penguin fat has gone out of fashion. There is a lighthouse on the island that, because the country is in dire straits, couldn’t afford the maintenance and stopped flashing last year. I hope they told passing seafarers.

But the rockhoppers were the star. We spent hours trying to shelter from the blustering wind watching them go about their business. Roxanna, a marine biologist and our guide was able to tell us everything we needed to know about them. They travel one metre per second, can do 300kms in a day, will travel up to 600kms looking for food (this I had to query) and don’t like the Magellanic neighbours. They are often seeen together but move too close to the other type and wham! A beak can give a nasty bite. A group of them had us laughing: they would make their way towards the water hopping from rock to rock, hesitating to survey the scene regularly. Then would turn round and hop all the way back. This was repeated at least four times while we watched, each time they would get a liittle closer to the water. Roxanna said they are checking the tide and currents and will get in once all is OK.

The other main attraction on the island is the area where the old male elephant seals spend the rest of their days once they have been dethroned by a younger stronger male. The average time a male has a harem is five years. Not long but their retirement didn’t seem too bad, no need to satisfy all those females all the time, no more torn flesh, just lying around enjoying the sun only being disturbed by the silly groups of humans that think they can hide from us  by squatting down and walking in a funny duck fashion.

On the way to Penguin Island the boat took us to an outcrop of rock housing many elephant seal families. The inflatable was able to nudge its way amongst the swimming seals and right up to the rock to get a closeup of these beautiful creatures.

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