King Penguins in the Land of Fire
Carla and I have been working on a little project to help promote eco-tourism on privately owned land in Patagonia with a new enterprise called Aoni Tem. Apart from being an amazing experience, we've had the good fortune of meeting a number of friendly Chileans who we've had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with recently. Since our Spanish is still more than a little shaky we were also lucky enough to have a fellow Australian by the name of Lauren come along and assist with translation. Lauren is an intrepid traveller who has been living in Chile for a number of years. As we came close to wrapping up the Aoni Tem project Lauren, Carla, Pancho and myself decided to head south towards Tierra del Fuego to check out a population of King Penguins that have returned after being absent in recent history, just road trip around and check out the surrounds. It should be mentioned immediately that Pancho was a font of knowledge like no other and seemed to know everything of the cultural and natural history of the area, much of what is said below is thanks to Pancho!
King Penguins are the second largest species of penguin, reaching a rather impressive 1m tall, second only to the Emperor Penguin of Antarctica. While they were historically found in relatively northern areas such as Tierra del Fuego they went further south in recent history until making a return to Useless Bay where they have established a colony. We saw approximately 70 adults and one super fluffy, unbelievably cute, baby. We were incredibly lucky to have the colony cross the river around which they live and waddle on over to us - they seemed as interested in us as we did in them!
Pali Aike National Park
Pali Aike National Park covers the long extinct Pali Aike volcanic area. We arrived at sunset and had just enough time for a stroll, a glass of wine and a few snaps.
Land of Fire: between Punta Arenas, Porvenir, Cameron & Cerro Sombrero
Tierra del Fuego, Land of Fire in English, was named by the Portugese explorer Fernando de Magallanes. Many things around Patagonia are named after Magallanes, including the Magellan Strait, the water that separates the mainland of South America from the archipelagos that make up its tip, which we crossed from Punta Arenas to reach the island of Tierra del Fuego. Magallanes was the first European to explore the area and while coming through Magellan Strait noticed a lot of smoke from the fires of the first people of the area, the Aonik'enk. On a relevant side note, Magallanes was Portugese but was working under contract as an explorer for the Spanish. He decided to call Tierra del Fuego the land of smoke, but when he suggested the name to the Spanish Crown they thought it unimpressive and renamed it Land of Fire.
Tierra del Fuego bears the scars of petroleum exploration and agriculture and has all the associated small towns that support these industries. The generous residents of the small town of Cameron, a surprisingly developed tiny town based around a large estancia (agricultural station), allowed us to stay in their bus stop - it was much nicer than it sounds! In contrast, the larger oil town of Cerro Sombrero almost appeared to be post apocalyptic. It had definitely seen better days, with maintenance and citizens dropping in parallel to oil production.