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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Penguins!

Perhaps more than anything else on this trip, Mindy wanted to see penguins! When we thought we'd make it to the southern tip of the continent, this seemed an easy win, but then we discovered just how long Chile is from north to south.

Happily for us, there is also a colony of penguins in a nature reserve near La Serena - hence our trek up north yesterday.

As you might imagine, we were a little apprehensive about our Ecoturismo tour this morning - would the guide speak English, or Portuguese? When Paola, our guide, retrieved us from the hotel lobby, the tension diminished. Excellent English, and an engaging personality. (A proper tour bus, rather than a van, too!) We set out toward Isla Damas - the island where the penguin colony lives - with a few adventures planned along the way. Turning off the main highway, we started across great swaths of semi-desert, and stopped to see guanacos - a South American animal related to the camel - loping along beside the rutted road.

They blend in well!






The next stop on the penguin tour was to see desert foxes (which also blend in exceptionally well). Kudos to our guide Paola for spotting them!





While it was impressive that Paola could spot the foxes, that she found us desert owls was "a hoot"! (She admitted she knew where their underground next was, so she knew approximately where they might be.)



We finally arrived at the pier where we would embark on the boat to Isla Damas. First, though, we saw this van:


Finally, two hours into our tour to see penguins, we were finally at the water, almost seeing penguins! 



Aboard the boat:



We headed toward the island, then got side-tracked. Dolphins!!



Approaching the island, we saw sea otters and various types of cormorants...




...followed by sea lions...





video

...and then finally the main event: PENGUINS!







After a slow tour of the coastline where the penguins and sea lions were basking in the sun, we were dropped off at a neighboring island (tourists aren't allowed on Isla Damas) so that we could bask in the sun, ourselves.



Jeans don't make the best beachwear, but it was a good thing I was wearing pants. My exposed skin was pretty dark by the end of a half hour. We returned to our boat, had a quick lunch at a local restaurant, and began the journey back to La Serena through the rutted desert roads. We saw desert foxes and guanacos out the window along the way, but we didn't stop on the way back.

Back at the hotel, after an exhilarating and exhausting day, we covered our sun-burned skin with lotion (or, at least, my sun-burned skin, as Mindy had thought to put on sunblock) and chilled out for the night.

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