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There is a little island in the very bottom of Patagonia called Isla Martillo. It is not far from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world and the main port for cruises around Tierra del Fuego and down to Antarctica. There, if you are very lucky – and take the right excursion -- you can get to know two types of penguins –Magellanic and Gentoo -- up close and very personal.



While these birds don’t come down to the shore to greet your zodiac, you might be misled to believe that that is exactly what some are doing. And, because they are such anthropomorphic creatures, you also might think they are engaged in some very human activities.



For instance….

This fellow, Jorge, a Gentoo gentleman, didn’t seem interested in visitors. He was absorbed in doing his own thing.

All dressed up in his best bib and tucker, he was heading out from his rocky nest for a special event down at the water’s edge. He had been invited by his neighbors, the burrowing Magellanas, to witness the wedding of some members of their community and join in the festivities that were to follow.

As he walked along, he was followed by Miguel Magellana, who kept shouting, "Hey, Jorge, wait for me."

Jorge slowed down and then they walked together toward the place of the ceremony. Just ahead of them four of the groom’s old classmates and were already rushing down the hill to the beach.



They got there just in time for the ceremony. The loving couple stood side by side listening to the preacher.

Then they embraced.



Along with hundreds of others, mostly members of the huge Magellana family, Jorge, and his buddy, Miguel, then stood in line with other guests to welcome the wedding party.


“Here they come,” Miguel cried out.
And there they were.
The newlyweds strode toward them, leaving the best man, who probably drank too much beforehand, lying on the beach, while the maid of honor moved off to sulk. She was probably thinking, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."


But most were thrilled for the couple. Some even did a bit of dancing. Then they all started partying.



Nearby, on another island in the famous Beagle Channel, upon hearing the news many comorants wanted to celebrate, too. They puffed out their chests and tried to act like penguins. One fellow, a bit late, flew in just in time.


Some of the teenage sea lions watching from the rocks started to giggle. One, doubled over in laughter, said that, try as they might, cormorants can't be like penguins. “Silly birds! Penguins can’t fly!”

The Sea Lion King, a big honcho who rules his own little domain, spoke to the youngsters rather harshly. “Let them pretend they’re penguins,” he said. “After all, the penguins think they are people!” Then, tilting his head way back he joined the chorus of well-wishers from all around the area and sang out in his deep, bass voice, “Alabanza!” to Senor Luis and the new Senora, Maria Magellana.






They appreciated the words of congratulations that echoed across the water. And the party continued well into the afternoon.

After all the excitement, Jorge headed for home on his pebbly perch. On the way, he passed Miguel, who had already settled down next to his cozy den. He was really partied out.



“Boy,” thought Jorge, “this was really a great day.”

I thought so, too.
______________________________________________________________________________________
If you'd like to meet Jorge, Miguel, and their friends, head for Ushuaia, Argentina. Once there contact Piratour (www.piratour.ar), the only tour company in the area that has permission to go through La Estancia Harburton, the huge ranch from which a guide will take a maximum of 15 visitors a day in a small, covered Zodiac, to the hammer-shaped Isla Martillo on the Beagle Channel to walk among the penguins. The island hosts around 1000 nests and is one of the three Magellanic rookeries in Tierra del Fuego. There is also a small colony of nine or ten breeding couples of Gentoo penguins, including my new friend, "Jorge." Other companies in Ushuaia also go out to the island but their much bigger boats are kept off-shore and passengers observe the penguins from the decks of the vessels.


Most of the photos in this story were taken on Isla Martillo; a few on a reserve on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan near the city of Punta Arenas, Chile. While there are no Gentoos there, there are thousands of pairs of Magellanic pengüinos and anyone who get get out to the island is welcome to walk among them.
















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Tags: Argentina, Latin America, South America, Tierra del Fuego, ecotourism, penguins, wildlife

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Comment by Shannon Farley on December 27, 2012 at 11:30am

Delightful story! Wonderfully captivating. I agree that the storyline and others would make a fantastic children's book! "The Penguins of Patagonia". Excellent! :-)

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