Punta Tombo, Argentina 8 Mar 06
Odometer 26,196 m 42,158 km

Leaving Ushuaia feeling significantly better than when I had arrived four days earlier, I pushed north through gale-force winds to rejoin the Chilean mainland. My departure was bittersweet. Much of my time on the island of Tierra del Fuego was spent healing my body, my bike, and my mind for the trek ahead.

While the southern terminus of my Journey has been reached, I’m still a long way from home. So, to dispel any sense that the trip is officially “over,” I conclude that it’s better to approach the next leg as the beginning of a new adventure--rather than the end of the last. I smile as I twist the throttle open, energy renewed.

North of the Strait of Magellan, I cross back into Argentina and begin the long route up the Atlantic coastal plain. Most of the time I’m forced to ride uncomfortably prone, with my chin resting on my tank bag behind the bike’s small windscreen. I’m wearing nearly everything I own, including an electric vest to ward off the cold, and feel like the Michelin Man in a straight jacket. The random crosswind gusts exceed 50 mph, which at my cruising speed of 60 mph feels like Sammy Sousa whacking me upside the head with a sledgehammer.
punta tombo
My mission now is simple: find penguins.

Most people picture penguins living wherever it’s cold, but actually they’re unique to the southern hemisphere. I barrel down deserted dirt roads in search of a colony known to inhabit Punta Tombo. As storm clouds coalesce out over the water, my anticipation grows.

Before you see penguins, you hear them. The call of the Magellanic species of this area--named after Ferdinand Magellan, following his initial voyage around the southern tip of South America in 1519--sounds similar to a softly meowing cat. They’re very social and in near constant communication with one another.

Reaching the end of the road, I turn El Viento off and remove my helmet and earplugs. Then, over the steady roar of the icy wind, I detect a soft chorus of avian conversation. I must be close.

I gather up my equipment and prepare to crawl to the beach to snag my first photos of this long-sought creature. I tiptoe down the path, camera at the ready, and freeze when I sense I’m near. Suddenly, a lone bird guardedly waddles out from the brush to investigate.

“Who goes there,” the gatekeeper seems to inquire?

I remain silent. Then, overcome by curiosity, dozens of his friends also decide to reveal themselves, joining us one by one. To my utter delight--I'm suddenly surrounded by penguins!
From land-dweller to sea-lover, a Magellanic penguin prepares to take the plunge.
For a long time I just quietly sit and savor the moment. Communing with these gentle creatures can only be likened to my experience in the mountains above Toluca, Mexico, where I rode horseback into the roost of the migratory Monarch butterfly. One of me; hundreds of them; everyone respecting the other.

Further along the beach and amid the waves, I discover that penguins are not poor little birds that have sadly lost the ability to fly, as often portrayed. To the contrary, they’re more like amazing fish that have gained the ability to
walk! Seeing them in the water showing their finned counterparts how it’s done, I can only marvel at the diversity of life on this planet--and shudder at the thought of its demise.

I linger. I don’t want to leave my new friends, and now believe it was worth the thousands upon thousands of miles I’ve traveled--just to see

In the quiet, with only their gentle cat-calls, the lapping surf and the haunting wind to be heard, they seem to accept me, indeed welcome me to their colony. Two fellow creatures of the earth peacefully coexisting. What a concept.

Maybe we should send the world’s leaders to Antarctica for a lesson.

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