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Bring on the Penguins!
Patagonian Paradise

Safety on deckSafety on deck (Kristen Kidder)
As Cory and I began to research the cruise, the stop we were most looking forward to was the trip to Magdalena Island to see the penguins. Our guides have informed us that close to 70,000 pairs roam this relatively small expanse of space, and we board the Zodiac boat with both our digital and video cameras, prepared to capture every second. This is our last excursion before docking in Punta Arenas shortly before lunch, and I have made what I soon learn is the mistake of packing my heavier, less-often-worn, clothes the night before. Although I have on several light layers, they are no match for the Island's early morning chill and I begin to envy all the penguins we see huddled together in their dens.

This is not to say that the cold takes anything away from the magnificence of the sight. For the most part the penguins ignore us and go on about their business, waddling around, swimming and preening each other. Feathers cover the island, a product of the molting that naturally occurs as younger birds mature. Cory and I take several pictures and videos in an attempt to capture the penguins' calls but after 45 minutes I'm frozen and head back to the ship for breakfast and a few final tasks before disembarkation.

We are met in Punta Arenas by an Adventure Life representative and begin the long, but extraordinarily beautiful drive to Torres del Paine. Cory and I have our own private van and spend several hours chatting in Spanish with our driver, who is happy to pause for photos any time we request. Structured stops are also built into the trip to EcoCamp, and we especially enjoy a visit to ''the Cueva del Milodon,''(Cave of the Milodon), a large extinct mammal. The cave is a wonderfully interesting archaeological site, and makes me feel as though I'm in a life-sized pre-historic diorama.

We arrive at EcoCamp just in time for a lovely dinner, although I still feel a bit of nostalgia for the lavish cruise meals. Travel days are always difficult transitions, but Cory and I meet our guide, Rafa, and have a drink in the common area before retiring to our cabin. The beds are plush and the wood fireplace makes for a cozy night's sleep after a very long day.

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