It’s mid summer’s day in the Southern Hemisphere and at 44 degrees south of the equator, that means a full 16 hours of sunlight. It’s a curious day in the calendar, where the sun’s zenith is at its furthest south, cultures around the world are full of stories and celebration. In Chile in means the summer has started. Implicit therefore that spring has ended.
We leave the Lista Light early on our Kayak to wander through our archipelago of wooded islands afoot the Andes. It may be the longest day but there is a chill in the air from last night’s hailstorm which coated the decks white (a surprisingly pleasing texture to walk on barefoot!), so we are in full foul weather gear like two enormous cold-store workers. There is an Austral parakeet alone in the high dead branches overlooking our anchorage but it is not him we seek. Nor the chungungos (otter) that furiously attacks his sea urchin morning platter, we leave him to it. We want to identify the braying sound from the woods; we have a good idea who it is but no more, and each loud donkey noise leads us to a safe spot to dock the kayak.
Ahead of us leads a steep, slimy track straight up the hill into the undergrowth. It’s the path of no human. It’s wide but the branches, thorns and fallen trees leave only standing room of 50cm. So we are looking for a beast 50cm high, which sounds like a donkey. We drag ourselves up the track however we can and then, like a wall of scent, the damp cool forest air is cut with a seam of condensed, rotten fish; foul and sweet. It stops us dead, and as we scan for its source there is a movement from under the old roots of a mighty tree, deep into a dark recess. We drop to our knees to the epicentre of stench and there he is, swaying side to side defensively, flashing his white markings to present himself as a more fearsome beast – a beautiful penguin, hiding his nest deep in the enchanted woods far from the sea!!
We admire him now that the mystery is resolved, as still as we can be in deadly quiet amazement. A parakeet and a penguin with only 20 metres of air between then, merely a dream for the flightless penguin to sit atop a tree, likewise the deep ocean impenetrable to the colourful parakeet. But from the very same forefathers they came.
The story has a twist though. We remain on high alert until some shuffling next to us breaks our gaze. Through the tangle there is a struggle on the ground, a larger beast. We focus on the scene and realise there are two objects, not one. It may be the start of summer but our Magellanic penguins have some springtime business to attend to!
He struggles to mount her, she is a beautifully rounded and streamlined for hunting the sea’s abyss but that doesn’t make this task easy, he grips her with his little flippers and shakes with excitement but keeps slipping off, poor chap! We witness the scene barely daring to breath – how they haven’t noticed us we can’t understand, we are enormous and orange but their minds are elsewhere . . . .