It was June, the dead of winter, but I wasn’t about to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just because it was the off season. As an AFS exchange student in Argentina, I dreamed of heading south to see the penguins.
First I had to take a bus to Buenos Aires (because I don’t think there’s an airport in my town, or at least not one that I have seen.) That night at eleven I got on a plane to Rio Gallegos with Hugo, a volunteer with AFS who I would be staying with. We arrived at the grand hour of three in the morning and went straight to sleep. The next morning, I got on a bus by myself to go to the little town of Calafate, about 5 hours away, which is the gateway to the glaciers.
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There are usually penguins there but they had migrated to the north of Brazil for the winter because they can’t cope with the cold. Sort of tells you something when the penguins flee the cold. The first day in Calafate I had tea in a little cafe and walked around town. I had the free dinner at my hotel that night, and was astonished at what a free dinner entails—lamb chops with a seasoned baked potato, sweet meat sauce and raspberry sauce. For dessert, they gave me an entire sundae, and all I had to pay for was my drink. Water. So, you know, a dollar for all that food. Craziness!
The next morning I went to the glaciers and they were a glorious shining blue. It was a perfect winter day with sparkling sun and glittering snow and lots of little songbirds chirping furiously at each other and hopping this way and that. However, no one was there to enjoy it but me. At the bus terminal that morning, all fifteen of the bus companies that take people to the Glaciers National Park joined together and used one bus because there weren’t very many people. There was me, and one middle-aged Argentine couple. The couple didn’t even walk on the trails; they just took pictures from the top because they thought the trails were too slippery. The trails were covered with a thin layer of snow but they weren’t icy. I was practically jogging on the snow. I saw no one else on the trails the entire morning, until 2 o’clock or so when a busload of tourists did the same as the other couple and refused to walk on the trails. I walked a lot that day, without seeing anyone. I’ve never seen so few people in my life.
The next day in Calafate, I had the free breakfast (slightly smaller than dinner) of tea, cereal, croissants, toast and jam, and juice, then walked about a bit, took some pictures of old buildings, and went to the bird sanctuary by the lagoon and Lake Argentina. These birds certainly didn´t migrate. There were some gulls hanging about and standing on the iced-over lake, seemingly from force of habit, because they weren’t trying to peck through for food or anything, just squawking at each other. There were also falcons, ducks, cranes, and — the last thing I expected to see— flamingos! I looked it up later and sure enough, there is a variety of flamingo that lives in the region. I never did see any penguins, but I learned this: although you may never find what you’re looking for, you just might find something even more amazing.
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