Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Senda Darwin; Penguins, Biologists, and Big Dinners

AaThis time we hired a private bus to transport us to the small town of Piñihuil, which is a bustling ecotourism center for penguins. The irony of conserving an area for a species that is exploited for tourist purposes made me laugh almost as hard as the way the tours are run. There must be some burgeouise people who go on these tours, because you begin them in a cart. It would be a shame to get your feet wet, so Chileans have come up with an ingeneous human cart that they push 10 passengers at a time up to the boats which are parked in the sand.

Notice that the boat is named titanic...

The tour takes you up close to the penguins.We saw a plethora of other birds, including the flightless steamer duck and the red-legged cormorant. The penguins don´t do much other than sit there absorbing sunshine on the rocks. Some of them are mottled grays and browns, caught in the midst of molting, while others display distinct lines across their chests. Twenty minutes later we were shuttled off of the boats and back onto the beach where we had a plethora of dining and tourist opportunities. I declined, and boarded our bus.

Shopping for 15 people for 3 dinners was the next order of business, and the hyper-organized grocery stores threw me for a loop. An hour later, I stood in line with a shopping cart full to the brim exhibiting the epitome of American consumption. Granted, the majority of the food was fresh veggies that we had been lacking while backpacking, but still I had to laugh at the quantity of food we were about to consume.

Carrying the three full boxes with our overly filled backpacks on an unanticipated mile long hike was a challenge we met with grace, and arriving at the research center to smiling faces and warm showers and beds filled me with another kind of joy. We unpacked and sprawled out for class. Dinner for the first night was pasta and Salad. Our salad exhibited more vegetables than we could eat, and the extras went to the researchers. It felt like a good first step to cultivating friendship.

The next couple days we spent exploring this wonderful land, finishing up our school work, and taking our final. At nights we would eat dinner with the whole group like a family, and then I would try to talk with the people of the place and laugh our way through the language barriers. Sunshine, science, and friendship pulsed happiness through me. The grattitude I feel for being able to be a part of this program in immense and the self-learning is occuring constantly.

One of the most special experiences I got a chance to experience was going out with the biologists to the Monito Del Monte study site. The site is set up like a clock, with a center point from which 12 lines stretch out and along each of the lines are 12 traps. They are monitoring the habits, diets, home-ranges... etc of a near-threatened marsupial. The thought of seeing one thrilled me as I jumped up, over, and through the tangled jungle."We got one!" I hurried up to see the little creature in the cage, with big bulbous eyes and a tail which stores fat for hibernation. Woohoo! Again, I was met with reverence and respect for the secrets of this forest, and felt honored to be in the knowing presence of such a special creature.

This visit was wrapped up by an invitation to a wedding. The wedding had lasted for 3 days, and was practiced in a very ancient traditional style. Fifteen gringos were crashing this wedding. At first, the crowd tried to comprehend what was happening, but soon we were welcomed. The dish, Curranto, was obtained by crawling on your hands and knees to a pile of seafood that had been steamed under Nalca leaves. Boy oh boy, I ate more seafood than I knew I could handle that night, followed by melon wine and pisco sours. My spanish took an entirely new form, and I felt confident conversing with these strangers.

The warmth I felt that night from the welcome of strangers to their wedding gave me hope for humanity. We are all the same, and love is the ultimate form of friendship. I was sad to leave the Senda Darwin, but grateful for the new friendships and experiences. We parted with hugs to our final goodbye to each other in Puerto Varas. The safety net of the group was about to be lifted, and the excitement and anciousness began to settle in as we drove away on the bus.

The workload was finished, and relief flooded through me. A new adventure awaits.

Amor y Feliz,

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