My Argentinean friends claimed that Cabo Virgenes is actually the southern most point of the South American continent. While Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world, fact is, it’s on an island. Looking at the map I’m confused. There seems to be some points in Chile that are still “continental” proper and ultimately could stand up in an argument. Magellan landed here when he discovered the “safe” passage to the Pacific through what we now call the Straits of Magellan. But even this wasn’t enough to convince me to ride the 150 miles of desolate dirt roads. No. It was the second largest penguin colony in Argentina that inked the deal. With more than 250,000 nesting Penguins, thankfully since the late 90’s Cabo Virgenes has retained the status of protected preserve.
This is as far south as you can be in Patagonia. And it looks like the rest of eastern Patagonia. Miles after miles of golden pampas grass, wandering Rheas (ostrich-type bird), cattle grazing, sheep and gas exploration sites. Unlike the area northwest of Comodora Rivadavia, I saw no oil derricks. So I assumed that the several sites along my route were for natural gas of some type. The road is a mixed bag of gravel, packed dirt and sand. In some places it’s in great shape. While others washboarded and potholed to death. To make matters worse, there was a grading crew working the day I journeyed south to the Atlantic Ocean. This mat soft, moist and deep dirt and rocks. I squirreled for twenty-five miles or so white knuckled and tense.
After a couple hours the Ocean came into view. There’s nothing out here. I saw one car except for some heavy equipment parked near a gas exploration site. And there seemed to be a cobbled together settlement of small cottages and nondescript buildings. But no sign of commerce. Not even a gas station. The last five miles to the preserve were through deep marble-sized gravel. More nerves wracked. But I was rewarded when I got there. Two men were hobbled together in a small outpost of a shack. A funky gate hung across the road. The wind whipped. It was a bit chilly. Inside the walls were littered with pictures of wildlife. I paid a few bucks to enter the preserve and when my engine started the guy inside tugged on a rope and the gate raised to let me pass.
Penguins are actually burrowing birds. They nest on land in holes they’ve dug under the small coastal shrubs here at Cabo Virgenes. My first penguins. I’d ridden 30,000 miles to see some penguins. And today I was treated to thousands. The pathway through the preserve winds it’s way through hundreds of shrubs and then to a sandy beach. Along the way I spotted penguins burrowed under the bushes, waddling amongst themselves and then thousands in groups just hanging on the beach. They looked like attendees at a convention where everyone wore the same clothes. Only these penguins had no name-badges. I startled one on the beach as I made a move to change lenses on my camera. Quickly he hit the deck and landed on his back and with his fins scurried down the sand to the water. These birds are very awkward on land when walking, but they are amazing swimming acrobats in water.
I spent nearly two hours observing these amazing creatures before mounting Doc and making my way back for yet another night in Rio Gallegos.