A Travellerspoint blog

Elizabeth's not so political commentary

Deep thoughts while on the road...

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Forty-three days and 8000 K on the road will lend to some deep thoughts. I don't mean to offend anyone, rather open your eyes to some of my observations and thoughts. Clearly I won't be running for political office after this ramble : - )

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

While most of you were glued to your TVs when Barack Obama took office, Dave and I were asleep in the back seat of our car at a New Zealand Department of Conservation fishing campsite. At 5:30 a.m. our time (the day after from you), radio reception was poor at best and satellite television was not an option, but as the day went on we heard endless chatter from Kiwis and other foreigners about their expectations of Obama.

Everyone from a gas station attendant to a couple of ten year olds we met tasting wine at a winery (we found it odd too!) were intrigued by America's new president. No pressure Obama, but the world is watching you very closely as global economies crumble in the wake of the US recession. The world (or at least the people we've met) want the US to tend to its economic and domestic woes as it should help them. They want our help in terms of aid, but desperately want us to pull out of Iraq and other senseless wars. I am amazed by everyone's knowledge of the US, its president and its history. For Dave and I still don't know much about New Zealand's leader and we've been here for six weeks. Do you? Think about it. Why does the world know more about the US than most of us, and why are we so remiss to educate ourselves about news in other countries, and not just in a time of crisis?

Also, just a personal plea to Obama....please re-train our border patrols and make it easier for foreigners to visit our wonderful country. (Of course, some officials may be fantastic already, but we've gotten some nasty feedback.) Since 9/11 the US has inflicted higher entry visa fees for most foreigners. As a result, US citizens now face reciprocity and get charged the same fees for entering other countries.

We have heard over and over again that the US is an unpleasant place to visit. Not only is it a challenge for many people to now get a visa, but if they do, upon arrival they have awful experiences with customs and the border patrols. These travelers are often treated like criminals from the onset. I understand our border patrols must be firm and attentive to detail to ensure criminals don't enter our country, but there needs to be a balance.

Entering New Zealand was one of the most pleasant experiences I've had. The customs official was so kind, yet inquisitive, likely getting the same information the US officials are trained to attain, but his manner was gentle. Customs officials are often the first people foreigners meet and they can set the tone for an entire visit.

ISRAEL:

After Israelis serve in the military (3 years for young men and 2 years for young women) they often take time to travel and they do so in large groups. We met many in South America and some in New Zealand. The Israelis would talk to us when approached, but otherwise kept to themselves. As an American Jew I was so curious to learn about their life and I would hope they would be curious about my life, but this was not the case. Most are very reluctant to open up, although we met one nice couple who was willing to talk politics and about the challenges their country faces.

Our new German friends asked us what we thought of the Israeli travelers. I was torn to answer the question, as I didn't want to bash the Israelis, but I must admit it was something Dave and I had talked about at great length. I was raised to believe in Israel, its mission and its people, and I want the world to understand them and appreciate the country, but after seeing their behavior in South America and New Zealand, I know why so many people misunderstand them.

In South America store owners and hostel owners would often complain about the Israelis being loud and argumentative and always trying to barter for a lower price. It made me sad that this was the impression they are leaving, rather than that of nice 20-somethings who are just short on cash because they have recently finished military service.

In the hostels, at bus stations, and at sites and hikes travelers talk, but Israelis often don't participate in the conversation. Perhaps it is a language barrier, although most speak English. Dave's philosophy is that due to centuries of fighting and terror, the Israelis have a sense that antisemitism is so widespread they are in constant fear of being targeted. I agree, but wish they would open themselves up more to project Israelis in a positive light and to help educate the world that they are people just like you and me, and good, educated people at that.

AMERICAN WORK ETHIC AND VACATION POLICIES:

My favorite topic! Two weeks is the standard amount of vacation Americans get off every year. After traveling just three months I have a new appreciation for just how hard Americans work. It is part of our upbringing to achieve and excel in the workplace and to ultimately make the world a better place, but are we doing that with just two weeks off a year? Are people as productive as they can be by giving their employer their maximum potential? Aren't people just burnt out?

Our friends in Europe think we have it all wrong. As a standard they get one to two months off a year and they can often apply for a year sabbatical every five to six years with no fear of losing their job. Best yet, they are encouraged to take the time off to either travel, fulfill a family obligation or to educate themselves further either in school or by doing a different type of job. The French, German and British we have talked to about this plan say it makes them better workers, and happier people! Sounds like a win-win situation. How novel!!!

MY HEALTH:

Just a quick note about my health for those of you who have inquired. If you know me best, let's just say my trip should be sponsored by Imodium. Unfortunately, my sour stomach has traveled with me. Since I spent most of 2007 and 2008 in the gastrointerology office for a multitude of tests that showed basically nothing, I may try to find an Eastern medicine professional when we are in Asia. My western medications just aren't working. Perhaps a simple leaf or herb is the cure to all of my tummy problems!

- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 19:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Great start to the South Island

Our first two weeks on New Zealand's South Island

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

Elizabeth and I immediately had a good vibe about South Island. As the ferry arrived in Picton from Wellington it wandered through the Marlborough Sounds. These are beautiful bodies of turquoise blue water surrounded by hills with quaint villages and beaches scattered throughout. Once we arrived we headed for Nelson which had the most life of any city we've encountered in NZ so far. The highlight for us was the Saturday morning market which was bustling with people and full of great, local art work, fruits and vegetables. Elizabeth bought our first souvenir and we had some delicious pot pies which are hot snack item here.

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A cluster of mini-campervans on the Interislander Ferry. You feel left out if you don't have one. So all of you with minivans (Chad, Holly, Jessica)...watch out...we're converting them when we get back home! We used to mock you. Now we want your apple juice stained car! Chad, didn't you say you're selling?

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Arriving at Picton on the ferry.

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Master haggler at work.

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Mmm... pot pies!

Abel Tasman National Park was the next stop and believe it or not, we did another backpacking/kayaking trip. This park is the location of a "Great Walk" of New Zealand (the name of New Zealand's most popular walks.) It lines the Tasman Sea and has beautiful views from inland by hiking through the bush, as they call it, or on water by kayaking or taking another type of boat.

I swear I didn't hold Elizabeth at gun point to convince her to go! She was convinced it was the number of days in a row we were living in a tent and hiking with heavy packs that ruined her first experience at Torres del Paine in Chile. So, we decided to take a sea taxi to the top of the park, which gave us a great overview of the area. We hiked the first day to a campsite on the beach. The next day we met a kayak group to get home. Continuing with the busy, high season theme, we were warned that the track would be a "virtual walking human highway," so we were sure this is where all the people would be.

As for the hike portion of our trip at Abel Tasman, it certainly earns it's status as a Great Walk. We hiked along beautiful beaches and up hills on paths with great overlooks of the Tasman Bay. Low and behold, we were mostly alone on the hike and our campsite only had four other tents! It was wonderful! While kayaking the next day, we saw lots of seals who are currently in mating season, as well as many more picturesque little bays and beaches. Ah, just what we needed... we love the south island! Elizabeth also enjoyed this style of expedition much more... water crossings included!

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Elizabeth braving another water crossing even after her "Towers of Pain" (aka Torres del Paine) experience.

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Elizabeth walking along the beach after crossing the tidal waters.

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The human highway during the busy, high season.

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Tonga Beach at Able Tasman.

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The view from the campsite beach.

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Yet another view from the campsite beach.

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Sunset over our campsite at Tonga Quarry.

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Kayaking with the seals.

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After Abel Tasman we headed further west, passing through a hippie town called Takaka and traveling along Golden Bay to enjoy a morning alone on a long, beautiful beach.

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Golden Bay during the busy, high season where the prices are doubled or tripled. Hmmm... we're on to you New Zealand!

Unfortunately, it was too cold to have a much needed beach day.

Heading south we traveled down the famous west coast of New Zealand, which is supposed to expose beautiful landscapes with ocean and mountain views the further and further south you drive. The roads are remarkably curvy, but scenery and signs to keep you awake and snickering. Unfortunately we hit a patch of bad weather, so we didn't see as much on the drive as we had hoped for.

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Heading down the west coast we saw plenty of signs like this....Penguin crossing. You don't see this sign much in the USA! We also saw more sheep than people and some official deer parks. They actually raise deer here for venison...so forth for hunting season!

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Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki along the West Coast.

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Layers of limestone make up the Pancake Rocks.

We also had rainy views of two of New Zealand's largest glaciers. Although impressive to most visitors, we couldn't help but remember the massive and empowering site and sounds of Perito Mereno Glacier in Argentina. It makes both Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers look like a Mt. Wachusett ski slope. The glacier hikes were also supposed to have views of the highest mountains in New Zealand, Mt. Cook (12,316 ft) and Mt. Tasman (11,473 ft). Due to the low clouds, we'll have to wait until we come back around to this area to see this mountains.

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Franz Joseph Glacier

We're currently in Queenstown, a city with a ski town feel, waiting out torrential rains. Queenstown also has a good vibe and is the first non-sleepy town we've hit in NZ. Stores are open and people stay out past 5pm! When the weather dries up we'll do some more hiking and Kayaking in Fjordland National Park... this is what New Zealand is known for, with it's high mountains and beautiful sounds, so we can't wait to get going! Plus, as self-declared street people, we got our first official warning from a city councilor this morning that we parked overnight too close to a residential area. If we do it again we could face a fine of $400. Aren't no showers punishment enough?

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 14:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

On the road in New Zealand

Snip-its from our travels around the North Island


View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

After 13 hours in an airplane and totally losing Dec. 16, Dave and I were happy to touch ground in Auckland, New Zealand. We are in this country of four and a half million people for six weeks. As the seasons are reversed, Christmas time is the beginning of summer vacations from work and school, and we've been warned this is the busy season. Dave and I have braced ourselves for the masses, picturing Nantasket Beach on the hottest summer day when Bostonians pack in like sardines for a plot of sand.

A little geography .... New Zealand has two main islands, appropriately called the North Island and the South Island. We traveled around the North Island first. Our photos tell the story.....

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This is our Jucy Crib - our wheels for six weeks around New Zealand.

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We've mastered driving on the opposite side of the road! Truth be told the wind shield wipers go on every time we want to turn left or right. Oops! (All controls are reversed.)

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Our crib is also our kitchen.

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And it is our cozy bedroom. DVD included!

As for the much needed toilet .... well, New Zealand's landscape is our bathroom. Sometimes they even supply toilets on the side of the road. Showers happen about every three to four days in very clean bathrooms in most city centers. Some cost a dollar, others are free.
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AUCKLAND - our first stop in New Zealand is to the country's largest city.
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I love the motto of the city University!

'Tis the season in Auckland....
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To get the best city view, one must go to the top of Sky Tower, the tallest building in the city. We had lunch in a rotating restaurant at the top and as a bonus got to watch bungy jumpers dive off the top of the building.
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From here, we walked to Mt. Eden, the city's tallest volcano. Auckland is surrounded by extinct or dormant volcanos. We think they look like mole hills compared to what we saw in South America. And Dave is off the hook. I claim responsibility for the lengthy walk this time : ) You can see Sky Tower in the background about 10 miles away.
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There are several islands off of Auckland. We went to Waiheke Island, which is known for its crafts, wineries and walks. We fell in love with the Cable Bay Winery.
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BAY OF ISLANDS - this area off the eastern north coast of New Zealand is a beautiful location to see dolphins and go for a sail. We took a trip on Gungha with Canadian Captain Mike Carere. What a life! He left the cold of fishing in Canada and Alaska to tour the warmer waters. He ended up in New Zealand and Fiji with his kids and now sails lucky guests like us around the islands.
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We stopped at one of the Bay Islands. We got there by kayak and hiked to the top for another great view!
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Dolphins gave us a show!
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Then the paparazzi arrived! Only three tour boats are allowed around the dolphins at a time. Fortunately, we got there first for the best show.
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MONGONUI - this quaint town on the northern coast of NZ is known for its fish and chips.
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Check out the shells on a nearby beach on Doubtless Bay. The crowds are really packed in for the high season too ; - )
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CAPE REINGA - this is most northern spot of New Zealand where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. We were there on an extremely rainy day with lots of tacky tourists.
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A very windy beach side at Rangauna Bay...
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Sand surfing and sledding are the way best way to experience the immense sand dunes in the area.
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This is ninety mile beach, which is actually about 60 miles. It is a highway and our bus was doing record speeds on the dirtway. I found it interesting that a beach was named in miles when kilometers are the main way to measure distance. The driver told me miles were used until the mid 60's.
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WAIPOUA KAURI FOREST - the giant kauri trees are quite popular in New Zealand. Named for a Mauri god of the forest, the Te Tane Mahuta tree, is 5 meters in diameter and nearly 2000 years old, the oldest tree in NZ. It is giant!
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You got to love this sign posted at the Department of Conservation Campground in the forest. Despite my personal attributes, the campsite remained closed for the night.
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TONGIRIRO NATIONAL PARK - this is the first National Park in New Zealand. There are several ski resorts in this area, but the most popular site is an active volcano. Dave and I did a day hike on Christmas Day to see the Volcano, but were out of luck due to some stubborn clouds.
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Not quite Niagara Falls, but the Taranaki Falls in the park were nice.
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Check out these houses built on volcanic rock near the ski chair lifts ..... definitely not visually pleasing if you like flora and greenery.
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WAITOMA CAVES - this area on the western coast of NZ has nearly 300 explored caves. We repelled into one cave, got hooked up to a zipline to move to a new area of the cave and went tubing in the cold waters deep in the cave to see glowworms, a unique creature that only lives three days. It is born, has sex, then dies. The tour guides broke the news to us in the caves that glowworms aren't really worms, rather larvae of a moth, and it isn't the worms that glow, but their poop. I guess a cave tour featuring larvae with glow poop wouldn't sell as well. (The company wouldn't allow us to bring our own camera, so here is what we got from their photog. You have to look really close at the last photo to see the glowworms. We aren't sure how they missed the lite bright ceiling of the cave!)
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ROTORUA - known for its smell of rotten eggs due to high levels of sulfur in the ground, Rotorua is also a playground for adventure athletes. We threw ourselves into a Zorb, an 11 foot inflatable rubber ball filled with water and then rolled down a hill at record speeds. It was awesome (and a much needed shower!)
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TAUPO - we stopped in Taupo, a neighboring town of Rotorua and major competitor for adventure sports as it claims to be home to the first bungy jump. On a good day you can also see the volcano in Tongariro National Park. Of course, the clouds didn't cooperate.

NAPIER - heading south, Napier is known for its Art Deco architecture and plethora of wineries. Dave and I also found our first bike path, giving us much joy and needed exercise! Again, please take note of the crowds as it is the busy season. Two weeks into our travels, we realize Kiwi's (people from New Zealand - and also a non-flying local bird) clearly have a different perspective of what a busy season should look like!
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Love this sign on the path!
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Dave and I did tastings at about six of the 30-something wineries in the area. Some were in small make shift sheds. Others had an elaborate spread in an estate-like building. Unfortunately the wines weren't as good as we were hoping.
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I thought my grandma Rose who is a wine connoisseur and former wine store owner would enjoy this vintage which takes her maiden name!
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WELLINGTON - New Zealand's capital is also the gateway to the South Island with several ferries that haul people to Picton (3 hour ride). Wellington is known as the arts capital, but the few theaters and galleries don't seem vibrant. We'll go to the famous Te Papa museum today.

We found a pretty spot to sleep our first night here along Princess Bay.
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We rang in the New Year with our new German friends Clara and Werner.
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Overall, the New Year's celebration in Wellington was weak. A band played in the city center, but they lacked enthusiasm and the count down was just pathetic. Confetti was about two minutes late and the fireworks display we were promised never happened. The bars, however, were packed, giving us hope that people do go out.
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So far, Dave and I have enjoyed our adventures in New Zealand, but our high expectations have not been met. We both were expecting to be in awe of the landscape, culture and people at all hours, but that has not happened. The countryside on the North Island is beautiful, but nothing too unusual and as Dave says, it does not have the unique appeal seen in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps we are spoiled as we are well traveled. The people are kind, but not that forthcoming or friendly. The arts are lacking and the food is bland. We've been told the South Island is an entirely different place and our dreams will be met ... stay tuned ... and we'll let you know!

Please bare with us as email cafes are expensive and rare in NZ, so we won't be logging on much.
- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 17:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Hasta Luego South America

Our last days in Chile


View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

Our last days in South America were spent in Santiago, Chile, with our wonderful hosts Fernando, Valeria and her family. We couldn't thank Fernando and Velaria enough for providing great company, a place to stay, delicious food, and especially our own shower!

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Mmm... empanadas! We'll have to learn to make these back home.

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This is the best dessert a chocolate lover can possibly imagine... an Alfajor... made in a bakery run by relatives of Valeria is like a cookie with caramel, peanuts and loads of chocolate!

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Valeria's family dog had puppies while we were traveling in Chile and Argentina. Elizabeth, of all people (she's not much of an animal person,) fell in love with them... who would have thought!

We also had a great time exploring more of Santiago and some of the Chilean sea shore. Fernando heard of a triathlon taking place in Vina del Mar, one of the ocean villages we planned to visit, and couldn't resist entering the competition. After an 11 year hiatus from triathlons, Fernando still managed to come in 1st in his age group! He's a bit of a local celebrity on the triathlon circuit. He was one of the top triathletes in the country during his time, so it was a bit of a reunion for him seeing old friends. (A small side note...we couldn't help but notice that the triathalon was a lot more rough than one in the US. Safety and logistical concerns weren't as much of a priority.) After a wonderful long weekend we bid farewell to Chile and South America, excited for our next adventure in New Zealand.

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The finish.

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First place Fernando "Superman" Reeve.

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A vernacular in Valparaiso... the cultural capital of Chile or perhaps all of South America! This city built into the hills has a ton of interesting areas to explore.

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View from a vernacular in Valparaiso.

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 17:08 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Patagonia Penguins

The penguins of Isla Magdalena, Patagonia

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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Dave´s tux was at the dry cleaners, so we had to compromise. We put on our best black and white for a visit with the Magellanic Penguins on Magdalena Island, just north of Puntas Arenas, Chile, in the Strait of Magellan, which is named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan who discovered the area as an easy shipping connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was about a two hour boat ride in the Strait, a body of water Dave has dreamed of visiting since reading Joshua Slocum's "Sailing Alone around the World."
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These penguins are commonly referred to as ¨Jackass Penguins¨. The non-flying birds arrive to the Island around September, nest in October by burrowing themselves in dirt holes, and begin to have baby penguins in November and December.
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These penguins have loud voices and apparently find their mating partner by a similar cry. They´ll stay on the island until April and then head north up either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts.
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It is an amazing site with nearly 120,000 black and white furry friends with duck feet welcoming you. They look like big pigeons, yet are much smaller than I was anticipating.
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We´re heading back to Santiago for a few days to visit with friends and then are off to New Zealand and Australia. Feel free to email us suggestions or people you might know there if you haven´t done so already! Please pass along the inquiry to your friends and family as well.

Adios for now,
- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 04:03 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

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