“Let’s go to the train station!” we exclaimed in unison.
We had reached the bottom of the mountains at Machu Picchu just as the last train for Patagonia was getting ready to leave the station. The view was breathtaking, and for awhile we rode in silence, enjoying the scenery. Panda spoke first.
“Remember when we first met the penguins in the Swiss Alps?” he asked, and I had to laugh. “Yes,” I recalled. “That was when they thought they were supposed to go to the North Pole. Good thing we got them on the right track. Everyone knows penguins live at the South Pole, not the North.”
“Well,” Panda replied. “There are penguins in South Africa too. Remember when we went to visit Luna in Cape Town?” I nodded. “You’re right, I had forgotten about that. So basically they live anywhere in the southern hemisphere then, right?”
“I guess so,” Panda remarked thoughtfully. “That was fun how we met up with them at the San Diego Zoo, wasn’t it?” We both laughed as we recalled how they had been using zoos across the US as bed-and-breakfast inns on their way south. “That was pretty cool getting to go inside the penguin enclosure too,” I added. “And what about Yosemite?”
“Oh yeah!” Panda recalled. “That’s where they almost got off track again. Good thing we ran into them and put them back on the southbound train!” I considered for a moment. “You know, if you think about it, we’ve been on quite a few different trains!”
“I think my favorite was the Shan-e-Punjab,” Panda replied. Laughing, we looked at each other and asked in unison, “ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਸਰ ਜਾਣ ਲੇਈ ਸਭ ਤੋਂ ਚੰਗੀ ਗੱਡੀ ਕਿਹੜੀ ਹੈ ?” (What’s the best train to Amritsar?) We were glad we had picked up some useful Punjabi phrases on that trip.
We were just reminiscing about our train trip in Peru when the train came to a sudden stop. We were in Patagonia!
Once we got off the train we took a break to plan our next move. The Patagonian landscape was breathtaking, and the weather was great, but we really didn’t know where we were going. After a short discussion we settled on a plan. “We’ll head south and eventually we’ll have to reach Tierra del Fuego. That’s probably where the penguins will be!”
We hadn’t walked very far when we met up with a herd of cattle. They eyed us suspiciously, and for a minute we felt a little bit scared. Then Panda spoke up. “Hi, guys,” he said cheerily. “Where are you on your way to?” They looked at each other hesitantly, and then the largest one answered. “We really aren’t sure,” he said. “We actually think we’re lost. By the way, are you a panda? And is that a sock you’re wearing?” Panda responded in the affirmative. “Yes, I’m Panda, and this is my best friend Foster. We’re on our way to Tierra del Fuego, but we can help you find your way home. Are there any horses around here?”
Before I had a chance to remind Panda about the element of risk associated with horseback riding, our new friends had directed us to where they had last seen a horse. Immediately Panda jumped up into the saddle. I had no choice but to follow. “Okay, fellas!” Panda called, grabbing the reins. “We’ll herd you back to your ranch!” It took awhile, but finally we managed to get all the cattle herded into the gate of a nearby ranch. “Hope this is the right one,” Panda said as we dismounted. The cattle thanked us and we went on our way.
It wasn’t long before we came across an amazing cave with handprints all over it. “Well!” I said irritably. “You would think people wouldn’t put their handprints on such a pretty cave! Don’t they have graffiti laws over here?” Panda studied the handprints. “That’s not graffiti, dude,” he replied at length. “I read about this place. It’s called Cueva de las Manos. These paintings were done thousands of years ago, possibly by the ancestors of the Tehuelche people.” I was less than convinced. “Okay, well you’re the history expert,” I said. “Let’s keep going before it gets dark.”
After walking for what seemed like forever, we came upon one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. We had found the glaciers! We knew we had to be getting close now. Against my better judgment, we split up to look for our penguin friends. It wasn’t long before Panda had found them.
“I found them!” he called as he ran toward me, hand in hand with two penguins. “It’s really them! They’re camped not far from here. Let’s go see everyone!” Joyfully we followed the two penguins back to their camp.
We had a great visit with our friends, and they excitedly recounted everything that had happened on their journey south. They offered us a snack of delicious fish, and then it was time to be on our way. We thanked our friends for the snack and promised to keep in touch. It was then that one of the penguins asked, “How are you guys getting back to Fresno?”
We didn’t have time to respond, because at that moment we found ourselves once again spiraling through outer space! “How does this stuff happen?” Panda asked. I shrugged. “Not sure, but I think it has something to do with Mom.”
And before we knew it, we were safely home on the bed!