Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dark Humor and Penguins

My sense of humor is so at home in Chile. If it were a pie chart, sarcasm, morbidity, and five-year-old humor would probably account for the biggest slices. Most of the Chileans I know have a pretty dark sense of humor, but still laugh at fart jokes. My people! During one of my first weeks here, for instance, I was helping my host mom carry giant boxes of candy to her car. She works in the social security office, and they were passing out gifts for Día del Niño. I somehow managed to get wedged between a box and the car door. I looked at my host mom and said, "I don't know what to do." She started laughing, and even though I had a giant box of Super8's and potato chips crushing my body, I almost peed my pants I was laughing so hard. It was awesome. I think Chile's dark sense of humor may also account for the fact that death metal and fanny packs are simultaneously in style here. It's a theory. 

It also explains a lot about an adventure I had last weekend. A group of friends and I planned to take a micro to Zapallar, a beach town about an hour north of Viña. Someone had read about a penguin sanctuary on an island right off the coast, and it was the perfect plan for a day trip: take a bus to the beach, eat some awesome seafood in the sun, hire a boat, cruise around a little island and watch penguins flapping around and being totally adorable. But the night before we left, my friend Sophie's host mom told her that all the penguins had died. The news spread on facebook, and I started getting messages from my friends like, "sophie's mom said they all died. the penguins," and "Wait, the penguins are dead? how?" and "NOOO Let's cross our fingers that the pinguins are still alive!!!" I asked my mom about it, and she told me that penguins don't live in Zapallar. At all. 

It was total information chaos. 

I researched it, didn't find a single news article about any mass penguin deaths, but did find out that there is actually a penguin sanctuary in Zapallar. So we decided to go and find out. The bus driver dropped us off at the end of a small dirt road that led to beautiful, remote beach. We climbed a set of stairs to a lookout point where we stood and gazed at an island off the coast covered in penguin poop. There were no penguins. So we used our imaginations! This is me, using my imagination:

My imagination isn't working. I'm pretty sure the penguins only come to the island every so often. But I have no idea how Sophie's mom got the idea that they all died. That is like the grimmest possibility on the planet. This is what I mean when I say dark imagination. We took a micro to the actual town of Zapallar, which is a steep, wooded valley that slopes down into a small cove at the bottom. We ate ceviche and empanadas at a weird restaurant decorated with mid-century light fixtures and bright paintings of nude women covered in deteriorating crepe paper and deflated balloons. They also had a piano and a guitar (I think their decorating concept was "everything! and all at once! do you like?!") and I realized how much I miss playing music. We walked down to the beach where we drank wine, talked, and watched the sunset. It was almost a perfect day, perfect if I choose to believe that the penguins are alive somewhere, which I do.


  1. Yes! The penguins are alive somewhere. They're just not there in the winter...at least this was true in southern Chile. Of course I thought they just migrated north. So if they weren't there either...

  2. Q: What weapon is used to take the eye out of a penguin?

    A: A pengun.

  3. Brett! No! Perhaps they decided to go further north this year. An exploratory urge? Mutations that allow them to spend more time underwater, hiding from me? Goddammit they're somewhere.