Midge Raymond’s fascination with penguins began long before a 2004 expedition to Antarctica where she was able to observe the seabirds in the wild — up close and personal.
The trip “to the bottom of the earth,” the Ashland resident says, only deepened her love.
The “other worldly landscape” of Antarctica and the “adorable, irresistible” tuxedo-clad sentinels of climate change inspired her as both a writer and an environmentalist, she adds.
That life-changing experience, she says, became the backdrop of her short story, “The Ecstatic Cry.” Moved by the penguins’ plight, she and her husband, John Yunker, later volunteered to conduct a census of the endangered Magellanic colony of penguins residing in the Punta Tombo region in Patagonia at the southernmost tip of Argentina.
Raymond’s admiration of the seabirds and of the scientists who strive to protect them spawned her debut novel, “My Last Continent.”
Published in 2016 and set against the backdrop of Antarctica’s glacial mountains, cleaving icebergs and frigid waters, it is the story of research scientists Deb Gardner and Keller Sullivan navigating a rocky relationship as they study the habits of emperor and Adelie penguins.
Yunker likewise drew from their adventures at the remote research station when he wrote his own debut novel, “The Tourist Trail.” Yunker’s thriller is the tale of biologist Angela Haynes’ mission to save the endangered Patagonia penguins.
The Ashland couple is now gearing up for “Penguins and Patagonia,” an “Adventures by the Book” expedition that retraces the footsteps of the characters in both books.
Slated for Oct. 29 through Nov. 6, Raymond says the trip is a unique way to connect readers with the books’ settings.
The tour is “part literary journey and part wildlife expedition,” she says.
The trip is an opportunity to immerse in the culture as well as observe the conservation efforts of those working in Patagonia to save the Punto Tombo penguin colony.
“(Travelers) can play the part of researcher and of tourist,” she adds.
The journey will begin in Buenos Aires.
"It’s a fantastic, gorgeous, world-class city,” says Raymond.
A co-founder of Ashland Creek Press, she is especially impressed with the city’s proliferation of bookstores. There are also plenty of museums and galleries to explore as well, she says.
The next leg of the journey and the one that Raymond is most excited about takes travelers to Puerto Madryn where the Punto Tombo penguin colony resides. Here, travelers will stay at the Peninsula Valdes UNESCO World Heritage site where penguins, rheas, guanacos, foxes, sea lions, elephant seals and the world’s largest population of southern right whales co-exist, far removed from humans.
Raymond recalls “the fun” she and Yunker had living out of a trailer while they worked alongside research scientists on their last trek to Patagonia. On this trip, however, they and their guests will stay in a well-appointed lodge with gourmet meals.
“There won’t be any roughing it or camping out,” she says.
The itinerary will include opportunities to observe penguins, do some whale-watching, explore “paradise” on guided hikes, and still allow plenty of time to read and write.
Argentine guides will also introduce travelers to “all things Argentina,” Raymond adds.
At the end of the stay in Peninsula Valdes, travelers may opt for a side-trip to Antarctica.
“Adventures by the Book” is the brainchild of Susan McBeth, a former literary event planner that Raymond met a decade ago when she was publicizing her short story collection “Forgetting English.”
McBeth felt that traditional book signings were missing something, and that readers wanted to connect with authors beyond the lecture tour.
“Shouldn’t an author’s personal presence be used to create a more unique experience?” she asks. “The fact is when readers and their favorite authors share a more intimate, personal exchange, magic happens.”
Raymond believes that there is a growing trend of folks combining their love of literature and their passion for travel with a keen interest in rubbing elbows with authors. The adventure comes from immersing themselves in the world in which the authors traveled while penning their books.
This particular trip, Raymond says, has been on McBeth’s bucket list. She’s hoping others will share the same inclination to discover the “absolutely unforgettable, unspoiled” landscape.
And, with the trip scheduled for what will be late spring/early summer south of the Equator, folks will have plenty of opportunity to view penguin parents on the nest or chicks.
Raymond hopes that guests will come away from this particular trip changed forever just as she was by the penguins and the naturalists fighting for seabirds’ lives.
The cost of the tour, through Wednesday, Jan. 31, is $5,395 per person, based on double occupancy. After Jan. 31, the price increases to $5,695 per person. The tour is limited to 15 people.
To register, go to www.adventuresbythebook.com/penguins tour.
— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at email@example.com.