This is Red the blue penguin

by guest blogger, Bridget

How does this story begin? I guess, like many good novels, with a little research. I was trying to prepare myself for our month long trip to New Zealand, which I was excited for, but also a bit anxious. I was anxious because everyone who’s visited New Zealand spoke about how in the most beautiful places on the south island, there are the dreaded sand flies.

Now having spent many a summer visiting my relatives up in Minnesota, I am very familiar with biting bugs. In my opinion, the large mosquitoes of the great far north are a force to be reckoned with. But still no one talks about them with the same dread and loathing that I was hearing and reading about in travel blogs.

“They are pesky creatures. While a mosquito punctures you with a straw like tongue, the sand fly actually rips your skin with its teeth. Their bites burn as well as itch and last for a good two weeks IF you manage to stop scratching them.”

Also apparently bug spray doesn’t really keep them away. I watched travel videos of people who tried different things like eating tons of garlic, or Vegemite to keep the bugs from biting them. No one could confirm that anything worked. But then I came across this interesting tidbit from a biologist who spent some time on the south island.

“Sand flies prefer penguins. I’ve seen them fly right past me and straight to the penguins. I guess the best way to avoid getting bitten is to carry a penguin around with you. But as penguins are protected by Department of Conservation, this is frown upon.”

OMG…I am so getting a penguin.

I gleefully informed Leon about my research. “We have to get a penguin. Do you think we could convince the DOC [Department of Conservation] that the penguin was hitchhiking and we were simply giving it a lift?” Leon, misunderstanding my explanation, believed that the sand flies would avoid the smell of penguin rather than that they would make a beeline toward a scrumptious penguin meal. So he was fully on board with my penguin-napping plan. Leon would never intentionally harm an animal. I wouldn’t either, but my strong desire to remain bite free clouded my judgement and convinced my brain that penguins simply have tough skin and surely the little bugs don’t bother them nearly as bad…..(yeah, I’m a slightly awful person)

We found him in the tiny French tourist town of Akaroa, which is on the smallish peninsula southeast of Christchurch. The town is known for it’s penguin and dolphin site seeing. We had spent the day getting only slightly lost in the hills and enjoying some fish and chips once we made it back to town. He was sitting there, close to the water, with his friends and family around him. There was something about him, a light, happy, innocent energy, and he was so excited about ever little thing. I looked deep into his sea green eyes, held out my hand and asked him if he’d like to come with us for an adventure.

Perhaps the idea of an adventure appealed to him. Maybe he was just at the age where he needs to step away from family and start a life of his own. Maybe it was the lingering smell of fried fish still on my fingers, but he nodded up to me and helped him into the side pocket of our backpack. He fitted comfortably, being able to have his head and flippers free to look around, without any danger of falling out. We seemed to be a good fit for each other.

So, please meet Red, the Blue Penguin, the brave companion to complete our small fellowship. He likes to sing Major Tom and drink craft beer. He became the soul of our travels, uniting us together when things got tough, encouraging us to always keep going, and reminding us that fish is the best thing in the world.

Also, turns out that biologist was full of crap. Red was completely unaffected by the sandflies who cheerfully feasted on me and Leon. Red, just stood by and watched.

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