Traveling to a foreign land is often an exciting adventure. When I volunteered in Ghana (summer ’08), I was constantly stimulated by new experiences. At the same time, I quickly discovered that my mind equated each new sight, smell and sound with things already familiar to me. Clearly, this reaction is not unique. When Gunadiish, my Ghanaian guide, took his first journey to the US (winter ’09), his reaction as his big, black, borrowed glove sifted through the crisp, white, drifting snow was, “Snow looks like sand!” It seems this type of association happens with animals too.

Happy Feet

Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Happy Feet, the three-year-old Emperor Penguin who traveled 2,000 miles from his Antarctic home to New Zealand in June, made that same sand/snow connection. Unfortunately, Happy Feet ingested large amounts of indigestible grit that didn’t melt as planned and he found himself rather weak, ill and alone on an extended holiday. Poor fella.


Adjustment to a new diet can be painful under the best of circumstances. When I first tasted a Ghanaian fish stew, I choked and coughed for many embarassing minutes, trying to somehow breathe around the spices so as not to offend the chef. Gunadiish had a difficult time sleeping once introduced to America’s love affair with garlic , an herb known to stir the mind according the yoga he practices. Thankfully, helpful people did their best to smooth out our rough starts. My chef toned down the spices, and my husband and I were careful to cook fresh foods during Gunadiish’s stay without adding garlic. Happy Feet, too, found help. Cared for at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand, Happy Feet’s stomach was pumped free of sand and he began to regain the weight lost from being ill … and he is now on his way home.


Good-byes are always difficult, filled with uncertainty of what the future will hold, yet we all have to return home at some point. When I left Ghana, my heart broke as I left each new friend whose name overflowed my little address book. Gunadiish emailed us with messages of thanks after he returned home, letting us know he arrived safely. Happy Feet, too, will stay connected thanks to his new, high-tech, satellite transmitter. In fact, we can all follow Happy Feet’s progress on the internet. (The transmitter switches on twice a day for a few hours, showing Happy Feet’s location on the “map” tab.)

Dr. Lisa Argalla, one of Happy Feet’s new friends, says, “There is always apprehension because you do get attached.” She also knows that visitors like Happy Feet must return and she speaks to Happy Feet’s departure saying, “This is very exciting. It is one of the favorite parts of my job when you can rehabilitate them, so I’m actually looking forward to it.”


Journeys are always a gamble, and often well worth the risk. As is often said in gambling, “Go high or go home,” meaning give it your all, nothing less, and you will be rewarded. This little guy sure gave it his all, finding land even when so far off course and now making it back to where he belongs. It looks like maybe, in Happy Feet’s case, we should adjust that gambling phrase to say “Go high [tech] and go home.”

Happy travels, Happy Feet!