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Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

Posted March 13, 2009 | 06:27 PM (EST)

A Chicago to South America Penguin Story


It's been a while since I gave an update on my pal Isai Madriz.

He's the guy who on September 12, 2007, hopped on his rickety bicycle to pedal from the 'burbs of Chicago to Argentina for twenty months to raise money for low-income students to go to college.

I've written about him several times (read the last post on him here), chronicling his amazing adventures as he rides 22,500 miles from Montgomery, IL, a tiny suburb outside Aurora, to Tierra del Fuego (''Land of Fire'') at the southernmost tip of Argentina.

All because after struggling to pay tuition and board at Humboldt State University in California, he wanted to make it easier on other young Latino students pursuing their college degree.

He's been chased by dogs, broken a few bones (and dislocated others), been bitten by truly horrifying bugs, and gotten several debilitating viruses because he's been in starvation mode - he's been relying on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter because a corporate sponsorship fell through before he started his odyssey 17 months ago.

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He crossed into South America August 11 and was in Colombia in early September. In February he made it to Argentina. Here is a note he sent me a few days ago.


Penguin Story

Penguins are the bestest, most adorable, clumsy little creatures on earth. In the refuge (Punta Tombo) there are almost 800,000 individuals and they walk all around you and make congested horn-like calls.

I have to tell you all, the story I told my Danielle over the phone.

Walking around hundreds of penguins, I became so excited to be in such a great place that I decided to enjoy it as much as I could.

In the absence of people at that time, I decided to lay down and I closed my eyes to hear the penguin calls and nothing else.

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I laid down on the ground underneath a bush shadow, with my face facing towards the sky. I covered my face with my hat and closed my eyes. After a couple of minutes of tranquility I felt a heavy object fall on top of my stomach, squishing it down. I gently lifted my head and looking through my mesh hat I saw a 44cm, and about 4km male penguin on top of my stomach.

Apparently I was blocking the path that he takes to reach his nest and since the way around was too long, he decided to take the short cut. The little animal started to look around at the weird object underneath him and began to sit down on my squishy tummy. It started to move its little feet in the same place, making himself comfortable.

Lifting his short legs one at the time, rising and falling on my stomach as it moved, made him look like he was jumping. I, all exited of coarse, did not want that to end so stayed still looking through the hat at the magical moment.

The penguin made himself home and started to fall asleep on my stomach. Another individual, looking at the weirdness of the situation decided to take a closer look and moved near where all the fun was. Standing besides my arm, the new penguin began to look at the lazy pinguino on my tummy and with no apparent reason, started to peck the side of the lazy individual on top.

The penguin on top, after feeling the pecking, moved its feet in the same manner as previously but did nothing against the obvious discomfort of its buddy. Before it could sat down again, the pecking continued until he could not take it any more and jumped off and started to walk away in the cutest way that only a penguin can do.

I uncovered my face and looked at the other evil penguin. After ending the greatest moment since Daniel the manatee back in Mexico, the penguin just stared at me and started to move its neck to the sides while keeping its eyes on me. That is the characteristic sign that a penguin wants to fight.

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With the little trouble maker a few inches from my face I decided to not get into a mess where definitely the penguin would have won. He was so cute and fluffy that I could not stare at him madly. All I wanted was to hug him and squeeze its tummy but I don't think that would have been a good idea so I got up and moved away.

The little animal did not have enough and began to chase me for a few meters. Moving its cute little body side to side he ran behind me for a few meters until he could not keep up with the chase and turned around.

I hope you enjoyed the story.

I certainly did, and I hope you did too. I hope you enjoyed it so much that you'll go on his website http://www.isaimadriz.com and donate - either to his odyssey fund or directly to the college-bound students he's raising money for.

Isai's fundraising efforts need help. Aside from a few local donations - and the hospitality shown to him by the people he's touched on his quest - the fund for other low-income Hispanic students to get a helping hand through college still needs help.

But that never enters into Isai's equation when he's on the hot road or under the stars in the mountains. "Education is like planting little seeds," he says, "and when those seeds grow everybody benefits."

As Isai continues on his way I'll share his stories with you in this space. If you'd like to help you can send donations - which will go to the education fund, not Isai's travel expenses - to:

Jesus Guadalupe Foundation, 902 S. Randall Road, Suite C-322, St. Charles, IL 60174.
Write "For Isai" on the check.