Peninsula Valdes and Punto Tombo

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
1
23
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Trip End Jul 29, 2008


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Saturday, February 2, 2008

On our last day of camping in El Chalten, we met a nice German climber at our campground who wanted to get rid of all his extra food which sounded like a free, I mean, a great idea to us, so we literally ate that up.  Back at our hostel and preparing for our bus marathon from El Chalten via El Calafate to Puerto Madryn (a total of about 27 hours) we thought we'd just finish off that last bit of sausage from him.  Well, about 15 hours into our bus ride it all went downhill for me as that sausage sought some sort of payment from us - as I paid for that sausage with everything I had in me, Nik started pulling our bags off the bus at the next available stop.  I believe it was called The Middle of Nowhere (MoN).  In MoN, there exists only 3 hotels, all of which were `completo` and as such, we were SOL.  So, we thought what the hell, let's get to a clinic at least that'll be open at this hour (about 11:30pm).  So we find our way to the hospital and the doctor checks me out and gives me a shot in the bum to shut the sausage up and he asks us where we are staying.  When we tell him the predicament, and he says that we can stay there tonight, very sweet!  So the nurses bring us to a nice cozy room - nicer than many a hostel rooms we have seen lately - and we can finally just crash.  In the morning, the nice nurses bring us tea and then another doctor comes to see these white Spanglish-speaking backpackers who have landed in their hospital - really just to chat - then another nurse comes back with gruel for me and some fancy chicken and potatoes for Nik and on and on.  They tell us we can stay as long as we want and - best of all - they wanted nothing from us for any of it!!  We got them some wine and chocolates to say thanks.  It was such a nice gesture from them.  The town was pretty incredible actually, finally we were off the tourist track and just met a lot of people on the streets who just wanted to know more about us and chat a bit.  It was really peaceful and refreshing.  We later found out that MoN is called General Luis Piedras Buenas. 
 
We caught the next bus and finished our 12 hours to Puerto Madryn.  I sat next to a lady from Quebec and we used Spanish as our common language which is pretty funny considering we come from an English-French country...But it worked!  We arrived in Puerto Madryn about midday, booked a hostel through information services and then went to book a tour of the Penguin Rookery at Punto Tombo and also a tour of the wildlife reserve called Peninsula Valdes
 
The first day we left for the Penguin Rookery at Punto Tombo, this tour also had a boat tour which you could possibly see some Commerson's dolphins and then end off with a spot of tea in a Welsh teahouse.  We did a total of about 400km of driving in this tour.  We started the trip by trying some Yerba Mate, it's a common drink in Argentina.  People here drink it from a hollowed out gourd and sip it through a stainless steel straw/filter device, it has a similar taste to green tea.  We really liked it and it is on my list of things to get in Buenos Aires before we leave the country.  So, first stop was the Commerson dolphins, these dolphins look like pandas of the sea, they are black and while and are the shortest of the dolphins.  We didn't really see too much of them only like a 20 second glimpse and then they were gone.  While travelling from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas we crossed the straight of Magellan and saw more of these dolphins.  That was actually a lot cooler since it was by accident and we were able to see them playing next to the boat and in the wake of the boat.  Oh, and it was freeeee!
 
We got back in the van for the main attraction, the Penguin Rookery.  We arrived at the reserve, which is nothing as to be expected.  The reserve is desert like, very warm and no snow - totally opposite to what we imagined.  We walked around with these cute little guys for about 1.5 hrs taking pictures and looking around where they live.  The colony has about 500,000 Magellan penguins and amongst them live guanacos, sheep and other predatory birds to the penguins. The penguins are roughly 44cm in height and weigh about 4kg.  It is really fun to see penguins run/waddle, stand in the sun with their beaks in the air and see them sleep flat on their stomach.  They are incredibly agile in the water, we saw some of them enter the surf from the beach; they take 1 wave in the beak then they dive immediately and emerge about 20m later on the surface.  The penguin colony was stinky beyond expectations, it had a concoction of bird poop, anchovies and ammonia smells to it and the sun made the smell even better.  All the penguin nests had these white lines/streaks all around the entrance which were all very interesting.  We got to witness first had one of these creatures relieving itself. It waddled out of its nest, turned and faced the entrance of the nest, bent over and pointed its bum out.  It then shat this whitish clear liquid about 30cm from its bum with a kind of bthuppp noise it nearly hit my boot, really really funny we both had a good laugh for about 15 minutes.
 
We left the rookery and headed for a town close to Puerto Madryn called Gaiman.  Here we had tea and all sorts of sweets and sandwiches and got good and filled on all sorts of food.  The town is originally Welsh, founded in the 1800 and was the first town basically in Argentine Patagonia.
 
Next day we headed for the Peninsula Valdes which is a huge marine wildlife reserve.  Here we saw a huge sea lion colony, a small penguin colony and also some elephant seals. We took boat tour to see the sea lions better - we got about 5m from these animals and they were all swimming around our boat.  Really great tour, then we donned wet suits and jumped in the water and snorkelled around.  My testicles nearly fell off; I never imagined it would be that cold even in a wet suit. Coming from the Caribbean it was a real shock to be in ocean water that cold.  The peninsula is renowned for Orcas coming up on shore and snatching baby sea lions to eat.  Unfortunately we had just arrived as the Orca season was starting, so we didn't get to see any orcas or even orcas eating sea lions from the beach.  This peninsula also is popular viewing area for the Southern Right Whale from June to December.  The whale usually mates and gives birth here, and there are plenty of boat tours where you can seem them diving with their tail out of the water and also jumping in the air. 

Tonight we are on a night bus to San Carlos de Bariloche, or just Bariloche.  The area is another hiking and trekking place with a huge national park. We will probably do some horseback riding in the area and maybe do a white water kayaking course.  Adios for now until our next blog.
 
Niko y Sarita xoxoxox
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