The South Atlantic

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
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117
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Trip End May 02, 2013


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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Thursday, September 27, 2012

The overnight bus from El Bolson to Puerto Madryn was not only a little late but also a lot colder than we would have liked. Still, in the fading daylight, iconic Patagonian scenery could be seen as we slipped past.  Jagged charcoal and orange-hued snowy peaks pointed skyward with their roots firmly planted far below.  The road wound around them in a labyrinthine pattern.

Sometime overnight we veered off Ruta 40 and the land completely flattened out.  As the fireball rose to our right, we headed toward the South Atlantic coast for the first time in our lives.

Puerto Madryn seemed to be set in a prime waterfront location.  Despite it being pretty deserted in the early morning hours, we decided to walk from the bus station to our hostel anyway.  We were rewarded with several whale sightings right from the boardwalk.

At Hi Patagonia, our home for the following few days, we were welcomed with hot tea and snack biscuits.  While waiting for our room we made plans for a whale-watching bike ride.  Gaston, the animated hostel owner, said helmets would not be necessary.

The ride was harder and more dangerous than we expected.  The road was sand, gravel and hard packed dirt, the first two none too friendly to bicycles and the third all too narrow to share.  Add in the Argentinean traffic racing past in both directions kicking up dust clouds and we were hoping for a positive outcome.

At one point, there was nowhere to ride but in the car tire lines so a couple of them slowed behind us.  A third clearly didn't see the brake lights so he swerved to avoid the others and ended up in the ditch, yelling as he exited his vehicle.

We took the next turnoff to Playa Doradillo and sat on the pebbly beach.  Southern Right Whales were breaching in the protected bay, close enough to enjoy but too far away to capture very well on our cameras.

From there we took a stroll down the entire beach to the cliffs at the south end.  The sea had carved arches and caves into the walls.  We walked up to the top for a higher vantage point but, although the view was beautiful, it was even further from the whales.

The ride back was warm, dry and dusty but otherwise uneventful.  A huge flock of pink flamingos flew across the bay as we pushed our bikes down the busy boardwalk in town.  Back at the hostel, young Nacho the night watchman greeted us.

The following day we sauntered out onto the pier, from which more whales were easily visible.  We also took a longer walk to the south end of the bay.  Caves where the first Welsh settlers sought shelter were preserved as historical tourist attractions.  The white cliffs nearby provided some attractive afternoon scenes.  The whale skeleton outside the Ecocentro wasn't enough to draw us in so we walked back along the water again.

For dinner that night Jason fried up our first hamburgers in months.  It wasn't easy adjusting to a different kitchen at every place we stayed.  They were all ill equipped with odd assortments of cooking implements.  Somehow we managed though, and everything tasted better when washed down with a one litre bottle of Stella Artois.

The next day we took a tour to Peninsula Valdes, an area famous for its spectacular collection of fauna and only connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus five kilometres wide.  Two Canadians from Alberta, Jared and Ron, were also along for the ride.

The tour started slow with a very long bus ride and only a few land animals along the way.  They included guanacos (related to llamas), maras (very large rodents that look like rabbits), rheas (ostrich-like birds) and reddish brown skunks.  From a distance we also saw two salt pans with elevations below sea level.

Things started to improve a little at Punta Cantor where we observed a small colony of elephant seals basking on the beach.  Then we drove up to see the Magellanic penguins.  They were adorable, and so close we could touch them, but of course we didn't.

Next we got on a whale-watching boat at Puerto Piramides and cruised the calm waters for a couple of hours.  The Southern Rights raised their callused heads to breathe, rolled over exposing their white bellies, slapped their pectoral fins and performed fluke dives with their tails in the air.

After disembarking and re-boarding the bus we made one last stop at Playa Las Canteras, the beach we'd missed during our bike ride.  As we jogged along the pebbles, whales swam alongside only about ten metres off shore.  Seagulls pecked at their skin like opportunistic parasites.

We went out for a so-so seafood dinner with Jared, Ron and two young American girls on spring break from a Mendoza university.

Our final full day in Puerto Madryn was another Argentinian holiday so almost everything was closed.  We spent most of it lounging around the hostel doing travel research, playing iPod apps and running a few errands.  The last day brought more of the same, then we walked to the bus station and got on a Don Otto bus bound for the capital.  Nacho from Hi Patagonia was there helping his grandparents board the same bus.  We said goodbye and wished each other well.
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