(Sea) Lions and Penguins and Whales, Oh my!

Trip Start Sep 15, 2009
Trip End Jan 28, 2010

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Hostel Viajeros

Flag of Argentina  , Chubut,
Thursday, October 15, 2009

...the entire trip rested on the tiny sloping shoulders of these little tuxedoed penguins.

Ok not quite but I think it is one of the main reasons Rob agreed to go to South America - to see Penguinos! And the time had finally arrived!

We stayed in the mainland city of Puerto Madryn, a popular tourist destination for many Argentinians and we figured it was mostly because of the wildlife reserve of Penninsula Valdez, since Puerto Madryn was, well, nothing to sneeze at in our opinion.

But we weren´t there to admire the city! So we quickly started shopping the tour agencies to find the best (and most economical) way to see the penninsula. We signed ourselves up and the next morning we were whisked away from the hostel in a tiny car driven by our tour guide - German. We we accompanied by an Argeninian father and his 9 yr old daughter on the tour - so it was very intimate in that little car!

Our first stop was a El Doradillo outside of the reserve where the Southern Right Whales would go to give birth to their young and stay there a while to feed and teach them how to swim. It was amazing how close the whales got to shore! It was early morning and only a few were out swimming along so German promised to bring us back in the afternoon when there would be more action.

We then entered the reserve. A huge, dry, flat penninsula that´s real beauty was at its coastline. Let´s picture what it looks like in the desert... and here we are. A bare landscape that is covered with small shrubs, guanicos (the native relative to a llama), maras (South Americas largest rodent), sheep, and most of all... dirt. But we knew the real adventure was soon to come at Punto Piramides.

Punto Piramides is the only community within the reserve. It is home to roughly 500 residents and is the home base to all of the boat tours that visit the whales of Penn. Valdez. Our tour involved us, 40 other people, and a zodiac that bobbled in the blue water of the Atlantic Ocean. Soon it happened. A mother and her calf surfaced within meters of our little vessel and the cloud of misty ocean water from their blowhole soon approached. It was a feeling of complete astonishment that these wonderful creatures of the sea would share the same curiosity that we had of them.

Then they would dive for a few minutes and reappear to take a breath and occasionally wave to us from afar. And after a while they came within feet of the humble zodiac. This was the true highlight of the trip. We were within feet of what was easily a 45 foot long mother and her calf. The mother let a few notes resonate across the surface of the water, what a sound!

Back ashore, we enjoyed our picnic lunch atop a rotunda on the beach. And anxiously awaited our next stop to see penguins.

Here they were, a colony of Magellanic Penguins nestled within the hillside beach of Penn. Valdez. And yes, I was very excited to see these little fellas. It was a bit odd to see them not on snow and ice as they are easily placed within the zoo. They were sunning themselves and laying inside their holes protecting their eggs. They were quite adorable.

Next stop... Elephant Seals (for the sake of the clever title of this entry, we called them sea lions). These guys are a site for sore eyes. Large, flubbery, and oddly placed along the beach. They would roar and flop around as if they were doing the enlarged version of the ¨worm¨. It was interesting to see how the males protected their colony of females and calves. If they felt the least bit of insecurity, they would flop over the escaping female and lay on top of them until they felt confident that the female would not be tempted to escape, for now!

On our return drive back to Puerto Madryn, German drove his little Chevy like a rally car to El Doradillo beach once again to allow us the opportunity to see the whales playing along the shoreline. We couldn´t keep track of how many were near by. Some were sunning, some were waiving, and others were breaching. It was a beautiful sight to see and as the sun set, so did our frolicking playmates.
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