Day 193: February 24, 2008 Puerto San Julián

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Day 193: February 24, 2008 Puerto San Julián

Although it was our intention to make this a day of rest, San Julián offers enough interesting things to do that we headed out after finishing our breakfast. The fog that rolled in overnight was beginning to burn off has we got to the Nao Victoria, the replica of Magellan's ship. We took the ship tour. I enjoyed it as much the second time as I did the first. Liz loved it. There were only a few other people on the tour so we had the ship pretty much to ourselves.

When the tour was over, we walked the kilometer or so along the coast to Monte Cristo, the low mound where the first mass in Argentina was said, on Palm Sunday 1521. We passed the mounted Mirage fighter jet that serves as the Malvinas/Falklands War Memorial before we returned to the ship and wandered over to the Excursiones Pinocho office where we bought tickets for the 12:00 boat excursion on Bahía San Julián. Mariella, the guide, recognized me immediately and gave me a beso. The tide was much higher than the last time I did the trip so we didn't have to walk through the mud that is exposed at low tide. There were only four others with us, an Argentine couple and a Norwegian woman and her Chilean boyfriend. They communicated with each other in English.

We saw several dolphins on our way out to Isla Cormoranes, where the penguins live. Liz loved having the opportunity to walk among the penguins. It is very different from observing them from the boat as we did in Ushuaia. I always like watching them waddle over the pebble beaches. The chicks were now much older and were in various stages of moulting their chick fuzz. In a week or two they will be ready to enter the water for the first time.

We reboarded the boat and cruised over to Isla Justícia where both Magellan and Drake executed mutineers. The island is populated with thousands of imperial cormorants and black-necked cormorants. We also saw a pair of Antarctic doves, which rode on top of the boat's canopy as we sailed around to the back side of the island. This wasn't possible on my last trip because of the low tide. From the back side of the island, it is possible to see the funny-looking, conical cormorant nests, molded of sand, vegetation, and guano, spaced closely together.

On our return trip to the town, we were treated to a pair of dolphins leaping out of the water and doing flips a couple of hundred meters to our starboard. I tried getting a foto but they were too far away. At the Pinocho office, I bought a t-shirt and Liz bought a few gifts. We went over to a table, outside, with the Chilean/Norwegian couple and helped them decide where to go and what to see in Patagonia. They knew surprisingly little about what was on the Argentine side, even though he was from Coyhaique.

Back at the hotel, we snacked a little and then headed out in the truck to do the Circuito Costanero. We did it in the opposite direction from the way I did it last time. I was able to recognize all of the sites. I was surprised to see that there are three layers of the green tuff at Playa La Mina. That didn't register the last time I was here but that was before I visited Playa Alsina. We got good views of the cormorants and sea lions. Because of the rising tide, access to the rockfalls on the beaches was more limited. This drive is definitely better at low tide. We marveled at the abundant sand dollar and giant oyster fossils in the rockfall at Playa Pigafeta.

We continued to the end of the circuit, passing by the other beaches and the ruins of the Swift meat-packing plant and arrived back at the hotel around 6:00. My recommendation for anyone staying in San Julian is to do the boat excursion during high tide, to avoid the mud and get a more complete tour of the bay. The Circuito Costanero is better done at low tide so that the rocks at the bases of the cliffs can be more completely explored, as I did in January. Under any circumstance, though, I think that San Julián is a rising star in Patagonian tourism. Visit it!

After showering and meditating, we went to the Restaurante La Rural, on the Costanera, for dinner. As soon as I walked in, I recognized it, having eaten there in 1998 with the Du Pont geologists. We had a good meal of sea bass, fries, and salad while overlooking the bay. Not surprisingly, we were the only foreigners there. We returned to our hotel extremely satisfied with our day in San Julián.
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