Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Trip Start Jan 26, 2009
Trip End Mar 27, 2009

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Carnival Splendor

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

We were up at the crack of dawn to try to get off with the first few passengers in order to meet our guide, Monica Mato, down town but the day did not have a good start because the promised shuttle bus (to get us off the pier) did not materialize until an hour later than promised and did not reach our destination until after a further 45 minute delay.  Through the kindness of an Argentine tour operator we were able to make contact with Monica and tell her we would be delayed.  Happily Monica has a new Toyota four-by-four with a powerful engine so we were quickly able to make up time over the two hour journey to the penguin reserve. 
Monica is a teacher so the journey went very quickly as she gave continuous commentary and provided edification to all of our soup to nuts questions.  The journey to the penguin reserve at Punta Tombo was through the Argentine Patagonia.  This region is semi arid with low scrub, grasses and sage like bushes:  trees were few and far between and the land contour was not unlike the table lands in Arizona. 
We only had a few short hours at the penguin reserve and doubtless could have used several more.  We were restricted to clearly marked pathways with several bridges over major penguin routes to the sea.  Happily the penguins have free range and apparently were not informed about the pathway rule.  They also have the right of way so we had to stop often to allow them to play "chicken" and cross the road.  Now and again one would remain in the path and allow you to get up front and personal (not sure who was watching whom) but one had to be careful when bending over to photograph these particular individuals because they invariably had a buddy who would creep up to you from behind.
Penguins' pair for life and return each year to the same nest:  usually a hollowed out "cave" beside and underneath a bush.  The choicest cave homes were, of course, near to the beach while those penguins from the middle class had to walk much further in order to procure food for their family.  Astonishingly, some had to walk well one-third kilometre or more to reach the sea.  More astonishing yet was the fact that the penguins share their breeding territory with sheep and guanacos in apparent harmony.
After leaving the penguin reserve we travelled back towards Puerto Madryn; branching off to the west to visit the beautiful Welsh village of Gaiman.  We descended from the plateau into a valley alongside the Rhubut River where descendants of the original settlers from Wales have created a green and bountiful oasis with many canals to irrigate their fields.  The residents of this picturesque community are proud Argentines but they also preserve their heritage by teaching Welsh in their schools.  Agriculture once dominated Gaiman but today the principal occupation appears to be running tea rooms for visiting tourists.  All of the important people have visited Gaiman:  even Princess Dianna.  We skipped high tea for a much more enjoyable picnic lunch beside the river with Monica.
All too soon our most enjoyable day with Monica had to come to an end and as I write this short note we are once again at-sea and cruising south towards the very tip of South America.  It was raining cats and dogs, with a lightning show to boot, early this evening but hopefully we will have clear skies and calm seas for our arrival at Tierra del Fuego around 2 pm tomorrow afternoon.
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