The title of my last post was “Suffering for adventure.” My trip may have started with hours of discomfort on a plane, but I had also escaped Montréal‘s first major snowfall of the winter.
It was -20°C (-4°F) the morning we left Montréal. When we touched down in Trelew, Argentina 24 hours later, it was 37°C (98°F). A temperature difference of 57 degrees… WHAT?!
I had checked the weather the day before and made myself fully prepared with shorts and a tank top stowed in my carry-on. While my Montréal pals were traipsing through thigh-deep snow, I was getting my sweat on!
My elbows and scarred up knees were exposed for the majority of our time on the Valdes Peninsula. I was showing off my articulation the day we visited the seemingly inarticulate Magellanic penguins at the Punta Tombo rookery, 250 or so kilometres south of the peninsula.
Our tour started at the elaborate interpretation centre about 1km before the penguin hotspot. I believe it had been built there so that people wouldn’t ask the park rangers silly questions at the rookery such as, “Are penguins fish?”
The back of the interpretation centre had a long corridor leading out to the viewpoint from where we couldn’t see a single penguin.
We were reminded by one of the park rangers at the parking lot to not touch the penguins. We were also to give the birds at least 2m of space when they were on the path. Thus, we got penguin-blocked at the start.
What I appreciated about Patagonia’s natural reserves is how much space was given to the wildlife while still allowing cross-species surveillance. On that note, if you’re considering a trip to Patagonia, invest in a pair of binoculars!
So, what were the penguins up to?
Sunbathing, digging, swimming, pooping, and regurgitating fish down the throats of their nestlings. Y’know, standard penguin stuff.
The above duo is in that awkward stage between chickdom and adulthood. You can see they’re losing their fluff, revealing a sleek body of waterproof feathers underneath. Until the very last tuft falls off, they have to hang out on the beach like a bunch of awkward teenagers.
The guy at the hostel in Trelew told us that we’d, without a doubt, see guanacos on the way. “Oh, cool,” I said when Mélissa relayed the info to me in sign language. But I didn’t know what guanacos were. I could have asked, but I was about to figure it out. And I did.
This is a guanaco. They differ from llamas in that they have not been domesticated, which is not something my brain worked out on its own, but something I had read off Wikipedia.
Nice of them to come and hang out with the rickety birds.
We pulled up into the only town on the peninsula, Puerto Pirámides, in the late afternoon. The AirBnb I had booked for us hadn’t provided an address, and I hadn’t bothered to ask as I had interpreted this to mean that the place was extremely easy to find. It was extremely not, even though there were only four or five streets in the whole town.
We only found it right as we had given up. After discussing what to do next in the car, I looked away in defeat and noticed a sign on the side of a building: “Bitácora Sur Hospedaje”. Our room was above a souvenir shop. In the room was a tv, but no wifi. “Breakfast included” said the Airbnb listing. Do two small bags of sweet crackers and a granola bar count? I vote “no”.
For millions of years, the land that is now the Valdes Peninsula was all underseas. When Mélissa and I walked along the shore platform around the cliffs, we observed how the 30m cliffs were composed entirely of transported, abraded fragments of mollusk shells, trilobites, and other invertebrates.
Sadly, the cliff platforms from where the Argentinean vacationers were jumping off were also packed with those dinky plastic gelato spoons. That day, I swore off asking for gelato samples ever again.
The next day, Mélissa and I took the 70km-long gravel path of RP2 to Punta Delgada, a private chunk of land colonized by southern elephant seals. A tour guide greeted us in the parking lot and presented us with our options. We had the choice of eating at the resort’s restaurant before the tour or paying 250 pesos ($8.75 CAD/$6.60 USD) for the tour. I was neither hungry nor happy about having to pay for a tour that was inaccessible to me.
Mélissa was always willing to “interpret” these tours the best she could which was appreciated, but not ideal. What I appreciated, even more, was how she never hesitated to ask tour agencies or park rangers if there was a reduced rate available for me. Not only that, but she also took the time to explain to these people the logic behind offering me such a discount. The owners of the resort at Punta Delgada didn’t seem to think it was justified, but because Mélissa dined at the restaurant while I hung out at the table sponging off the resort’s wifi, I ended up sliding into the tour group without even paying.
The elephant seals were writhing on the beach. They were all females and all pregnant. The males were out at sea fishing for squid with no plans to return for a couple more months. Mating season is only two months long, starting in September and ending in October, so unless you go during these two months, you won’t see much more than a bunch of blubbery logs ashore.
Further up north is Punta Cantor, which appeared to be inhabited by a small number of outcast elephant seals. Its major attraction was the possibility of orca sightings.
The orcas were a no-show. This was more disappointing for Mélissa than it was for me as I am from the province of British Columbia, where orcas are a symbol. I later learned that there is even an elephant seal colony 30km west of Victoria, BC where Yann and I will be moving to next month!
The best thing we saw in Punta Cantor was spotted scurrying underneath our car in the parking lot.
It was a Piche Patagónico! We most definitely do not have those in British Columbia!
Our next stop was to be a sight not found anywhere in British Columbia: a salt lake. Even on Saltspring Island, there are no salt lakes. The Valdes Peninsula has two: Salina Grande and Salina Chica. Only the latter is open to tourists, but the gravel road leading there was unmarked.
Mélissa’s Lonely Planet guidebook showed the two salt flats on a map but said nothing about how one could reach them. We had seen the ocean-like mirage of the two salt flats on our way to Punta Delgada, but it appeared to be surrounded by paramelas and other squat shrubbery.
Grazing in the fields were lesser rheas which aren’t nearly as big as ostriches, but we witnessed the herd all run at once and decided against death by a lesser rhea stampede.
Our elephant seal expert at Punta Delgada insisted that there was a gravel road going to Salina Chica, so we kept our eyes peeled for this purported path our way back to Puerto Pirámides. When I spotted what looked like a path, we got out of the car and walked about a kilometre before Mélissa remarked, “The guide said it was only a 10-minute walk. This looks a lot farther than 10 minutes, doesn’t it?”
Back to the car we went. Five minutes into the drive, Mélissa and I noticed a car surrounded by a group of people parked off the side of the road. Mélissa pulled over to ask whether the group had found the secret road to Salina Chica.
Yes! They had just finished their salty tour, so they were able to give us specific directions. We were warned the gravel road was in poor condition but, “If our car was able to make it, you’ll be fine,” one of the guys said with conviction as he gestured towards their station wagon.
As you can see, I ended the day with victorious bounds across the dried-up sea monkey-embedded salt lake.
My next post will feature sea lions and crappy croissants.