Saturday, October 18, 2008

Patagonia Express Parte I

This first leg of our Patagonic experience is a tale of animals. It was as if we were in one gigantic zoological viewing area. Our first full day in the province of Chubut, Argentina was full of aquatic wonders. Our rent-a-Fiat got us to Puerto Píramedes right in time to board the boat to go view the Southern Right Whale. Every October, an estimated 1,050 Southern Right Whales fill the bay near Puerto Madryn and Península Valdés. Five minutes into the boat ride we were able to see a small colony of sea lions on the rocks. Then we went a little further out until we were luckily surprised by seeing a school of dark dolphins circling the boat, the captain continued to mention how lucky we were since dolphins don´t usually populate the bay until mid December. Due to the mass amount of seagulls from above, there must have been some good feed taking place, since the dolphins stir the fish to the surface which provides ample opportunity for bird feeding.

Sea lion soakin up the sun

Dark Dolphins showing off

The fascination by our dolphin surprise was enough to make me almost forget about why we were on the boat in the first place, that was until we saw the massive Whale surface in the distance. This was the first time I had ever seen a whale that was not named Shamu at San Diego Sea World and let me tell you, Shamu pales in comparison to viewing a massive Southern Right in its natural habitat. It was as if we were paparazzi on board stalking the whales as they would surface several times before taking a deep dive and allowing us to snap the classic tale picture. Typically, a mother whale would be with the baby whale, which itself was gigantic enough to ingest a person or two. The mother would submerge and go deep to the sea floor to gather food while the baby whale would stay near the surface until the mother would come back to the surface and blow a fountain of water through its nose. We spent roughly an hour with our new whale friends before heading back inland filled with a kid-like excitement. I felt like it was my first trip to the zoo when I was 10 years old.

close up to the Southern Right Whale

The rest of our day one entailed driving around Península Valdés and seeing the many sheep and guanacos (similar to antelope or deer) roam the land until we reached Punta Cantor on the far east side of the Peninsula right on the coast. There we spotted a small colony of Magellanic Penguins and a large colony of Elephant Seals. Since the day two plan was to go see the largest concentration of Magellanic Penguins, we skipped right down to see the Elephant Seals loathe in their blubber on the beach. These animals were comical, all they do is lay their and make every kind of flatulent noise you can dream of and move around about 10 meters every 10 minutes. It appeared as if it was so difficult to move that they can only go so far at once before loathing some more and squeezing out a few more flatulent noises. The elephant seals provided the perfect ending to a perfect day. We then drove our little Fiat back down the coast to Trelew to our hotel, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kids once stayed as a side note. Something we took note of while driving in Patagonia is how much open space and nothingness there is. The sky is absolutely incredible here and provides some jaw-dropping sunsets and sunrises.

penguin love

As mentioned above, day two was penguin day. Punta Tombo, which lies on the coast about 100 km south of Trelew, is home to the largest concetration of Magellanic Penguins in the world. Magellanic Penguins aren´t the kind you may have seen in the March of the Penguins but they´re close relatives. These penguins were nestled up as far as a half kilometer inland from the shore. They were literally everywhere, so much so that I was afraid to step on a few of them. The penguin walk was on full display and made for many laughs, I am now a huge fan of elephant seal flatulants and the penguin walk after this trip. It was also really cool to see them swim under water, they´re like little torpedos underwater. That explains how they migrate all the way from Brasil down to the Falkland Islands every year. They feed at sea but breed on land.

It was an animal-filled first two days in our Patagonia experience. I now write this posting in Rio Gallegos in a 4 hour bus layover until we head west another 4 hours to El Calafate for the night before crossing into Chile tomorrow to begin the 4 day trek! We took the overnight bus to get here and were able to witness the magestic sunset in the right window last night and woke up in time to cock the head to the left to see the sunrise light the sky once again. Running off little sleep, I now remember what it feels like to be traveling again... by the way what is today anyways?

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