Puerto Madryn & Península Valdés
Last stop on our whirlwind trip of Patagonia was the coastal town of Puerto Madryn. Its conveniently placed around about the halfway mark between Río Gallegos (right down south on the Atlantic coast) and Buenos Aires, some two solid days travel away.
It turned out to be a bit of a bitch to get there in the end as we kind got ourselves off the main tourist path. Most travelers head north-south up and down the length of Patagonia, however we needed to go against the grain and go east from Puerto Natales (Chile) to Río Gallegos (Argentina). Direct buses weren’t running the morning we wanted to leave so we needed to go back across the border to our ol’ favourite Río Turbio (the dump of a mining town) to get a connecting bus to Río Gallegos.
By the time we got there it was already the end of the day and we were fortunate enough (given that Christmas was so close) to grab two tickets on a sleeper bus north to Trelew, just south of Puerto Madryn. The long-distance buses are definitely an experience in Argentina: double-decker, usually pretty new, meals and in-flight movies, and seat that recline a decent amount. We settled in for the night and it was a gruelling 20 hours later that we finally arrived in Trelew. From there it was a short bus ride to Puerto Madryn and we collapsed into our hostel room pretty exhausted from a solid two days of traveling.
Puerto Madryn is known for its marine life and is the jumping-off point for the nearby National Park that covers the flat expanse of Península Valdés, a huge tract of land now preserved in the name of animal conservation. Mark and I signed up for a day-trip out there to see a few of its inhabitants. It was well worthwhile, even though I was feeling a tad worse for wear after an(other) all-nighter (damn this Argentine way of life! 🙂 ).
We first went to a viewing point where we saw sea lions and elephant seals wallowing around on the beach. As it was high tide there was a chance we might spot a pod of killer whales (this is the place you might have seen in documentaries where the orcas come onshore to pinch seals and sea lions), but we didn’t see diddily squat. I think the best thing I saw was this little armadillo…
Next stop was a penguin rookery. These were Magellan penguins, much bigger than the fairy penguins we get near Melbourne. As their chicks had been born just a few weeks earlier we were hoping to spot a couple of these balls of fluff, but they were all tucked away deep in the burrows.
Final stop for the day was THE highlight – a boat trip out into the bay to spot southern right whales! We just caught the end of the season, and we’d heard that there were still a few mothers and their calves in the neighbourhood. As it was mid-afternoon by the time we got there, and given the tendency of Patagonian wind to blow and blow hard, there was a fair bit of chop on the seas and a good swell running. BUT we were indeed lucky enough to spot two of these incredible animals up close and personal, and spotted another in the distance – FANTASTIC! Not much to see truth be told, but just to be in the presence of these giant and endangered mammals was awesome. Unfortunately though, given the rough boat ride out there, we didn’t have that much time snapping away with our photos before we had to turn around and head back.
With the sights of Puerto Madryn behind us, Mark and I are going our separate ways. He is heading to Bariloche, back up in the mountains of northern Patagonia, for a bit more hiking and maybe a spot of climbing. As I’m injured I’d just be a spectator if I went there, so I’ve instead decided to head back to Buenos Aires for Christmas (and another 24 hour bus ride to survive tonight – urgh…).