Published: March 24th 2008March 21st 2008
Sea lion in Mar del Plata
After Buenos Aires, we went to the beach side town of Mar del Plata. On the taxi ride to the bus station in Buenos Aires we encountered fake money for the first time in South America. Damn taxi driver did the swifty on us by giving fake notes as change. Luckily it wasn't much, and it is now making a nice souvenir in my journal. Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata is one of the major fishing ports and the biggest seaside beach resort in Argentina and is a 5 hour bus ride south of Buenos Aires. We found the town to have very little soul, with loads of towering skyscrapers that block out the sun on parts of the beach. However we stayed a couple of days here exploring the town and the port. We visited the very cool Sea Museum which has tens of thousands of seashells from all around the world including New Zealand shells (paua etc).
The Mar del Plata port was also pretty cool - it is full of colourful fishing boats, a colony of sea lions, a 2km jetty, and also an area of half sunken ruined ships. Puerto Madryn, Valdes Peninsula
and Punta Tombo
Mar del Plata port
From Mar del Plata, we headed to Puerto Madryn for a week. Puerto Madryn is the beginning of Patagonia - is a geographic region containing the southernmost portion of South America. Here the landscape has changed to vast expanses of nothingness (creating 180 degrees of sky), estancias (ranches), and high winds. Although there are pockets in this land of mountains, rivers and glaciers.
On our first day we did a day tour of the Valdes Peninsula. The Peninsula is UNESCO has declared the Peninsula to be a Natural World Heritage because it is considered one of the most valuable wildlife areas in the world. We saw a variety of different animals including orca, sea lions (including an albino pup), elephant seals, Magellanic penguins, armadillo, grey foxes, guanacos (llama like animals) and sea birds (cormorants, petrels, and oyster catchers).
The highlight of the Valdes trip was seeing orca within metres of the shore. Peninsula Valdes (Caleta Valdes & Punta Norte) is only one of two places in the world where orca have been seen catching sea lions by "intentional beach stranding". The orca swim rapidly towards the coast, strand nearly two thirds of their body length,
capture a sea lion or elephant seal, then return to sea with energetic movements of their back and belly, and take the live prey back to eat. I have seen this phenomenon on documentaries (BBC Blue Planet) and it has fascinated me. Unfortunately we weren't lucky enough to see such an attack, but it was still pretty special to see them so close to shore and stalking the sea lions. Was a strange feeling to be hoping to see a baby sea lion be chomped by an orca and very scary to be thinking "just kill him"!
It was likely that the orca we saw was a male leader called Mel. I was very excited about an orca being called Mel. When he was a juvenile, researchers thought he was a female and called him Melany. When they discovered Melany was a male, they changed his name to Mel. He is quite an old orca, has a bent dorsal fin from someone having taken a shot at him some years ago, and is one of the masters of hunting sea lions by intentional stranding.
We spent a bit more time in Puerto Madryn so Alan could get his
PADI Open Water dive certificate. I also did a dive on the reef at Punta Cuevas as well. Unfortunately the visibility wasn't great, but did see some typical Atlantic fish and other sea life.
We also spent a day going out to Punta Tombo, home to 500,000 Magellanic penguins - the largest penguin colony outside of Antarctica. Between September and April, these penguins come to Punta Tombo to incubate their eggs, and prepare their offspring for migration. The penguin couples stand in front of their nests, protecting the eggs from birds and other predators, and occasionally one adult goes to the sea for food. There were so many of these penguins - dotted everywhere over a desert like landscape, and many close enough to touch. Even though you can't touch them (they can bite), I wouldn't because they are very sinister looking. They were very cool but they kinda freaked me out especially after one starting chasing me down the path.
We also visited the small village of Gaiman (founded by Welsh settlers in 1875), and stopped in for tea, scones, cakes and pastries at an authentic Welsh teahouse. Very British.
Celebrated St Patrick's Day in Puerto
Madryn - making sure we had a Guinness (Alan) and a Baileys (me) in the Irish bar. Ushuaia
- Fin del Mundo/End of the World
Ushuaia is the world's southernmost city - and cold at that! We went from 25 degrees in Puerto Madryn to 2 degrees in Ushuaia within 2 hours. Ouch! We decided on a 2 hour plane ride from Puerto Madryn to avoid the alternative 50hour+ bus and ferry ride.
Getting a little more active again, we hiked up the Glacier Martial which gave beautiful views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Chanel, and did a day trip and small hikes in Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) National Park. The park extends 63,000 hectares with only a few thousand hectares open to the public. It was a lovely peaceful day - the park was so quiet and still (very little sounds even from birds). We also got to see beaver dams (but no beavers), loads of rabbits with cute little white fluffy tails (but no easter eggs), and a red fox who just casually strolled past us on one of the trails which had me buzzing for a while.
We are in El Calafate
now for a few days to explore the Moreno Glacier. Happy Easter everyone!
There are more photos below