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Published: February 12th 2010
The regular route that travelers in South A. take has a place called El Bolson next on the itinerary after Bariloche. El Bolson is known as a bohemian's town, often brimming with backpackers looking to explore the surrounding wilderness or getting wrecked alongside people from all ends of the Earth. It sounds like an intriguing place but I didn't come to this continent to see tourists. So I decided to head east to Puerto Madryn and observe a different kind of "wild"life.
A port town, Puerto Madryn is located on a scenic piece of Atlantic Argentinean coast and serves as base camp for tourists wanting to see the Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes (Valdes Peninsula Wildlife Reserve). The main attraction arrives in April: southern right whales on a migratory path north, following the schools of sardines who seek out a warmer place to spend the winter. Another awesome spectacle can be seen in March, when sea lion pups begin to explore the ocean shores on their own. The pups are apparently quite fun to watch, especially when a beached killer whale gets a hold of one of them, and SNAP! dinner is served. In April one can also
see a group of adult elephants seals basking on the shore. Apparently, one adult elephant seal weighs as much as 8 adult sea lion males. SICK. In February this species is still present, except only the young ones who, disappointingly, do not have the probosci (trunks) that elephant seals are known for.
My trip to the peninsula suddenly doesn't sound as exciting... no whales, no killer whales, no adult elephant seals. However, there were minor rheas, armadillos, foxes, maras, sea lions, young sea elephants, and Magellan penguins. Even without its stars, the cast of this peninsula put on a good show. Except... the day I decided to visit this natural wonder I had severe lower back pains and had to endure hours at a time in a bus not designed for comfortable long-distance trips. And we happened to get caught in a major wind storm the likes of which is seen at most once a year and in winter, not summer. Since the peninsula is mainly sandy and has no large vegetation to keep the sand down we got whipped with sand and pebbles and spent half the time covering our eyes. A wildlife tour suddenly turned into a
Notice that the first item is Yerba and the last one is Coffee. Yes, we are in Argentina
display of vintage Patagonian weather.
The museums in Puerto Madryn have interesting displays in which the attention to detail is evident. One can see a right whale skeleton, a preserved giant squid, a menagerie of preserved native animals, and more. But the best display, in my opinion, was one which is not sponsored or advertised by the municipality. I was fortunate to find a small flyer in one of the museums which did have municipality support. The museum I talk about belongs to a man whose name I forget, his wife, and his son. It is housed in a building they built entirely and contains displays of Patagonian rocks and other displays of a more entomological nature. The number of rocks in display is stunning and their beauty captivating. Yet the story behind it tops it all. This man arrived in Patagonia 30 years ago with his wife, where they began to notice a large variety of beautiful rocks: rhodocrosite, fluorite, geodes, hidrolites, amethyst, agate, jade, onyx, topaz, you name it. So they began collecting. Thirty years later, they have their own museum funded entirely on the sales of their jewelry as no entrance fee is collected from the
visitors and the municipality gives this institution no importance. They also run a school in jewelry making for teenagers of poor economic means and for teenagers with disabilities. Again, there is no charge. As the man explained, their mentality is very different from the one a traveler gets accustomed to in Argentina. Culture and knowledge, he argued, should not be hoarded by an elite few but rather made available to the people, to whom it belongs. Thirty years of passionate public service. This museum was a jewel of a find in a town where everyone seems to want to get their hands on every single penny you've got.
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