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Published: February 11th 2012
As we got off the plane in Trelew, we were greeted by high gusts of hot wind and views of endless pampas. Pampas are dry grasslands, almost SW desert-like, that make up nearly the entirety of Patagonia, save the southern tip of Ushuaia and the Andes mountain range. Riding the hour long shuttle from Trelew to Puerto Madryn, we began to ask ourselves, why are we here? We asked the same question again upon entereing the uncharasmatic, dusty, windswept town of Puerto Madryn. The hostel we stayed at was surprisingly very nice.
An open, but protected center courtyard of green grass with a hammock, chairs and tables, and potted flowers surrounding it. All the receptionists were very nice and informative of the various excursions available and where all the essential amentities were in town. Although we were staying in another 6 bed dorm, there was a crucial difference - space. Bunk beds with large lockers under each, space to put your luggage, a personal light to each bed, and an ensuite bathroom. This may seem trivial to some, but there's a world of difference for someone living the hostel life. Another big difference in this hostel - no more 19
year old Argentine girls. Rather, there were people from all over the world; Japan, Holland, Poland, Canada, etc., many of whom travelled in families with children. Needless to say, this was not going to be a party stop!
As we had promised ourselves, we bought groceries and began to cook dinners at the hostel and pack lunches for the days out. Our first morning there, we decided to take a coastal hike. We got picked up by a taxi, drove about 45 minutes down some dirt road, and were dropped off where the road ended, about 20 km up the coast. In the semi-arid climate, with the dry desert grass vegetation stretching out forever on one side, and the gorgeous turquoise blue ocean on the other, I was reminded of Mexico and thought, "Maybe this won't be so bad after all." As we walked back along the coast, we passed families posted up in old campers, tide pools, with miny jellyfish and crabs, various types of sea birds, guanacos (llama type animal), a sunken ship 30 meters off shore, and a sea lion colony squealing and grunting at each other. The hike turned out to be quite beautiful, and
hot as well.
At one point, after crossing through some sand dunes, we found a long stretch of beach made up of small rocks with only a handful of people dispersed along it. Putting some distance, between ourselves and the few small groups, we decided to take off our clothes and cool off in the water. We were both a little weary however, since we had seen the little jellyfish all along the coast. The beach seemed to be clear of them, but as Chloe entered the water cautiously, she was up to her hips when she saw one and came scampering out, scared and naked! As we put our clothes back on, we noticed the water must be super salty, our clothes were covered in it. By the time we got closer to town, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and we had acquired a new friend - some border collie mix. He would follow us step by step 3-4 feet from us, stopping if we stopped, herding us toward the ocean or the beach depending on the direction we walked. At first it was unnerving, you never know; rabies would suck...but he turned out to
be very friendly with his tail wagging. He eventually stopped following us when we got close to the paved road, but only to be replaced by 3 more mutts 10 minutes later. This pack followed us in the same manner, keeping stride with us. By this point Chloe was concerned and a little freaked so I told her to go ahead and I'd stick with the dogs. It worked, so I guess I have a little Dog Whisperer in me...The final stretch of the walk seemed endless; although the dogs had left me for new companions, we found ourselves walking through what seemed to be a vast estruary. Witht the tide out, the entire bay had drawn back, leaving asoupy, muddy, seaweed filled mess. Regardless, people were still packed along the 15 meters of real beach, walking through half a kilometer of soup to get to the water. Add to this wind gusts of 25 mph, who wouldn't want to hang out there?! Finally arriving to the hostel 10 hours later, we were fully baked by the sun and exhausted. A couple cold beers and a big portion of bolangese later, we went to bed tired, full, and content.
The following morning came early. We were up, had breakfast served to us with homemade bread and pastries, and on a tour bus heading to Punta Tombo, where a colony of a million Magellaen pinguins live, 3 hours away. The guide, who spoke spanish and english, informed us of what we were to see, giving insight on behavior and life patterns, and how to interact (or not) with the penguins. The drive was very uneventful, simply miles and miles of dry, windy pampas. When we arrived to Punta Tombo, we took a short tour of a nice informative museum before walking into the reserve. It was simply amazing, they were everywhere! The reserve had created pathways for humans so we don't disturb their habitat too much, and constructed bridges over a few of the main paths that the penguins use to walk from their nest to the sea. Their nests, small shallow caves dug into the dirt or in thick bushes, were everywhere, and many of the chicks were loosing their final feathers, whereupon they enter the sea for the first time. At knee high or shorter, they were very cute, waddling along their paths, squalking to each other, and
the chicks screaming for food from their mother. On a few occasions we saw mothers regurgitating food to her demanding chicks, only a couple of feet from the path. They were rather indifferent of human presence. However, if a penguin was walking toward a human path, it would stop in its tracks if you were in its desired pathway. Only once you moved a few feet away would it continue its trek. Curious little guys. A few hours later, we were back on the bus, in and out of sleep until we arrived back in Puerto Madryn.
The next day we saved our money (everything is so expensive in Patagonia!) and used the day to do laundry (finally!), research, write my blog, and organize for our next destination - El Calafate, in the Santa Cruz province, land of glaciers and iconic Patagonian mountains!
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