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Published: December 9th 2008
The king peers from his throne
A three night stay had turned into ten. The city had a hold on me. I had already had to change hostel once but that was not an issue. If I did not leave BA now, I would miss out on the wildlife down south. The crowds of partygoers I had been mingling with in the clubs of Palermo would soon go on vacation and Patagonia would turn into a circus. It was time to pack my bags and leave. Las ballenas no estan mas aqui. The whales are not here anymore.
Those were not really the words I was looking to hear when I got on a bus for the twenty hour long ride to Puerto Madryn. But all was not lost. They had merely moved to the other side of the bay. Another five hours and I would be there too.
Puerto Piramides on the Valdes peninsula was well set up for tourism. Home to five hundred people, the population doubled during the day with tourists coming in for all sorts of animal watching tours. Sea lions and elephant seals. Penguins and whales. And if you are there in February or March you could even experience
The wind lays low while the sun sets on Peninsula Valdes
the most amazing sight of all. Killer whales beach themselves on the shores of Punta Norte to catch seal cubs lazing on the beach. Apparently one of the whales learned the craft by accident and others copied it. But it was much too soon in the season to have any real chance of playing witness to this. The last killer whale sighting had been reported over a month ago. I decided to stick to the true and tested. Southern right whales come to breed in the sheltered Golfo Nuevo and mothers with calves could be seen at the mouth of the bay. I put my name down for a morning tour, pitched my tent in the municipal campsite just off the beach and promptly fell asleep.
Sand had been collecting on my tent all night. The wind that was whipping the sea into a frenzy was engulfing me in a thick blanket of it. But I had other worries. At five o'clock in the morning I heard the distant sound of thunder. What I had dreaded most when I set up my tent and noticed the rain cover was missing was upon me.
It was still raining at
Anyone for ribs?
For some life is over...
nine o'clock when I was to catch the boat to go whalewatching. The boat operator hadn't collected money from me and I didn't plan on being miserable on the boat while my belongings were being soaked back in camp. I slept and slept until the sun came out. It was midday. The lighting was bad but I needed to go out and do something. I went to another operator on the opposite side of the beach and signed up for a tour. We would leave in one hour. Expectations were high. I had seen whales before from a boat in the Straits of Gibraltar but Peninsula Valdes is something else entirely. There are very large numbers of whales and they supposedly come right up to and under your boat. I would not be disappointed.
The bow cut through the waves with ease. Anticipation was building in us when all of a sudden smiles crept up our faces. A whale! It was still distant but within a few minutes we found ourselves in the midst of a feeding frenzy. Whales were all around us, staying on the surface a minute or two before going tale up and disappearing into the
...while for others it has just begun
deep. Our captain supplied us with whale facts but we did not hear them. Our whole minds were occupied with the action going on around us. An hour on our fascination was still at a high, when the captain turned the boat around and sailed for shore. But the adventure was not over.
Back at the hostel I had been waiting for days to gather up some people to rent a car. The crew was selected, a car hired. Destination: Punta Tombo for the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world. Estimates are in the 1 mio range and perhaps they are not far off. The little critters were everywhere. We had been given instructions. Do not step off the trail. Do not get closer than within 1m of the penguins. But someone forgot to tell that to the little guys. Running back and forth, settling disputes, mating...these guys were living in their own world. If they noticed our presence, they did well to hide it. They seemed totally indifferent to us. We left. The car needed to be returned but our minds were still with the pesky critters.
Two days later and I was right back
A gull gets a rinse
at it. A new group of instant friends and another rental car to quench our wanderlust. We headed out of El Calafate at six in the morning wanting to be the first ones there and to catch the morning light. The fact that there were no rangers to collect the park entrance fee at that hour was not lost on us either. But fee or no fee, what awaited us was a sight to behold.
The car rounded yet another corner. The crew in the back were fast asleep, when Rowan and I let out a cry: Perito Moreno! The only glaciar in the world to resist global warming was in sight. The immensity of it even at a distance took us aback. We had never seen anything like it.
Half an hour later, countless photos taken, we stopped at the mirador parking lot. I opened the door in fear that I had broken something. The window was O.K. and there were no cars parked alongside. Was I just hearing things? Another horrendous breaking sound and we all looked in the direction of the glaciar below. Ice was breaking off of the 60m behemouth. Crrrrk...phuuuum!
was edging across the channel connecting two lakes. It would take months before it would block the passage. Slowly the water would fight back, eating at the ice and forming a natural bridge which in time would collapse and the cycle would be repeated.
We gazed over the lunar-like landscape created by the shifting ice, mesmerized. Slowly the tour groups started trickling in until the parking lot was filled with buses. The calmness of the morning had passed. We got back into our car and drove away, knowing we had been witness to one of the most incredible sights on Earth outside Antarctica. Exhausted yet bewildered we left, dreaming of one day returning. Will Perito Moreno still be there?
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