20.02.2013 - 26.02.2013
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Well this latest blog has been a long time coming due to lack of internet access over the last week or so. So here goes.
We had an uneventful overnight bus trip from Mercedes to Buenos Aires. The bus was late but we finally set off around 11pm for our 8 hour trip. We both slept on and off. We arrived into a very busy bus terminal 40 minutes early. When I say busy I mean busy. The terminal has 75 bays for the buses to pull into. There were buses and people everywhere. So with our possessions close to us (day packs on our fronts and not our backs) we made our way to the Esplendor Hotel right in the centre of BA. We hoped that they would have a room available straight away for us and luckily they did. We were also lucky enough to wrangle a late check out as our next overnight bus was not leaving until 7pm the following day. So we settled into bed and got a bit more sleep. For the first time we put our washing in for the hotel to wash. For the rest of the day and the following day we just enjoyed some time wandering around the Galleria Shopping Complex and relaxing.
Around midday of our day of departure we had still not received our washing back. We were starting to get a bit worried. When Shane approached reception they informed us that yesterday had been a holiday so our washing would be late coming back. They hadn’t told us that when we put it in. Anyway they made a few phone calls and we were advised that it would be back before we left at 5pm. At 4pm it had still not arrived and the hotel staff were a bit concerned so they sent a taxi to pick it up and bring it back. At 4.55 our washing arrived with 5 minutes to spare. I think I will continue to wash things myself.
So with our washing in tow we headed back to the bus terminal to make our 1450 km, 18 hour journey further south in Argentina to the Valdes Peninsula. Our bus was due to leave at 7pm but this time came and went. At 7.30 it had still not arrived and we were starting to get a bit worried that we may have somehow missed it. Shane darted off to the Andesmar booth (the name of our bus company) and he was advised that it had been delayed. That is all he said so we received no further information on when we would be leaving, so we just kept an eye out on the departures screen and hoped for the best. At 8.20 our bus turned up and we settled in to the downstairs part of the bus in Cama Suite. There were only 6 seats down there and the seats were nice and wide and reclined 180 degrees to allow us to get some sleep on this long trip.
We settled in and were just about ready to sleep when at 10.30 the bus host came around with dinner for us. So we sat back up and had a lovely meal. As we were downstairs we were served a hot dish of vegetable lasagne and a plate with an array of goodies including a salad, a type of frittata and spinach tart. It was all really nice. He even asked if we wanted coke or wine with dinner. Umm, Malbec red wine sounded good to help us sleep. Whilst we were eating dinner they put a movie on for us to watch, it was in spanish but had english subtitles, it was actually quite funny. After the movie the host came around and closed all the curtains hinting it was time to go to sleep. So we settled down with a stomach full of food. Next thing we knew it was morning and 11 hours of our journey had past. We were served a basic breakfast and they put another movie on. This time is was War Horse. We hadn’t seen it before so watched that to help the time go by as the landscape was pretty sparse. I cried through-out the movie whilst Shane laughed at me. After the movie finished to our surprise the bus host bought around bingo tickets and ran a game of bingo between both levels of the bus. Luckily he could call the numbers in english and spanish so we were able to be involved. Time flew and we finally arrived in Puerto Madryn where it was pouring with rain. We had a rental car awaiting us as we were now heading to quite a remote part of Argentina. We headed to the office to do all the necessary paperwork, including a copy of our credit card in case of us hitting a guanaco (another member of the cameloid family). We have a Ford Eco-Sport to drive around in for the next 9 days. Neither of us has ever driven on the right hand side of the road or a left hand drive vehicle, but it is something I won’t have to worry about as Shane is doing all the driving. Shane took the keys and off we set in the rain. Before we even got to the first set of traffic lights Shane had stalled the car and was tooted for the first time. It didn’t take him long to get the hang of things. It made it much easier once we headed out of town on the open road. With my excellent navigation skills we headed 100km north of Puerto Madryn to Puerto Piramides. Before arriving in this little village we had to stop at La Administracion del Area Natural Protegida and pay our entrance fee to the park of Valdes Peninsula. It was 100 pesos each (about $20). We then headed to Istmo Ameghino (visitors centre) for a map and to familiarise ourselves with the area as the Valdes Peninsula extends over 4000 square kms. It is located on the Atlantic coast in the north east of the Chubut Province. Once we knew where we were heading we set off for Puerto Piramides on the Golfo Neuvo (New Gulf). Puerto Piramides is usually the place where boats leave from to watch the Southern Right Whales, but this only occurs between June and December.
Our home for the next 5 nights is the Hosteria Ecologica del Nomade.
Quite exhausted we settled in to our room and then headed off for some dinner as we had not eaten since breakfast on the bus. Upon our return we spoke with Lola who works at the hosteria about our plans for the next day. We were going to see if we could see the Orcas of Chubet. These Orcas are extremely famous as they are the only Orcas in the world that beach theirselves to catch sea lions for their dinner and then manage to get back to the water. March is the best month to view this followed by February so we could only cross our fingers. She checked the high tide time for us as this was extremely important as they usually turn up around an hour before and after high tide. With our stomachs full we settled down for the night.
Saturday 23rd – High tide was to be at 10am today so we headed off at 8am for Punta Norte. This is 80km away on dirt tracks where you can only drive 60km an hour so it was going to take some time. Most of the Peninsula is barren land with some salt lakes.
Along the way we were lucky enough to see Lesser Rheas,
and we even had an armadillo run across the road in front of us. We saw lots of sheep as there is a really large estancia in the park called Estancia La Ernestina.
We arrived at Punta Norte with real excitement.
From the view point there were several groups of Sea Lions with lots of seal pups really close to the water.
It was just a matter of keeping an eye out for whale fins. It was quite windy and the water was a bit rough and the ranger advised that he did not think they would come today due to the rough seas. Anyway we stayed for 2 hours during the high tide but we were unsuccessful today. We did however get lots of enjoyment from a hairy armadillo that was running around by our car.
It was a lovely morning so we decided to continue our journey in the park another 47km along the Caleta Valdez to Punta Cantor where there is an elephant seal colony.
We also saw a Grey Fox who came quite close.
From there we also got a view of the Caleta Valdez which is a large creek.
We also came across a Magallenic penguin colony.
From there we headed inland back to the rangers station where you could climb a tower to get a view of both gulfs, Golfo Nuevo and Golfa San Jose and see how the peninsula was placed. Along the way we saw some funny birds.
By then it was 4pm. The weather had been fine all day so we made one last stop to Punta Piramide, this was a lovely spot not far from home where there was a South American sea lion breeding colony. You could hear all the pups and there were lots of sea lions taking a swim. The scenery was lovely as the colony was located underneath a cliff and we could watch from a viewing point. This area is also a whale reproduction area.
It was then time to head back to town, once again as it was sunny we stopped to take a picture of the bay as yesterday when we arrived we could hardly see a thing.
Being Saturday there seemed to be a lot of people in town, we drove down to the beach and there were people taking a swim, but it wasn’t warm enough for us.
24th February – We awoke this morning to the sound of rain. This was really disappointing as it was going to affect our plans for the day. We had breakfast and Lola contacted the ranger’s station to see if the road to Punta Norte was open. It was, so we decided to head off any way to see if today was going to be the day to sight the Orcas. It is 150km to do a round trip. It rained nearly the whole way there but the roads were not too bad. We sat under cover at the ranger’s station watching patiently for the Orcas to appear. Whilst we were waiting it was still lovely watching all of the sea lion pups getting swimming lessons from their mums. I tried to put it out of my mind that at some stage they could be dinner. Once again we were unlucky. So we decided to head back to Puerto Piramides. We were glad to leave when we did. The road had changed considerably in 3 hours. It rained on and off on our journey back and twice we had guanaco’s run across the road just ahead of us, so not only did Shane have the left hand drive, rain and muddy roads to worry about but the wildlife as well.
Addendum by Shane - Travelling the road back at a blistering 40km per hour, Nicola held on for life (poor dear) and I relished the chance to do some 4 wheel driving in our 2 wheel drive car. At times I was not sure if we would actually get back, but our little front wheel drive car pulled us through the slop, sliding from side to side on the road, luckily not too many cars had ventured out today and the rangers would find us if we did get stuck. The last 5km to Puerto Piramides was bitumen and I finally got my leg and blood flow to it back, including new bruises. So, it turned out to be an eventful day without Orca’s.
25th February – The rain had cleared before we went to bed and the first thing we did when we awoke was look out of the window to see if the weather was good. It was still an overcast morning but it had not rained since late yesterday afternoon. This was a good thing as the roads would have had a chance to dry out a bit. We arrived for breakfast and Lola had put up on her notice board for today “Expecting the Orcas to show up”. So after breakfast we once again headed the 77 km to Punta Norte in pursuit of the Orca. Before the dirt turn off there is a little place where you can stop and give thanks for a safe journey and anything else really, so as we passed by we asked for Orcas today.
The dirt road had dried out and was much easier to drive along today. High tide was at 11.18 today, we arrived at 10am. We headed straight for the rangers hut to get the best viewpoint. There are a couple of seats out the front so this is where we sat and awaited the Orca. Once again whilst we waited we watched the sea lion pups wandering up the beach, having fun together and even a couple of male sea lions ensuring that their territory was not encroached.
We also saw this cute little creature running about.
And a pretty bird
We also saw an "Elegant Crested Tinamou"
An hour before high tide came and went, an hour after high tide came and went.
At 12.20 Shane yells Orca. We had spotted it before the ranger had. There was an Orca surfing in on some big waves. It all happened so quickly that we didn’t get photos of that part. He was pretty close to shore and next thing there were 3 fins. They swam along the shore front but unfortunately they did not beach themselves for sea lion. It was still an amazing experience, we could not believe how close they came in, the beach must drop off pretty quickly. We got a couple of photos and Shane took some video but they were continuously moving so it was fairly difficult.
You can see how close to shore they are.
Later that afternoon we headed back to Puerto Piramides and decided to have an early dinner. We headed to this restaurant that had a nice view of the bay. Seeing we were by the ocean I decided to have seafood. I ordered breaded squid. There were over 30 rings on the plate and it had only cost $12. I thought of Jan Swift (one of my work friends) who had recently ordered squid at a hotel where she only got about 6 rings and it cost her a lot more than that. Shane decided on chicken but ended up eating half of my squid as I could not eat it all.
26th February – Today was to be our last day on the Valdes Peninsula. We had one more day to try and see the Orcas. So off we set again to Punta Norte. There seemed to be a lot of Guanacos on the road this morning.
We had to really watch the sides of the road in case they jumped out at you.
We arrived at Punta Norte at 10am. The high tide was not until midday. So we had lots of time again to enjoy the sea lions and their pups. Shane took lots of video footage as they were so cute. High tide came and went with no Orca sightings today. I guess we can’t be too greedy and besides we didn’t pray for Orcas on our way through this morning. At least we leave tomorrow having seen 3 of the Orcas of Chubut. We had a nice slow drive back to Puerto Piramides.
For those of you that are not sure why we wanted to go to Punta Norte, I have attached the link to a You Tube movie, so you can see what we were hoping to see.
Orca's of Chubut