A Travellerspoint blog

Antarctica Part 2

8th March
This morning we awoke in anticipation, as we were to visit the flooded caldera of an Antarctic Volcano.
Before approaching Deception Island the sun was shining on the mountains, we were hoping that was a sign for the whole trip.
Look how flat the ocean was.
Our first landing was to be at Deception Island in the South Shetland Island Group. On our last visit to Antarctica we had not been able to visit this as the weather was so bad. So with flat seas, porpoising penguins and a pod of orcas in the distance we were heading closer to our destination.
The bergs in the distance shone like brilliant icy white beacons. Up on the bridge we were in humpback heaven with over 20 humpbacks spotted.
Deception Island eventually came within touching distance – almost literally, as the Polar Pioneer squeezed between its narrow rocky entrance called Neptune’s Bellows and into the flooded caldera.
As we arrived at Whaler’s Bay the eerie atmosphere of this sleeping volcanic giant struck us all. Clouds of sulphurous steam rose mystically from the water’s edge, gradually revealing the dark ashen beach behind which were strewn remnants of past whaling and scientific activities. In a way it was quite sad as it was quite a junk yard. Some of the remnants have been removed and apparently there are plans in place to remove some more.
Despite the apparent bleakness, delights of beauty and life were evident in the way of fur, elephant and crabeater seals. They were hauled out on the sand. Kelp Gulls stood proudly on the top of the old boilers whilst Skuas preened. We also saw some gentoo chicks that were malting. They looked so cute.
To top it all off it even snowed lightly.
After slurping down bowls of pumpkin soup we were able to relax a while until we reached Livingston Island. Cruising in between a water border of jagged rocks, we landed our zodiacs amongst long strands of kelp on the beach (apparently very comfortable “wallow nests” for the several snoozing elephant seals). There were wonderful penguin antics for those happy to sit and survey or wallows of smelly, slovenly “blubber slugs” to wrinkle one’s nose. We were able to get within 5 metres of the elephant seals. They were grunting and groaning constantly. Cameras were snapping whenever they yawned.
Once back on ship, the subsequent boot scrubbing took some focus and energy but it was not long before we headed down to the dining room for a delicious fish dinner.

9th March
As we had a couple of days to spare seeing we could not get far into the Weddell Sea, we left the South Shetland Islands and travelled overnight across the Bransfield Strait and down the Gerlache Strait on the Antarctic Peninsula. We headed for Cuverville Island which was discovered in 1897 and named for a vice-admiral in the French Navy. We awoke early and could feel that the seas were very calm. Sunrise was beautiful with the sun shining on the white peaks.
We were greeted by more humpback whales as we arrived at Cuverville Island. There was not a breath of wind and we were indeed blessed by the sun. The whales were amazing, but you will have to wait and see.
We first cruised around the bergs and bay before arriving on the beach where we were enraptured by the Gentoo penguin rookeries.
When we visited Cuverville on our last visit it was a December and all the penguins were sitting on their eggs. It was really nice to now see the results of eggs and there were penguin chicks everywhere all losing their baby fluff, awaiting their mums to return with their food. They were really inquisitive and although we were not to go within 5 metres of them, the rules did not apply the other way around. They came right up to our feet. It was another great experience.
Meanwhile a zodiac had broken formation and kidnapped the captain. They were soon to be spotted moored to a small ice flow. Two large penguins – one in a vintage bridal dress and the other in a dapper waistcoat and tie were seen exchanging some special words whilst Captain Sasha listened on. Shaney and Chris had snuck away and got married. That same day we also had a marriage proposal on board so the ship was renamed the “Love Boat”.
The bow was the place to be before lunch, with the vistas along both sides of the Gerlache Strait so mind-boggling magnificent they were almost surreal.
It was also time for the trip photo so we were told to bring out our bright colours for the group photo. We decided to adorn our Carnivale outfits to add some colour.
By that time it was lunch time, so because the weather was so great it was decided that we would have lunch out on the bow of the ship in the sun. We had quiche and potato salad. We had to keep pinching ourselves each time we looked out – could we really be picnicking in Antarctica? To top it off we even had ice cream cones and the ice cream was actually melting from the heat of the sun. We could not have asked for a better day; weather wise.
Our evening excursion was within the peaceful Cierva Cove. It was filled almost completely with snapping, popping, crackling brash ice, it made for some fun cruising with each zodiac driver trying to pick the best course through.
We were in the zodiac with Doctor Lesley who also performs role of a zodiac driver. We managed to collect a sizeable chunk of ice which required both female members present to lower one booted foot each over the side of the boat and push. At one stage even the oars were out to try and assist. We finally got free, and had a laugh. Of course Shane made a comment about “woman drivers”.
Curious leopard seals spent time around us, and we were even lucky enough to see a seal catch a penguin for its supper and make a real mess.
We also managed a landing onto the Antarctic Continent adjacent to a dramatic glacier.
Upon returning to the ship, the weather was so good the Polar Plunge was offered up. Shane was not feeling well so did not participate he was devastated as he had been talking about it for a couple of months. So with the striking colours of the setting sun a few of the group decided to have their adrenaline fix. From naked leaps from heights above (our photographic staff member), to gangway somersaults and nose pinching plops, we all cheered the hardy souls before they gathered in the sauna to de-frost in solidarity.
We had a lovely dinner of pork belly. Doctor Lesley popped her head in to see Shane as he gone straight to bed after the zodiac trip. He popped some panadol and went off to sleep.
Words often become inadequate when trying to describe the experiences and memories from a day like today but it was spectacular.

10th March
From today we are now heading into new territory. The weather had once again changed and was extremely cold and overcast. Overnight we made our way north to the top of the Peninsula and into Antarctic Sound. There were massive ice bergs everywhere.
We were going to see if we could venture into part of the Weddell Sea. We first made it to Brown Bluff. This is situated on the eastern side of Tabarin Peninsula, the spectacular 745 metre volcanic cliffs towered over us.
Back on ship we had a hearty lunch of Pumpkin & Sundried Tomato Risotto. All carbed up we camped out on the bridge to view our approach further into the Erebus and Terror Gulf. The sight of all the tabular icebergs confirmed our entry into the Weddell Sea. It was with joy that Howard revealed that we would indeed be able to make it to Paulet Island.
This circular volcanic cone island measures 1.6 km in diameter and features two large melt lakes beyond its terraces. It forms the nesting grounds for some 120,000 pairs of Adelie Penguins, there were still some wandering about as they still needed to finish their moult before heading out to see to join their mates, but most had already left.
There was also a large rookery of blue-eyed cormorants which had prime real estate on the steep cliffs overlooking the waters below. Apart from the wildlife, Paulet is also rich in the history of Antarctic exploration, for it was here that the 22 men of Larsen’s ship Antarctic arrived on 28th February 1903 after their ship had sunk. The men wintered on Paulet, living on penguins and seals, until eventually Larsen and five of the men rowed across Erebus and Terror Gulf to be reunited with members of Otto Nordenskjold’s geological exploration party. We were able to see the remains of the stone slab hut (insulated with penguin droppings).
The chilling temperature and fading light was the catalyst for most to head back to the zodiacs. And so, the lights of the Polar Pioneer beckoned us home.

11th March
Overnight the fog had descended upon us as we headed back out through the Antarctic Sound and started our journey towards South Georgia. Our course was set for Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands on the South Scotia Sea. This is a significant place for those Shackelton admirers. It was at Elephant Island where they first hit land in their lifeboats after abandoning their crushed and sunken ship, the Endurance, in the Weddell Sea. They had been at sea for 16 months. It was also where Shackelton and five crew left the rest of the men in search of help. After a quick and delicious veggie lasagne we were all back on the bridge and bow to see Elephant Island come into view. Birds aplenty provided additional embellishment from what was a beautiful afternoon. Grey-headed and black-browed albatross soared and swooped their wing tips millimetres above the water. As we cruised past Cape Valentine where the men first put ashore, it was not difficult to understand why Shackelton and his men decided to leave shortly after their arrival – despite it being their first landing after so long at sea in their three little life boats. Shackelton described the sight of “men reeling about the beach as if they had uncovered a secret supply of rum, laughing uproariously, letting pebbles trickle through their fingers.” It was the delirium of men who had not seen land for 16 months.
We then headed for Point Wild where the men eventually set up camp under two of their upturned boats and some old tents on penguin infested land. Upon seeing Point Wild we were even more appreciative of our warm, dry ship; modern polar clothing; stable zodiacs; radio and satellite communications; and that we would not be eating penguin for dinner … and breakfast … and lunch … The weather was good to us and we too embarked on a reconnaissance of sorts to see if we were able to land at Point Wild. And we did!
Despite fighting off ravenous leopard seals; freezing winds gusting off the glacier; and the thick barrier of brash ice around the landing rocks, we hardy souls set foot on Point Wild. We were able to see a chinstrap penguin colony and there is also a memorial at the point. It was nice to have achieved this feat.
The leopard seals were amazing, we saw one in the water catching sea birds and eating them and the curious leopard seal came right up to our boat and attempted to take a bite out of the rubber. Shane got a movie of him popping up right beside him.
Our day ended with the magical light of the sun moving quickly towards the western horizon, and with fin whales providing a show and blow in every direction. Bangers and mash for dinner. Shane got his fill as they were lovely meaty polish sausages.

Posted by shaneandnicola 17:46 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Antarctica Part 1

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4th March
This morning we were due to fly 2 hours from Trelew to Ushuaia, however our flight had been cancelled. So we ended up flying from Trelew back to Buenos Aires and then Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. It was the long way around but we finally arrived in Ushuaia at 6pm. The last 2 times we had arrived in Ushuaia had been by boat and when we had left we went by road. So to fly into Ushuaia was absolutely beautiful. We flew over snow topped mountains and came in along the Beagle Channel. We made our way to the Hotel del Los Andes which was right in the main street of Ushuaia. It is such a small world as no sooner had the taxi pulled up outside the hotel this woman came rushing out of a door way saying “welcome to Ushuaia”. It was Lynn, an American lady we had met at our hostel in Puerto Piramides. She happened to be having a drink in the pub next to our hotel. So we checked in, dumped our bags and went down and had pizza and beer with her.

5th March
This morning we needed to pack our bags and have them down at reception by 8.45 as they were being collected to be taken down to the port. We did not have to be there until 4pm so had a late breakfast and then had a wander around town. We had lunch in and Irish Pub but ended up having a Picada (cold meats & cheeses). We took a relaxing walk from the main street down to the port and saw this sign.
We then sat in the passenger terminal awaiting the ok to head down the wharf to our ship the Polar Pioneer. So after months of excited anticipation we were all finally in the most southerly town in the world to start our Antarctic adventures. We have 52 expeditioners from Australia, Britain, Canada, Greece, Holland, New Zealand and USA. We have 10 Aurora Expedition Staff along with 22 Russian Crew. We were greeted by Liz who is the Assistant Expedition Leader and headed up the gang plank to room 408, our room for the next 17 days. We settled into the cabin and unpacked all our gear. We then took a walk around the ship.
Just before 5pm our expedition leader Howard called us all to the bar on deck 4 for our compulsory brief and to meet all of the expedition team. We were to receive bad news that the Weddell Sea was covered in ice, it had never been that bad before. Global warming at its best as big chunks of ice are coming away from Antarctica. So for the first few days we were going to head into the Peninsula hoping that some of the ice would clear. We were not going to make it as far into the Weddell as planned. We then had a lifeboat drill. The sound of seven short and one long beep from the ship’s horn was our signal to don bulky orange lifejackets, so we had to go to our cabins and get our life jackets and gather at the muster station on deck 4. Once our names were ticked off we climbed inside the polar life boats. These boats are fully enclosed due to the inclement weather and big waves as they could be overturned. Even without the full complement of Russian Crew joining us it proved very cosy. They shut the hatch and turned on the motor so we could experience what it would be like. We were all so close to each other, it was a good way to get to know each other.
So once this was finished, we were ready to set sail. We farewelled Ushuaia as it started to rain.
We stayed up on deck for a little while but it just got too windy and wet so we headed inside. We went to the bar for a drink and got to meet some of our fellow passengers. We all manage to make our way down to Deck 3 for dinner. You could smell the food from up on our deck, and by then we were getting a bit hungry. We had spaghetti bolognaise. It was also another good opportunity to meet more of our fellow shipmates. We headed to bed for an early night and popped some sea sick tablets as around 3am we would be hitting cape horn and heading out to the Drake Passage.

6th March
Well, what a night. It got pretty rough as we entered the Drake. It was nowhere near as bad as our Force 10 on our return trip last time; however Shane and I were still not game to venture out of bed. Apparently we were not the only ones. About 80% turned up for breakfast, although some disappeared quickly back to their bunks. Doctor Lesley was seen scurrying from cabin to cabin with her little blue bag of goodies to administer. I didn’t have a jab this time I just took the tablets the travel doctor had prescribed and they seemed to work. Lesley was lovely and even went and got cups of tea, bananas and dry bread for us so that at least we ate something. She also updated us on the journey as the captain had needed to change his course as there was a mini cyclone near the Falklands.
The great gumboot giveaway was the first activity of the day. The lads amongst the staff doubled as charming boot fitters, equipping everyone with rubber boots to keep our feet warm and dry. We were still not up to getting to this activity so once again we had some room service. By lunch time almost 50% of us were bed ridden so the mandatory environmental lecture and captain’s drinks were postponed for the day. Apparently it was extremely quiet around the ship for the rest of the day. By late evening we were blessed with calming seas. We continued to pop our pills and both got a good night’s sleep.

7th March
This morning we awoke to a slight rocking motion. The seas had calmed right down. In fact they were calmer than we had last time. The weather gods were smiling upon us and granted a serene passage for our remaining nautical miles.
We felt much better and ventured to breakfast. We were both pretty hungry so we had bacon and eggs on toast. Boy it went down a treat. With all ship mates up and about we were able to catch up on a few activities. Nigel wowed us with some penguin and seal facts. Who knew that elephant seals could dive up to 1500 metres and for 2 hours at a stretch. And the most numerous of penguin species are the king and macaroni.
Mid morning we filled our brains with the dos and don’ts for our landings both from the environmental and black rubbery gumboot perspectives. The afternoon vacuuming session proved profitable for the Hoover wielding staff, with Martin scoring one Argentinian Peso and a pair of women’s underwear. They also found a few seeds that don’t belong in the icy south.
We then had time for some bird watching. There were albatross flying around the ship.
In the evening Captain Sasha joined us at the bar for Welcome drinks. Canapes were wolfed down with a nice drink of Sappho’s potent punch. Captain Sasha welcomed us to our floating Russian ice-strengthened home, and we toasted him, his officers and crew in anticipation of a safe and exciting voyage. Our expedition leader Howard shouted “Land ahoy” and the bar emptied onto the stern. Sunsets and icebergs on the horizon were the finale for the day.

Posted by shaneandnicola 05:22 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Bahia Bustamante

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27th February - This morning we got up early to head off at 7am. This was before breakfast so Lola had left us a breakfast package to take with us. Before leaving the Valdes Peninsula we had one last stop to make. The rangers had told us about an area with several varieties of birds that were particularly active around 8am; it was on the way out of the park so we headed for Isla de los Pajaros.
We were actually a bit disappointed as we could not see many birds. There were some flamingos but they were quite a way off.
We then had a 515km journey ahead of us today. We were heading further south in Argentina to a place called Bahia Bustamante. So we first headed back to Puerto Madryn, and then on to Rawson. We didn’t’ have a map for Rawson so got lost finding our way around. There wasn’t much there but we stopped for diesel and a coffee before heading on our way. Bahia Bustamante was a further 250km south.
Not far from Rawson, the road heads up on to a steppe which becomes an unending distance between towns and petrol stations. In one spot you are surrounded by scrub and you could be in the outback at home. So we continued to drive along the National Route No. 3 until we arrived at the 1674km sign post, we then turned left onto a gravel road and drove for 40km. The road was not too bad, it was a bit slippery in places, and there was a lot of water on the side of the road so it had obviously been raining quite a bit in the last few days. We arrived at a junction in front of the sea. After turning right we came to Bahia Bustamante. It is a private sheep station in Patagonia which is about 210,000 acres. We arrived just before 3pm and were met by Matias Soriano one of the grandsons of the original owner. We were straight in to things, there was a jeep trip to the Petrified Forest about to leave so we dumped our belongings and set off with the group. We drove for an hour in the bush before disembarking from the jeep and then walked around this amazing Petrified Forest. Shane was quite tired from driving but was revitalised when he saw the forest. It is 65 million years old, it is hard to imagine. The fossilised trees were all different colours from the various minerals in the earth. Whilst returning to base Shane saw his first skunk, he said it looked just like Pepe La Pew.
Bahia Bustamante sits right on a peaceful bay. There are whitewashed houses with bright red picnic tables that line a rough dirt road along the beach. The houses back a bit were built 60 years ago for the farmhands and their families, there are now new houses only a few steps from the beach that were added more recently for guests. So upon our return from the forest we settled into our lovely little house right on the beach.
Whilst we were staying here all our meals were included. We ate in the communal dining room, which was a white washed building lined with pictures of Bahia Bustamante in the 1950s. It was really interesting looking back at the history.

28th February – It was still an overcast morning, but this morning we went by jeep a few kilometres away from the hostel to the peninsula.
It was a bit strange seeing sheep running on the beach.
We were dropped off for a lovely walk to the tip. We stopped along the way to see the 25 million year old oyster beds.
There was quite a bit of bird life and the scenery was lovely. We then returned just in time for lunch.
We had a couple of spare hours after lunch to wander around the area before we sat down for a lecture on the marine life in the area. It was a bit depressing as they showed figures on the decline in marine life in this region over the last 20 years, which is mainly due to all the fishing boats 250km off shore in International Waters. They are fishing in the same area where the animals go to eat and a lot are also killed accidently because of the nets and lines. We then headed off by jeep to an inlet where we were to take a boat trip out into the bay. When we arrived the boat was sitting in mud and we were wondering how on earth we were going to head out. However within 20 minutes the tide had come through the inlet and the boat was floating ready for us to board. We headed out into the bay where there were several islands which had birds such as flightless steamer ducks
Magallenic penguins
Kelp gulls
Oyster Catcher

We were able to get really close to the sea lions that were very curious and followed the boat.
The pups were once again on the beach learning to swim. It was almost like they were in little kindy classes.
The weather had stayed fine for the day so that was a bonus. We returned for dinner to find out that we were having Asado which means "barbecue”. They cook it much different to us. They splay the sheep where as we would put it whole on a spit.

1st March – This morning we awoke and the sun was shining. It was a beautiful morning. We headed out by jeep for a walk to another part of the property where there was a canyon near the coast. We did a walk to both areas, the scenery was lovely. Before heading back to base Mariana showed us an area where the natives had once lived, there were remnants of axe heads and sharp tools that had been carved from petrified wood. It was very interesting.
Before lunch Shane decided that he was going to have a swim despite the weather. So he braved the thigh high seaweed and rocks just to have a swim.
After lunch we headed out for another excursion, this time to Penguin Island.
When the tide is out you can walk across to the island and visit the Magallenic Penguin colony. They were making a real ruckus. Most of the penguins were out at sea fishing but there were some babies waiting around for meal time.

2nd March – This morning after breakfast we headed out to the Cape. It was another fun jeep trip and we got to see some more wildlife along the way. This included:
The Southern Crested Caracara
The Mara – This is a relatively large rodent. It is also known as the Patagonian hare. It is herbivorous. They are quite active and ran away whenever we saw them.
Upon arrival we took a walk out to the cape where there were a couple of sea lions frolicking in the sea and there was a cormorant colony. Whilst we were sitting there a baby grey fox came hunting for food. He got really close to us and stayed for ages.
You can see how close I was from this picture Shane took.
There were some lovely clear rock pools that you can swim in but unfortunately it was too cold today so we didn’t venture in. They did look inviting though.
Shane took a stroll after lunch along one of the dirt tracks to see if he could find another skunk. He was unsuccessful.
At 5pm we had a history walk around the little village. Tibor told us that Lorenzo Soriano, arrived in 1952 in search of seaweed. He manufactured hair gel and needed Agar Agar to make his products. Imports had ceased so he left Buenos Aires to explore this area that someone had told him about. The shoreline was covered for miles with seaweed. This led to the world’s first seaweed farm, with 500 workers, houses for them and their families, a school for their children, and a thriving business. In 1968, he was doing so well he bought the two adjoining sheep farms, amassing over 200,000 acres. Seaweed harvesting and sheep farming still remain the primary sources of income for Bahia Bustamante.
We then headed for one more boat trip out to see the penguins and sea lions. It is not often that you can sit in a boat and sip Malbec wine and eat Empanadas whilst watching penguins go about their daily business. It was lovely listening to all the sounds the various birds and sea lions were making. We watched a lovely sun set and returned to base for dinner.
We also took a couple of time lapsed shots so you could see the different levels in the channel.
So when we arrived for the boat trip this is what we saw.
When we arrived back after dark the channel was full.

3rd March – This morning we had breakfast and farewelled Bahia Bustamante. It had been a very relaxing place to visit. We jumped in our car and headed off back along the 40km of dirt road back to Route 3. We had a couple of rest stops along the way but made it to Trelew at 12.30. We drove straight through and headed on to a little place called Gaiman. It is only about 11 km west of Trelew. The town was founded in 1874 by settlers from Wales. Some people in the region have conserved the use of the Welsh language alongside Spanish. There are quite a few tea houses in the area. We visited Te Ty Caerddyd where back in 1995 Lady Diana Spencer made a visit.
They had lovely gardens including this large tea pot.
Whilst in Gaiman we decided to have a tea service which included sandwiches and lots of lovely cakes.
We then returned to Trelew where we dropped off our hire car. That was another part of our trip that has come to an end. We arrived at our accomodation for the night. It was a lovely little place called Casa de Paula hotel. It was very spacious. Tomorrow we head off by plane back to Buenos Aires and on to Ushuaia.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:41 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Valdes Peninsula

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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

Posted by shaneandnicola 13:41 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Ibera Wetlands

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15th to 19th February
This morning we headed for Esteros del Ibera (The Ibera Wetlands). The esteros are the second-largest wetlands in the world after Pantanal in Brazil. Since 1983, the wetlands are part of a protected area which comprises 13,000 km². Iberá is also one of the most important fresh water reservoirs in the continent. They are a mixture of marshlands, lagoons and savannah grasslands. It is home to the two Argentine species of alligator, the Yacare caiman and the broad snouted caiman as well as the capybara (the world's largest rodent) and about 350 species of birds.
This was to be a 7 hour drive. We had 5 hours of tarmac and 2 hours of dirt road. The real adventure began on the dirt road. It was amazing, as soon as we turned onto the dirt road there was an abundance of birds such as cranes, herons and pink spoonbills.
This is the Garza Rosada (pink spoonbill)
We headed for a little town called Colonia Carlos Pellegrini in the province of Corrientes.
It is a quaint little town with dirt roads and old fashioned street lights and has a population of 800 people. We arrived at the Posada Aguape which is our home for the next 4 days. It is located right on the Ibera lagoon.
Being summer it doesn’t even cool down much in the evenings and there is a nice outdoor area where we have all of our meals. As it is quite a remote place all meals have been provided and the food has been excellent. Both lunch and dinner have been 3 course meals.
They leave the left over bread out for the birds who provide us with never ending entertainment. Not only because of the variety of birds that arrive but also because of the cat and mouse games that they play, especially between the Giant Woodrails and the Southern Lapwings. As we eat our meals a lovely little Red Crested Cardinal always comes to visit, he sits right along side you as you eat.
On our first evening we walked along the little boardwalk to see the sun set and next minute we heard a big splash. We were lucky enough to come across our first caiman.
We left our room in the evening to go to dinner and we both jumped. As we opened our door 2 little toads try to hop through the door. They were everywhere and come out in the evenings. I was worried I was going to step on them. You had to gently kick them away from the door to get in and out.
The weather was extremely hot the first two days and the swimming pool came in very handy each afternoon. The first afternoon that we were sitting in the pool a capybara walked straight through the gardens, we followed him and came upon his little family with 3 babies.
We have come to the posada at a time when most of the staff are taking a holiday, but as we booked some time ago they have opened up for us and another couple so it has been great. After the second night the other couple departed and we have had the posada to ourselves, this has enabled us to really get to know Maria who runs the posada, Claudia who assists the guests on our outings and Natalia who has just arrived to eventually take Claudia’s position. We have really had some laughs over dinner and some great Argentinian wine and we have learned a lot about them and Argentina and we have tried to share some of Australia with them too.
From the left - Maria, Claudia, Shane, Natalia and me.
We had a few excursions that the posada arranged around the wetlands. On day one in the morning we took a boat tour with Jorge as our guide along the external coast of the lagoon where we saw lots of aquatic birds and capybara. We were also told that marsh deer are usually seen grazing along the coast. We were in luck.
We also got to see some caiman.
In the evening we had a night outing. We walked along “Cerrito’s trail” that led us to a native forest of Caranday palms and then we reached the lagoon coast. We enjoyed the nocturnal fauna and saw a grey fox, a wild pig, some Viscacha, lots of Caiman out of the water and Capybara grazing with their families. The one animal I was desperate to see was an armadillo. Once again we were in luck. Initially he was hiding in his burrow and I got a photo of him curled up but then to our surprise he came out. That was the highlight of the evening for me. We sailed back to the posada at 10pm in the pitch black, it was lovely as out in the middle of the lagoon it was a clear sky and we just looked up at the stars. We had not had dinner so it was Argentinian time dinner tonight. They usually eat really late at night but it is not something I could get used to.
This is the viscacha. They are rodents and look similar to rabbits, apart from their longer tails.
The armadillo.
Caiman on the bank at night
On the second day we sailed across the lagoon to the Corriente stream and sailed amongst the embalsados (floating islands). We saw lots more birds and got really close to a caiman. Our guide thinks he is about 70 years old.
Unfortunately it began to rain after lunch so we could not venture out in the afternoon. We were due to go the marshland to see a lot of water birds but it was 30km away on a sandy road. It was disappointing but there isn’t much you can do about the weather, it is the rainy season.
On our third day it was still raining in the morning so Maria took us around to the rangers station where they have an interpretation centre.
Whilst we were there this little grey fox walked in out of the rain and curled up on a chair to keep dry. He had been rescued from a farm and has befriended the rangers.
We also saw a cat following a ranger around and to our surprise it was a Geoffroys Cat, these are usually wild animals.
The weather cleared in the afternoon so we headed out in the boat across the lagoon to the Mirinay Stream. There was an abundance of wildlife. There were caiman everywhere you looked, we came across a family of capybara right on the waterfront and saw 3 marsh deer.
The fourth day was our last day at the wetlands. In the morning we returned to the rangers station and took a walk in the forest. This part of the forest was renowned for Howler Monkeys and Grey Brocket Deer. We were so lucky, we saw a family of 8 Howler Monkeys. They were quite high up in a tree but amazing to watch. We spent ages watching them.
While we were watching them a deer strolled past. I walked up the path a bit and it walked almost right in front of me.
Here is some of the other flora and fauna we saw during our stay.
The Giant Woodrail
The Golden Breasted Woodpecker
Southern Screamers
Striated Heron
Some of the water plants
This is the Monarch Caterpillar, it will turn in to a Monarch Butterfly.
Once again this was a highlight of the trip. Not only was it relaxing but the wildlife was abundant and the Posada Aguape was terrific. So on the afternoon of the 19th February we were picked up from the posada and we headed 115km to Mercedes. The first part of the drive was fantastic, we drove through flocks of herons that took flight in front of us, as we had missed seeing lots of these birds during our stay at the posada we felt that we made up for it. However the road became really bad. I am not sure how to describe this part of the trip, interesting, scary, exhilarating and muddy. At times our car was sideways on the slippery mud. But we made it to Mercedes where we will catch an overnight bus back to Buenos Aires.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:48 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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