Puerto Madryn: Dolphins and penguins and whales, oh my!

Puerto Madryn was amazing. Just… amazing. Money disappeared like water, but it was worth it (I hope!).

We stayed in a really sweet hostel/B&B that was one of my favourite places we stayed in so far. It just seemed really homey and nice. After a bit of a grumpy, groggy day (while Argentina’s buses are fabulous, it still doesn’t really lead to the amount of sleep and feeding that I require for a good mood), we booked our trips.

20131030-204322.jpgOn Sunday, we went to Peninsula Valdes – whale-watching on a boat, and then to see a colony of elephant seals and a small colony of penguins. This was… epic. We saw a mum and baby whale, right up beside our boat, coming up for air and leaping. The elephant seals were a good bit further away, on a beach as we watched from a cliff. But still… we saw loads of them, huge males, and females with babies. We were also super lucky at this viewpoint, as a pod of orcas passed by right when we were there! Apparently this never happens, and especially not at this time of year! They were too far away to photograph properly (you can see blurs if you squint!), but it was amazing to watch. The penguin colony was tiny, but we saw a few of them with their eggs. Although I didn’t feel well all day – I thought I was getting a cold but it has since disappeared, so I guess it was bus-related grottiness – I was so happy.

20131030-201334.jpg Then, drama ensued! We’d been picked up earlier than normal from the hostel because it was election day in Argentina, and it’s mandatory to vote, so the guides and driver needed to be home before six to vote. The guide had seemed a bit preoccupied by getting home all day (although she was still very good). It all seemed to be on track… until we pulled in at the side of the road and were asked to get off the van… We’d gotten a puncture. Well. As you can see in the picture below, it wasn’t just a puncture, the whole tyre was ripped to shreds. The driver changed it and 20 minutes later we were on the road again… for about 10 minutes.

20131030-201351.jpgThe spare wheel wasn’t able to take the weight of the people. Three of the people in the van were Argentinian and ended up hitchhiking back, so they could vote. The guide called the agency who were sending out a car, but you could tell she was worried that it wouldn’t come for her and the driver in time. At this point there were twelve of us stuck and it was coming up to 5pm – and it took an hour to get back. Two of our number managed to grab spaces on a bus that was heading back – for the life of me I can’t figure out why the driver and guide didn’t take those spaces, but I guess they were responsible for us.

Eventually, just as the van driver had hit desperation and was putting us back on the van, seating at the front so that the wheel wouldn’t be over-worked, the car from the agency arrived. The driver of the car drove the van back slowly – and the ten of us piled into the 7-seater car. It was a rather squashed and nerve-wracking journey, not least because speed limits in Argentina seem to be suggestions rather than rules – but we made it in one piece. The guide made it to her polling station with about 3 minutes to spare – not so the driver, however. We pulled up to his at about 30 seconds past 6 o’clock, with us all shouting encouragement at him… but they wouldn’t let him in. We offered to storm the doors, but it was a no-go. I don’t know what happens with this now – hopefully the agency pay his fine or sort whatever trouble he is in. It’s not his fault.

The following day we were picked up in a car – not sure if that was the original plan or if the bus just was still out of action! – and brought first to a boat trip to see tiny black and white dolphins and then Punto Tombo to see a giant colony of penguins. We had debated a little whether we’d take the boat trip, as it was reasonably expensive and we had been on a boat the previous day, but we were so glad we did. It was amazing – the dolphins were basically playing with us! They came right up beside the boat and jumped and did somersaults and twists in the water. It was just amazing to watch. Again, we’d been lucky. Sometimes, we were told, the boat has to search for miles to see the dolphins. Our day, they found us! We also saw sea lions along the shore, waiting for the boats to come in with fish for them!

The penguins were also amazing – you basically walk 2km on a wooden pathway and you’re going right through their nests. Sometimes they cross the path in front of you. They’ve no fear at all, you’re meant to stay 1m away from them at all times, but they come way closer to you. It was so cool. We finished the day by visiting Gaiman, which is a town set up by Welsh immigrants and had Welsh tea – which was so nice. Beautiful cakes and tea like you’d have at home. Nom.

Again, I didn’t want to leave – especially to embark on a 24-hour bus journey – but we had to. And here we are in El Calafate, with a trip to a glacier booked for tomorrow!

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