The sun dried my wet feet as I lay on the shore, hearing the soft crash of waves and an occasional burst of water from the blowholes of nearby whales. When I opened my eyes and sat up, I could only see an endless horizon of blue – the deep navy of the ocean lined up perfectly below the clear turquoise sky. The city of Buenos Aires seemed light years away from me. It is the crisp and simple sights such as this that can put happiness into perspective better than anything in the city can. I pondered if I could stay here forever.
It’s hard to put into words how amazing my experience in Puerto Madryn was. Patagonia most definitely possesses plenty of natural treasures and the area of the Peninsula Valdes in the Chubut province of Argentina is one of them. The city of Puerto Madryn itself is a quiet resort town situated on the eastern Atlantic coast of Argentina. Welsh immigrants founded the city in the mid-nineteenth century and there is still a distinctive Welsh influence in the entire Chubut province. Most of the peninsula’s land area is barren, flat, and dry; but once you see the coast its easy to understand how the real attraction of the area lies in the natural beauty and wildlife of its gulf.
A plethora of marine mammals call the shores their home. It’s like all the animals that usually hang out down in the Antarctic region come up to mate and heat their bones during the warmer summer months here. Who knew – even marine mammals need their summertime! Sea lions, penguins, whales, and elephant seals all reside on the coast of the Peninsula Valdes for at least part of the year. And after a surprisingly painless 20 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires (wide seats, man, they make a difference), we got to experience just about all of these magnificent creatures.
Since we had no plans on the first day we arrived, we took the opportunity to visit nearby Punto Lomo, the sea lion reserve. There I witnessed a scrappy little sea lion try and fight the big alpha male. The little dude didn’t give up so easily! He must have read the David and Goliath story at some point (if sea lions could read, that is). There were probably about seventy-five or so sea lions on the Punto Lomo beach, but we could only see them from an observatory point on top of a nearby cliff. And after seeing that alpha male get his Mike Tyson on, I understand why they put tourists a safe distance.
The next day, we woke up bright and early to head out to Punto Tombo, the penguin reserve. If you ever visit here as a student, remember to take your student visa with you because instead of paying the extranjero price of sixty pesos, you only have to pay six (ten times less!) since your visa gives you temporary residency. While my friend Madeline and I remembered ours, the other girls in our group didn’t. Needless to say, it was one of those ‘for-the-win’ moments for Madeline and I.
Anyways, back to the penguins. Now I really dislike birds for the most part – they’re spastic, can fly in your face, poo everywhere, smelly, not cuddly. But penguins are different! They can’t fly into my face, they pretty much just chill on their tummies and soak up sun or hang out in their shady nests, and they are all chubby and snuggly looking (even though we weren’t allowed to touch them). And at Punto Tombo, there are about 100,000 Magellanic penguins that travel north from the straight of Magellan during mating season to make home on the reserve. We spent about 3 to 4 hours walking along the gravel path and since there is no fence around the path you can get pretty intimate with the penguins strolling around. It took quite a bit of self-control not to kidnap one of the little guys to take him home with me.
The following day, we were picked up early from our hostel to go kayaking with some ballenas, or whales. Peninsula Valdes has a few different species of whales that swim its shores but for the most part, Southern Right Whales make up the majority population, and that is the species we saw. This was definitely my favorite part of the whole Puerto Madryn experience; as cute as the penguins were, it is hard to top kayaking hardly twelve feet away from an enormous whale. We even saw a mother and her baby swimming near us. What really surprised me was how close the whales would swim to the shore – I get now how so many whales get beached. The entire kayaking excursion was unreal – I looked to one side and saw sand cliffs intricately carved by the crashing waves, and to the other side, glittering ocean for miles.
Also on our kayaking adventure, we finally got to experience some sea lions up close and personal! At one point the wind started blowing against us; Madeline and I (kayak team) were struggling hard to keep up. My arms were on fire, the wind was chafing my face, and I wasn’t sure I could keep up much longer. The only thing that inspired us to keep paddling was these four sea lions that stayed by our side during the entire struggle. Completely serious folks, these sea lions hung around our little kayak, swimming around us and popping their heads up, for the entire half hour or so that it took for the wind direction to change. It was like a scene straight out of Little Mermaid! Madeline and I continued to chant ‘SI SE PUEDE!’, which means ‘yes you can’ in Spanish, until we arrived back to shore.
Any description I try to give about this trip won’t do it justice, so just check out the video below and the photos. I got the chance to hang out with some awesome girls, visit one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, interact with animals I would have never seen otherwise, and make some unforgettable memories. The air was fresh and cleansing, and for once, having a sunburn felt like an accomplishment. It’s easy to forget about the beauty nature can create when you’re so caught up with all that a big city has to offer. But after being in Buenos Aires for nearly a month, I was thankful for the chance to reconnect with the natural setting around me. I could re-live that weekend over and over again, but it is better to simply look forward knowing that many trips like this one lie ahead in the coming months of my trip here in Argentina.