The TailSeptember 11, 2017
On Friday we went on a spectacular trip to the Peninsula Valdes, a nature reserve that was once under the sea. The earth there is made up of sand and grit, and volcanic ash that drifted from distant places when the water still covered it. There is no fresh water - drinking water has to be pumped via pipeline from Puerto Madryn. Consequently, the flora and fauna is quite unique in that the plants and animals have to survive on limited rain water (it doesn't rain much) or be able to eat salty stuff. To enter the reserve, we had to pay a fee, in the same way that you have to pay to get into the Sacred Valley in Peru, but here in Argentina, foreigners pay double. As a result, the area is completely protected and sparsely populated. There is the occasional building, but mainly of an agricultural or scientific nature, and the ranch style restaurant where we ate lunch.
First stop on our minibus tour was Puerto Piramides, a tiny town with a small bay (Punto Piramide) where we caught the boat, or 'sheep', as the guide liked to refer to it, to see the whales. And we certainly got up close and personal with these gnarly beasts. I remarked to Chris before we set out, that the 'money shot' would be a tail out of the water, not really expecting this to happen. The first picture I got was just that, and it seemed all too easy to see this awe-inspiring sight. The captain of the ship would spot them from his cab and gently motor up to them, before turning off the engine. According to the guide, the whales are just as curious about us as we are about them, and so it appeared, because they happily continued splashing, diving, swimming, and generally 'enjoying themselves' as close to the boat as we thought it possible for them to get, given their great size. Almost close enough to reach out and touch, so close that we could count their barnacles, see up their nostrils and feel the mist of their spout spray. The whales only travel to this area to breed. The adults do not even interrupt the fun to eat - they have stocked up for months elsewhere before swimming to the bays of the peninsula. Consequently, we mainly saw families, mothers and babies, and even saw two mating. "Can you see the penis?" the guide kept saying, "It's pink". Chris said he did. He fibbed - you wouldn't think you could miss something as big as a whale penis, but we did! What we did see however, was an unusual, grey-coloured family pod, one of which had darker spots on its fin like an haricot bean.
Next we drove along the stone road that runs horizontally across the south of the peninsula. Here the 'bus ranger guide' pointed out the most amazing wildlife. We saw the guanaco, the largest of the camelid family (the group that includes alpaca, llamas and vicuña), herds of them. They have the colour and elegance of a vicuña, but the height and breadth of a llama or alpaca. We also saw the mara, an animal that is a little like a guinea pig, but has long back legs that give it the appearance and movement of a rabbit, but they are large, bigger than a hare. The first one the guide pointed out to us happened to be running by a tiny white owl that was perched on a bit of scrub nearby. See pic.
We briefly stopped at a viewing point, to see the sand spits that connect the peninsula with the mainland, and to see the elephant seals that live there, from afar, but our final stop was for lunch at a beautiful farm restaurant, surrounded by a ground cover of autumn-coloured succulents and saw-edged cacti (with a model of a dinosaur out the back). Here we ate the most delicious lamb stew, before walking across a moorland ridge and over the edge of a sand dune, to a shelf like area a few metres above the beach, which was crowded with elephant seals - sunbathing, or covering themselves in sand with their flippers. We slowly made our way back up the steep sand cliff before heading home, first across another stone road higher up the peninsular, and finally, the main road, back to Puerto Madryn.
What a tale to tell!Read more