After El Bolson Ben and I took the night bus over to Puerto Madryn– a pretty coastal town next to the Atlantic. Unfortunately, we couldn´t find a couch-host (as has been the case in all tourist towns in Argentina), so we checked into a hostel. Through that hostel we booked a tour of the Peninsula Valdez. That is the benefit of the hostel; booking was easy and the tour was cheaper than that of tour agency.
We did look in to touring the Peninsula ourselves, but it is impossible unless you rent a car, hitch-hike, or are crazy enough to want to walk 90 km to the entrance of the island then another 40 plus to get around it. So, we were forced to take our first guided tour in Argentina (minus the rafting in Mendoza).
We were the only tourists on the tour that day. Being the Tuesday after Easter, the tourist season was completely over, save for a few backpackers here and there. Our guide picked us up in the company Jeep, and we felt like we were going on a safari. He was a laid back local Argentine with dreads (dreds are kind of popular here, who knew) who spoke English well.
The land around Valdez is a desert. Valdez is a desert. Scrubby flatlands for miles and miles and miles is what 90% of Patagonia is. It is amazing that the Atlantic doesn´t swallow up all of Argentina until it reaches the Andes. Only about 100 meters of cliff is stopping it. I can only imagine how lost some of the first explorers must have been wandering this flat land. Back in the North West of the U.S. I am so used to character-filled land: lakes, rivers and mountains to help me navigate. I feel so lost when it comes to wide, flat spaces.
The Peninsula itself is well preserved. Peninsula Valdez is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, so that was to be expected. Sheep grazing is allowed in the center of the Peninsula, but the coastal line was untouched by the every day human.
But, the scenery was not the reason we toured Valdez. The Wildlife is what we came for, and boy did we get it. The day started off with plenty of Guanacos, a relative of the llama. They were everywhere, like deer in Idaho.
Our first stop was to see a huge sea lion colony. We watched them from the bluffs above, marvelling at their absurdity on land and grace in the water, and at the incredible noises they made. “Even pigs would have been ashamed” of these filthy animals, as Darwin put it.
Then we drove on to another beach which contained more colonies of Sea Lions and Elephant Seals. This is the exact same beach you have seen on National Geographic, Discovery Chanel, etc where the Orcas beach themselves in attempt to eat the sea lions. We stayed at that beach for about an hour and a half, waiting for Orcas, but none came. We did see some great birds, including Cormerants, Oyster Catchers and Giant Petrel Birds.
The trip continued with a drive to the Penguin Colony. On the road we encountered an Armadillo, a surprisingly adorable creature. We also encountered a big surprise when our guide slammed on his brakes and backed up “I am looking for something, it is brown and furry.” Thinking he was referring to some sort of rodent in the brush I looked on the side of the road but soon realized he was talking about a giant tarantula. I surprised even myself when I jumped right out to get a photo, saying “Ben! Ben! Get out and stand by it!.” Ben stayed in the Jeep.
Then we visited the Penguin Colony. Ben, since he was a little boy, has loved Penguins. His room was filled with penguin toys, or so he tells me. The colony we saw was his first. There were around 300 hundred penguins there in their little sand nests. We got so close to the penguins it was like a zoo–maybe two feet away from some. They didn´t seem to care we were there, it was fantastic. Ben and his 8 year old self, were very satisfied.
Our last stop was another sea lion colony, but here we were treated to the visit of a Patagonian Red Fox. What a beautiful fox, with a big bushy tail and red tinted in his fur. The fox was very tame, like the Penguins, he came within 5 feet of us without acknowledging our presence. Darwin also had this experience with a Red Fox in Patagonia, his fox was also very tame–so tame he walked up behind it and clubbed it with his “geological hammer.” The Voyage of the Beagle is actually a really great read, full of stuff like that.
In the end, Ben and I went home happy with the trip. It was expensive, but well worth it. We saw a lot of wildlife without the crowds. Our guide was great, friendly and tailored our trip to us. In short, Valdez is the sea life viewing center of South America, and well worth the visit.