Posts Tagged With: Patagonia

Day 293: Puerto Madryn – Argentina – April 6th

By the time we woke up at 6:30am, everyone (there was only 1 other person!) from the hostel was already out of bed and back watching orcas. We packed up, got ready and were on our way to the same viewing point as yesterday. Recognizing the faces from yesterday, everyone seems to have waken early for a possible round of orca beaching. We did see some orcas, but this time they were out further from the viewpoint, far from an optimal distance. Even with their 600m cannons, they could barely see what’s going on over there….And we had to return our car by 11am, so it’s time to go! We didn’t see whales, but then we’re just too spoiled if we did get to see them.

Back at Puerto Piramides, we needed to fill up the tank at the only gas station of the peninsula. Funny thing is, the gas station was empty and filling up their own tanks from the truck, and we had to wait an hour before they were ready! Ha ha…. so we spent some time at the nice little beach where in about a month, tourists can come dive inside the bay with whales! It’s not quite whale season yet so there isn’t much action.

We got back to our car rental agency, but they were closed for their afternoon siesta. Scrambling around to find a phone, we got a hold of the nice lady, called her back from her siesta and explained to her our gas mishap. We HIGHLY recommend this car rental company, Centauro Car Rentals, as it is owned by one really nice motherly lady who spoke excellent English.

Spent the afternoon resting up at El Gaulicho hostel in Puerto Madryn, which is really well run and comfy. Before we left, we cooked dinner in the well-stocked kitchen, as the #1 rule of bus rides is you never go on an empty stomach And 18hrs later, our bus will be back in Buenos Aires!

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Day 292: Puerto Piramides – Argentina – April 5th

The other main attraction of Puerto Madryn is the nature reserve of the Peninsula Valdes. The park is about an hour’s drive away from town, and is pretty desolate except for a small town and a few estancia (ranches) for tourists, it is mostly just land that’s blocked off from the public as it is mostly owned privately. Sheeps and guanaco roam the fields, and the wide dirt roads connect you around the peninsula and towards the Atlantic coast. Along the coast is where the magical appeal of this peninsula is as it is a hotbed for wildlife searching, including whales, sea elephants/lions raising pups, penguins and orcas!

As usual, the park entrance was staffed with tremendously helpful and patient rangers who can tell you exactly where to go, when to go and how. High tides are at 6:30pm at one spot, 5:30pm at the other so we should time our visits accordingly. Why? Because at high tide it’s the best time to spot Orcas beaching. This is the only spot in the world where these orcas have learned how to beach themselves onto shore to grab a few seal pups, then swim back into the ocean! CRAZY smart animals!

So hitting a less popular spot first, it was a rather unimpressive sight as the colony of sea elephants. You hear them a lot earlier than seeing them as they are hiding underneath the cliffs of the viewpoint. There weren’t many sea elephants at all, and the cool and massive males have already returned to sea, leaving us with a few pups and their nursing mothers. Not as interesting as we’d like watching marine mammals taking naps on the beach.

One cool spot is the supposed inspiration for the “snake swallowing an elephant whole” gig in the amazing The Little Prince, as the author as a pilot who flew pioneering flights up and down the Argentine coast. It is extremely impressive to see an island that looks explicitly like a hat, and then visualize it as being an elephant inside a snake. Awesome.

Most of the viewpoints now were empty, but that’s not important as we didn’t really come for colonies of sea lions or penguins, but rather the hoping we can catch a rare glimpse of orcas at their best: being predators. We arrived an hour before high tide, and by the swarm of people around the viewpoints this was the place to be. Numerous people were carrying their expensive camera equipment around, idly chatting and waiting for the moment. Massive tripods were already in place at the optimal spots, and we actually met a middle-aged man from HK who’s been here for 3 weeks, and only saw orcas hunting last night. Today, everyone is hoping for a repeat performance……

As if on cue, at around 6:30pm, the orcas started surfacing near the beach, as clueless sea lion pups swam in shallow waters while their mothers lay there napping. HORRIBLE PARENTHOOD! This was sort of like watching Jaws, except you don’t have scary musical scores coupled with awesome artistic direction, it really is just nature at it’s most interesting ways. The orcas swam around for a tense 10minutes and before you know it…. WOOSH! A massive orca (supposedly the mother of a few pups) crashes out of a wave, and within the splashes of water emerges three REALLY FUCKING SCARED pups running for their lives. It was amazing because a couple minutes earlier, the pups were still swimming happily even as the orcas were within 10m or so. We took a cool video which is too large to upload, but looking at it shows no conclusive evidence that pups were killed in this exercise! Just a mere practice run.

The funniest part during this was when the orcas came, and the HK man with his 200mm lens fought for space behind us whispered, “Ai, let’s get the big one out.” (in Cantonese). So I heard this, took a split second away from the waters to see what he was doing….and BAM. Probably the biggest lens we’ve seen, about the size of a scuba tank? Haha…hilarious.

Everyone was excited at what we just witnessed, and people with the massive Canon 600mm cannons (no love for Nikons. Not one bit!) were happiest of all as their weeks of waiting finally resulted into a clear set of pictures. From seeing the orcas to disappearing back into the ocean, it was barely a 20-30min ordeal, and we were DAMN lucky to have seen them beach, and to have taken a video at that! These people waited 3+weeks for this, we barely waited 2hrs!

Back at the hostel, we cooked up a storm while the owners brought along all their friends and had a nice BBQ. They were all workers at the nearby hotels, and one guy who spoke some English was talking to us, saying that the BBC had a full crew of 6 here, along with miniature submarines and helicopters to do the filming! He says they come every year for 2 weeks, starting at 4:30am and returning at 8pm… rain or shine! Next time we watch any of those wildlife documentaries, we would have a new found respect for the people that made it all happen. Tough job.

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Day 291: Puerto Madryn – Argentina – April 4th

There are two main sites around Puerto Madryn, and one of them would be the penguin colony we’ll be visiting today. After our rendezvous with penguins in the Antarctic, we’ve grown fond of these flightless birds and really can’t get enough of their wacky ways.

Driving an hour or so along similar Patagonian terrain, we reached Punta Tombo, a massive colony of Magellanic penguins. The national park, like most of Argentina’s parks, are well organized with good facilities to make sure everyone obeys their place in nature. Strolling through the museum, we got some good info of the variety of penguin species and their distribution within the southern hemisphere.

The location is rather strange though, as we’re used to seeing penguins with backdrops of glaciers and -2C water. These penguins are actually nesting on dirt, which resembles something similar to a desert? At first, we were rather excited to see penguins again, despite the strange desert landscape, it was still cool to see so many penguins nesting and molting.

After a while….we realized something we’ve never felt before…. We aren’t fond of these penguins! The inquisitive, crazy and cute penguins we’ve been seeing, walking clumsily around aren’t the same types of penguins as these guys! Sure, they still walk rather comically, but their temperament and colour schemes just doesn’t seem to work. They were still really cool penguins, and even now when the nesting season is almost over, there were still thousands of penguins lining the whole mountain side! During peak nesting season, this place is literally jammed packed with penguins from shore to peak!

Returning back to Puerto Madryn after a less than enthusiastic day visiting the penguins, we decided to take an afternoon detour to another Welsh colony of Gaimon, where there are several tea-houses…. =) Unfortunately, the tea-houses don’t have the usual funky Argentine hours of operations, and by 7:30pm they seem to have closed for the day….. so we wasted about 2 hours worth of driving along garbage-laden highways. Oh well, what we did do was buy some incredibly awesome lomo from Carrefour, and grilled them at the hostel. Steaks are the best meals ready in 5minutes! Throw in a bottle of Argentine malbec, easily purchased at any fine supermarket for a worldly sum of $7-$9USD a bottle, makes any dinner a magical moment.

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Day 290: Puerto Madryn – Argentina – April 3rd

Checking into the hostel, this place is totally awesome. Lightning quick wi-fi, well equiped kitchen with TWO stoves, comfy beds and clean bathrooms…and even nice staff! If you need a ‘perfect’ hostel, this one has it all, awesome facilities without trying to sell you too much (or anything?).

Probably because our day was not very interesting as we spent most of it wandering around the town looking for car rentals, except we went in the dead of siesta time and had to go home, take a nap and try again after waking up at 7pm.

The town isn’t as pretty as we’d imagine, but the town built a beautiful boardwalk lining the beach which faces the Atlantic Ocean. The waters are cold, but it’s full of life as kids play soccer, teenagers affectionately dating and full of tourists from a docked cruise boat.

We probably spent more time inside the hostel than out!

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Day 289: Bus – Argentina – April 2nd

Slept in and ate the last pieces of bread in the hotel. Spend all morning chatting with an Argentine couple in the hotel. The rest of the morning was spent lounging around the sun, reading books on our Kindle and catching up on our blog….which is still a work in progress.

Cooking ‘dinner’ at 4pm, we ate and took the 6pm bus to Puerto Madryn. From the foothills of the Andes, we’re not crossing the middle of Argentina towards a port city on the Atlantic Coast! The town itself isn’t interesting, but the wildlife reserves surrounding it makes it worthwhile to visit.

Only a 16hr bus ride, easy!

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Day 285: Villa de la Angostura – Argentina – Mar 29th

Waking up in a nice, comfy bed, we had breakfast looking out to the garden. We bid our farewells to the nice lady, who were playing with her visiting grandchildren happily in the garden, nice. Needing a bit more pesos, we asked her about where to exchange money in town, so she made a few calls, and exchanged it herself! Ha ha… nice grandma is also illegal foreign exchange player.

What she did mention to us….is that today was Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in which all of Argentina has about a week of vacation! Looking quickly online, there were still a few hotels available but we weren’t sure which city we’d arrive to in the evening, so we didn’t book anything…not a good decision!

We skipped lunch but headed over to the bar and ordered a platter for 2, which included some finger foods and two beers. What we actually got was a table full of meats, cheeses, bread and olives enough for probably 4 people on an empty stomach? Crazy! We sat there surfing the net, nursing our beers and planning our trip and writing our extremely outdated blog.

At 3:15pm, we sprung into action, heading to the nearby establishment that we came here to enjoy…. Naim Maggie. Trevelin was a town originated with a large Welsh settlement in the 1800s, and this is one of the reasons most people come to this border town. The store is still operated by Grandma Maggie’s children/grandchildren, and with her recipes. We entered as soon as the sign swung to “Abierto”, and the whole place had 3 tables including us. When the next group of people came in, they were told to come back at 5:30pm! Wow, lucky us! The tea came with several pieces of buttered toasts and two salty (!?!) scones….. with the lack of variety and the strange salty scones, we drank our tea in bitter disappointment. That was, until the massive platter of sweets showed up…. it didn’t take long before Alan devoured his share of food while Jiajia nibbled on a bit of each. We wrapped up whatever we couldn’t finish, and was totally satisfied with the meal that wasn’t dehydrated or steak.

Back on the road….and this time it was an actual road and not a dirt track! Our destination for the evening was Bariloche and its surrounding cities which are aptly named the Lake District for the abundance of beautiful scenery and lakes around it. Problem was, the roads were slowly increasing in traffic as we passed El Bolson. Originally we planned on staying here for the night but it didn’t look very pretty and even driving 10min into an endless street lined with shops, honking cars and street lights, we turned around and went back onto the highway.

Arriving into Bariloche was even more of a disappointment, as it was jammed pack with cars on both sides of the street, and people weaving in and out of traffic! This must be the true impact of Holy Week!!! We drove around, reading infinite signs of “No Hay Lugar” (No Occupancy) posted outside EVERY hotel office. We are talking…EVERY where, starting about 20km out of Bariloche there were small hotels that had the sign, and also everywhere within town as well. The hotel with an opening we checked back in Trevelin was fully booked, and we were seriously contemplating sleeping in the car for the night. It was 11pm, but with no other alternatives we drove another hour out to the next town, a smaller town which we thought may have availability. Passing through some winding roads in pitch darkness, we could feel the scenery being pretty if only there was any sun….

We drove into Villa Angostura, and the town centre was really crowded despite being midnight. The holiday spirit definitely is alive and well, and the town resembles quite a bit like mountain-resort town of Banff, Alberta. We drove around the town trying to find a place to stay, but with our guidebook managed to locate a nice little campsite outside of town… THAT STILL HAD SPACE!!!! Even though we checked in at 1am, there was still someone there at the camp office. Crazy! We pitched our tent, showered (great facilities in the campsite!), cooked up a pasta meal and were off to bed. From drnking beers at a cool bar to delicious Welsh tea to camping, what a crazy day!

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Day 284: Trevelin – Argentina – Mar 28th

Waking up, the weather outside was foggy and wet, reassuring us that not waking up for the sunrise was correct! Down at the dining room, the host brought out some really awesome breakfast. With real coffee, tasty bread and delicious jam. The whole setting reminds you of wonderful B&Bs you’d get in Niagara or somewhere warm and cozy! Talking to the host, we confirmed that she was indeed born in the village and the daughter of one of the founders of the village. This whole house was built by her father, and the craftsmanship is astounding as everything in the whole place is ORIGINAL. Our hardwood floors couldn’t last a single winter without showing signs of shitty craftsmanship, theirs lasted 50 years…. Looking around the house, it was full of interesting objects and pictures of this towns short but storied history.

We headed out, bid our farewells to the host, and wandered aimlessly around the town. There was a carpet factory tour, but they were on siesta when we got there. The town itself was very small, and lots of little hotels and shops dot the streets. Not in much of a hurry, we ate lunch at a recommended spot, and had possibly the best steak AND best beer we’ve had on this trip so far. The beer was actually produced by another child of the original founders, and never have we had such a tasty fruity lager before. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it anywhere else! And only a few restaurants have it!!! Such a shame…… and as much as we loved to stay and relax here for another day, we had much more ahead of us.

On the road for the rest of the afternoon, we made it to the Chilean border town of Futuleufu around sunset. There’s one thing that’s almost as impressive as the Chilean tourist offices, it would be their parks. Every city, town or village has a BEAUTIFUL and MASSIVE park located in the middle, with lots of public space all over. You really feel that the gov’t here is at least doing something, and seems pretty organized as well. We snapped a few pictures and headed to the road leading us back into Argentina. Getting out of Chile this time was much easier, and we got out of the office in about 10minutes before driving another 5minutes to the Argentine customs office. We rolled in, and the office pointed us to a spot to park…strange, seems like all the officers were all standing outside. When we got out of the car, they yelled at us “MAS RAPIDO, RAPIDO!”. We were confused, but never are we going not do what the customs officer says, so we ran inside and did our stuff. A slight confusion occurred with Alan’s dual passport situation, as his Cdn passport is almost running out of pages he opted to switch to his HKSAR passport, which gave the customs officer too much to contemplate. Nevermind, they were too eager to shut down and head back home as they closed at 8pm! Turns out, we got there at 7:58pm…. lucky us, as a car got turned around as soon as we got outside.

Driving into the even bigger city of Trevelin (est. 10,000 people!), we had a hard time finding the hostel we wanted to stay at. It was recommended by our guidebook, by our hosts in Puyuhuapi and the website pictures looked amazing!! Luckily, the tourist office was still opened at 8:30pm and we headed in to ask, only to find out IT HAS BEEN CLOSED FOR TWO YEARS! W T F? We had a tough time finding a place to stay, but drove around and found a really cute B&B run by an old lady in her own home…..

Cooking dinner, which was once again pasta with dehydrated soup mix, our host saw us cooking, then came in with a bag of apples saying she had too many and it was a gift to us. I think she pitied us at our meager (but tasty) meal, and gave us the apples out of kindness. What a nice lady! The apples were great too….haha!

We can’t wait til tomorrow, as the real reason we came to Trevelin lies in one, and only one reason….

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Day 283: Puyuhuapi – Chile – Mar 27th

Waking up and having some sweet freshly baked bread in our cozy hostel, we had a nice breakfast while our Polish friends already ate in the comforts of their own room. During breakfast, our host asked us “Quieren mas vida?”, and we were quite confused until she repeated “Quieren mas agua?”, which meant would you like more water. This was rather strange but every region has their own little version of Spanish, which made the ONLY graffiti we saw all of yesterday make so much more sense…. “Agua es Vida!”. Ha ha. Water is Life.

We headed out and drove to the airport located in the town of Balmaceda, a bit out from the city of Coyhaique. The Polish couple was extremely grateful, and we were also grateful for having their company. They would make their flight, and we made their day. Public transportation is NOT easy in this part of Chile, so they were happy to make Iit to the airport.

The drive towards Coyhaique are some beautiful rolling hills with farms harvesting their crops, as it is harvest season in the Southern Hemisphere. We didn’t plan on spending much time in the city of Coyhaique, but we had some errands to run to do it all. On our way into town, we saw two young girls with backpacks twice their size, and we thought “Why not?”, and picked them up! We weren’t going to the same spot so we dropped them into town centre, we later saw them working the streets hoping to collect money for food or bus? A pretty crazy way to travel….

In town, we were totally shocked by the massive amounts of traffic and the lack of parking space, both of which are never a problem in Patagonia! Stopping by the tourist centre, we got an EXCELLENT map for free , with the person speaking fluent English helping us out. He even pointed us to a great and cheap place to eat lunch! At first, he recommended us to go to a place downtown, which would’ve costed about $30CAD per person, and he made it sound like it was “reasonably priced”…. W T F? That’s SUPER expensive for lunch! Then he offered something else outside of town, and for about $5CAD we had a comfy, hearty meal cooked up by what appears to be an awesome, chubby mother. Chile is so expensive…. And what was even more surprising is that, in this town of 10,000 people…. They have a Mercedes-Benz dealership. What? Okay…

By 4pm, we were on our way out of town! We drove north, and after going past a strangely wet and humid National Park (it felt like the Amazon…but in Patagonia!), the sun started setting and we were in some pitch darkness, rounding a lake. There were some really strange buildings in the lake, and resembling something like a run-way with lights and red carpet? Yup, in the MIDDLE of the lake, so we’re thinking this must be one exclusive resort or something? There are thermal spas around here, but red carpet and flood lights floating on the lake seems a bit excessive… After driving for about an hour in the dark, we finally reached what appears to be civilization.

Our guidebook tells us this town is inhabited by about 600 people, and was formed by the hard work of 4 German immigrants back in the 1940s. Rolling into town, we turned into the first hotel, Casa Ludwig. It was the only place recommended by our guide book, but to be fair, this place was so small that it only warranted barely a page of words.

The hotel was charming, with a classic wooden interior, antique objects laying around corners, and a beautiful reading room with a fireplace warming it up. The owner was this charming German lady who spoke fantastic English, and being a very warm and welcoming host. The house was beautifully decorated, and within the reading room lays some great information about the history of this settlement, and some old photographs…. We cooked dinner, showered and huddled up in the reading room drinking mint tea and checking emails on Wi-Fi! Yes, Wi-Fi!

Honestly though, walking in the dark around the house was sort of creepy…haha!

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