The day after Ben’s birthday we leave Buenos Aires for the second time and take along overnight bus south to Puerto Madryn, the main coastal town on the edge of the huge Peninsular Valdez.
It’s an especially tiring day for everyone, usual packing dramas, Martin suffering with a nasty bout of man flu, check-out is awkward because it’s Sunday, the office is shut and by the time we’ve dragged all the bags to the owners apartment to store, there’s barely time to get brunch and we wish we hadn’t bothered! We dash around the quiet city to find an open cafe for brunch and spot an open Starbucks. When we finally board the coach two hours later, our exhausted 5 year old has a spectacular little (well big actually!) tantrum (what was it about? I’ve no idea now, maybe having to put a seat belt on, or not having a window seat) leaving us cringing with embarrassment while a stroppy lady clenches her fist and mutters her disapproval in the adjacent seat. She gets her own back later by snoring for half the night more loudly than Lara was wailing! Agghh! It’s not always plain sailing but its soon over!
The kids watch a movie, Martin sleeps and I do some blogging and eventually snooze my way through the night, waking to enjoy a pretty sunrise across the pampas and sea.
When we arrive, early next morning, all much refreshed, it’s clear we’ve come a good distance south because there’s a definite drop in temperature and there’s a welcome chill in the air! It’s actually a pleasure getting out my fleece and I’m struck by how it reminds me of a beautiful sunny Autumn day back home.
We hang out in the smart bus terminal to check out bus and tour company’s, then get taxi to Hotel Ruca Hue. We have a simple, 2 bedroom apartment in a residential area on one side of town. Perfect and great value with really friendly owners.
We shop at the local supermarket, find the lavanderia to put in an enormous bag of washing then go back into town, spend ages on beach, stop for coffee, discover Ben’s new Uruguay ball has been lost on beach, buried in their spectacular sand castle but then washed away by the tide or picked up whilst we were at the cafe – he’s devastated:(
We pick up our first rental car of the trip, drive out to a seal lion colony and a shag colony. Impressive if you hadn’t been in the Galapagos, then eat a disappointing dinner in town. I guess it was just one of those days!
Next day we drive south, stopping at a Welsh settlement town of Gaiman. A very helpful guy in the tourist information office showed us what to visit around town so we rather irreverently do a drive by of the first house (now a museum), first school (still a school), town square, chapels, river and a few tea houses who sell an expensive traditional tea for £10-15 a head in which you get pancakes, cakes, sandwiches and tea! There’s only one open as we are a bit early so we decide to skip it altogether as a simple cuppa is apparently not an option!
We see a proud ‘lady Di was here’ sign , and head out through farmlands and river to the main road and south to Punta Tombo Magellanic penguin colony and our cynicism instantly lifts.
Punta Tomba is simply amazing, one of the largest pengiun colonies in the world and we walk amongst huge numbers of nesting/fledgeling birds who are just as inquisitive about us as we are about them! It’s a bit wet and we huddle in our raincoats as they huddle in their oily coats and shed their fluffy feather read for migration! There is something human like about penguins and we even find one that seems to copy us!
It is a real highlight, but back in the car for a long drive home in the rain, the kids are totally hyped, fighting and yelling. When we’re back in Puerto Madryn, we decide Dad and Zoe will get a night out, but Ben blags his way into going too and they have a superb italian meal at El Almendra, No 1 on Trip Advisor while Lara and I stay in and have egg, bacon and bedtime stories and I get some quiet time to myself and do a little blogging!
The weather isn’t great but next day we make a day trip to Peninsular Valdez – it’s a long off road drive through the wild and uninhabited peninsular to the coast. We stop at a cool museum at the national park entrance and learn about the amazing sea life in the region.
The main purpose of the trip is to see elephant seals and hopefully Orcas, aka killer whales. We knew we were off season to see the remarkable southern right whales, but right in season for the Orcas. At the Northern tip of the peninsular, they often launch themselves only the beach to grab a seal or penguin around high tide. We arrive just in time for high tide.
But alas they are not coming today! And there are no elephant seals either:(
Walkways have been built so far from the sealions that you half wonder if you’re missing an elephant seal amongst them and the park wardens are a miserable bunch too. It,s cold and windy,with skiddy roads, thank god for Martin’s good driving ! He says the driving is a highlight – but we certainly wouldn’t want to skid right off or we’d land in a pretty deep ditch and the insurance excess deposit is substantial!!
We make the long drive back across the wilderness as the sky blackens and wind and rain pick up and we’re rewarded by a stunning rainbow, we call by sleepy Punta Pirimedes, the only town on the peninsular but it’s so quiet, we’re happy to get back to Madryn and stop for nice meal in town as we’re too tired to shop n cook!
Next day is freezing cold and wet. The heating needs to go on! No-one feels like going on a boat to see dolphins as tentatively planned!! So we stay in and the kids play, write postcards and diaries. Lara and I shop at the nearby panaderia (bakery) for lunch and later we head to the Ecocentre Museum which is great. Displays are in English, really educational, we see full size whales through clever filming to look like a tank, orcas coming up on Punta Norte beach to catch sealions where we went yesterday, we learn about the tides and the ocean – 90% of oceans are below 50m and out of sunlight, 80% of deep sea creatures are bio-luminesant and how the tides are controlled by the position of the earth + moons connection to the Earths gravity…. and if that wasn’t enough the kids are fascinated spotting mini sea creatures in an indoor rock pool.
Then we head back along to the town centre beach and playground. Lara makes friends, Ben runs with me for a bit up the beach, I run for around 10 minutes, Zoe does handstands and cartwheels, then beats me in a short sprint!! I’m getting old! We find an artisan pasta shop and have a tasty dinner in!
The next day is our last, a late start and a killer to pack and leave! There’s only time for a visit to another playground on the beach and a picnic and I manage another run of about 12 minutes. It’s going to take some hard work to get back into a running routine. Its 5 months since I fell and needed stitches in my knee in the Galapagos and it’s 99% healed. I simply need to find the time and motivation to run regularly again!
We drop the car back and walk to the bus station … The bus is over 2 hours late but no-one really minds as the kids run around with luggage trolleys and we get some reading time sitting in the sun. It’s an overnighter and we booked Cama seats downstairs… but unlike other services we’ve been on, rather lacking, no blankets, pillows or curtain although food is great but served too late (after 11!!) for girls to stay up for!
We’ve been unlucky with weather and wildlife in Puerto Madryn and the Peninsular Valdez but still seen more than enough to enjoy our visit and to want to return. The beach is divine and we would come back in whale season in a flash where I gather you can even see them from the beach and the pier. There is plenty of other wildlife to enjoy – penguins, guanaco’s and armadillos to name but a few but more about them in Ben’s upcoming wildlife post.