This was one of our most bittersweet locations. Here we had one of our best days, and one of our worst. Unsurprisingly, the ‘one of our worst’ took place the day after the two 20-hour bus journeys…!
The bad and the ugly
So we arrived at 7am, bleary eyed from the epic bus journey, and too many Spanish dubbed films (Liar Liar being a particularly hilarious dubbed version.. Jim Carrey has never seemed more crazed and inane!) and too many clingfilm-wrapped meals.
It was clear as we travelled on the bus that we were entering a different kind of place – Patagonia is known for its expansive nothingness, and as the colourful towns of mid-Argentina dropped away, the view became bleak as the sky and ground became the same colour, all sandy and neutral. But on arrival, the town seemed nice enough – a pretty little seaside town in Peninsula Valdes, an area of Patagonia famed for its wildlife filled East Coast, and barren shrublands. We checked into the hostel and walked along the beach, and saw a cute little school trip of kids skating and cycling along the beach front. Already felt a lot more ‘real’ than Puerto Iguazu! We went back to the hostel to check into our room, only to find we’d been given a twin room with bunkbeds (yaaaay!)… so not the ‘twin beds pushed together’ eventuality we’d hoped for. But still, we remained positive. We asked about tours, turned out tours were about $560AR tour + $160AR park entry (about 60 quid) per person! Inexplicably, way more than Iguazu Falls. We subsequently found that restaurants in town were also way spenny. Way spennier than BA even (which, as the capital, you wouldn’t expect!)… But STILL, we remained positive.
Then, DISASTER struck!! We went to sit on the beach and decide which tour we’d like to go for, and had just settled on the beach when I managed to drop my camera into the sand, lens open. I completely lost my shit. It did an excruciating part-close accompanied by a horrible crunching sound. I started crying and threatening to book a plane ticket home (obviously a totally reasonable reaction..!), and the next few hours were a ruthless combination of us trying to fix the camera, work out options of buying a new camera, and generally still have a chilled day before a tour the following day! The details of how we managed it are on another article in this blog, but long story cut short, Sam managed to fix the camera using a business card, piece of paper and a toothbrush!
Feeling totally drained (and now completely sunburnt due to the drama taking place on the beach!) we decided to cook some gnocchi at the hostel then hit the hay.
The tour itself was absolutely fantastic, and one of our best days so far. We opted for the Punta Tombo tour, which is a close-up visit to the largest colony of penguins outside of Antarctica. (The alternative was a more distanced tour around Peninsula Valdes park to see the mad looking elephant seals and a few penguinos, but not as many)
They’re called Magellanic penguins – a species that settled here a while ago and decided to stay, so the family who own the land built a national park around them. They come there to breed, then live between here and Brazil. We were there in breeding season, so optimum number of penguins and optimum cuteness levels!
The great thing about the park is that you can get right up next to the penguins – there’s a pathway that cuts through the park, and you’re surrounded by millions of penguins as far as the eye can see, and they waddle across the path the whole time and are right next to you!
We saw tiny chicks, adolescents, oldies, all hanging out on the soil, swimming in the sea (seeing them dive in and out of the sea has to be top 10 cutest things of all time), and doing cool stuff like ‘sneezing’ which is actually getting salt out of their eyes, and waterproofing their coats using a substance from their tails! Genius.
We learned loads of cool facts from our brilliant young 21 year old (!) guide – like penguins have white tummies so they look like the sky to predators below them, and black backs so they look like the sea to predators above! It was really nice being on a tour and having the commentary, finding out about the area… Peninsula Valdes is so unpopulated the Argentine government used the town of Puerto Madryn as an experiment, as the first town to receive mains gas, because, as our guide put it ‘if it blew up, no-one would notice!’ BLEAK.
On the way back, we visited a bizarre Welsh-founded town called Gaiman where people went for a spenny afternoon tea, but we went for a sit by the river instead, and for a walk around the strange toy-town surroundings. Apparently people there still speak Welsh! Not sure how much of it is just a tourist trap though…
The “Welsh town” of Gaiman
In the evening, we treated ourselves to a meal out (we were suffering steak withdrawal) and found our best steak yet! But it was coupled with the worst sausage I have ever eaten, so swings and roundabouts huh? Think the waitress thought us Brits would just want a gristly piece of grossness instead of the chorizo we were craving! Ah well, can’t win ’em all. Also the meal was super expensivo compared to BA which gave me the backpacker guilts (especially given the cost of the tour!)
We couldn’t work out a direct way to get to our next location, so we decided to wing it with a bus halfway, and hope for the best when we got there… Onwards and upwards!