A cautionary tale for those who would whale watch
I had never seen a whale before and I knew one of the highlights was going to be a boat trip from the Peninsula Valdes. The photos I would take! It would be an unforgettable experience! Well, as it turned out, it was, but not quite the way I had imagined it.
It started out OK; we arrived in Puerto Piramides just before a boat was leaving, so we decided to head out before having lunch, which turned out to be a good decision. We were slowly pushed out into the sea by a tractor. So far so good.
Very soon after we were out on the water, we saw a whale and her calf. Even as I was taking the first photos, I started to feel dizzy. The dizziness got worse to the extent that I thought I was going to faint. I soon had to put away my camera and focus on not getting sick. Also most of the photos looked something like this (this is actually one of the better ones).
I had never been on a relatively small boat on the ocean before, but I hadn’t thought of the possibility of getting sea sick. Neither did I expect to feel such a sense of panic at the thought of seeing the shore so far away. I had been advised before getting on the boat to wrap up as it would be cold and windy. The fact that I was wearing several layers under my lifejacket probably contributed to my getting seasick. But despite removing the lifejacket and one of my jackets (yes I was wearing two, as well as a light sweater), I suffered from nausea and dizziness for the rest of the one and a half hours or so that we spent on the boat.
And so I sat, with my head leaning against the side of the boat, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the whales, which did have a kind of calming effect and helped me get through the rest of the trip. I never thought I would have to “get through” something I had been looking forward to for so long!
Lessons learnt from this experience:
1. Don’t wrap up too warmly despite what you are advised. Better to be a bit cold than miserable with sea sickness. And you can always bring an extra sweater or scarf in your bag. Remember that you will also be wearing a heavy life jacket.
2. Bring motion sickness meds the next time.
In search of the end of the world (part 1)
Once back on dry land, I recovered quickly and I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in Puerto Piramides. Within the space of an hour or so the town went from bustling, noisy, milling with people to emptying out almost completely leaving a slightly eerie, almost ghost town-like air. I say “almost” because I don’t think any place which has such pretty coloured buildings can really be described as a ghost town.
We drank mate and enjoyed the views, imagining (like I always do when I travel) what it would be like to live here.
Before coming here, one of the images I had in my head of Patagonia was a place at the end of the world. I know that this normally refers to Ushuaia, but I felt I was approaching this as I looked out at the sea, sitting on the shore surrounded by the eroded cliffs from which Puerto Piramides got its name.
In search of the end of the world (part 2)
We were staying in Puerto Madryn, about an hour from Puerto Piramides. We went on day trips most of the days we spent here, but Puerto Madryn itself, as well the immediate surroundings are well worth spending some time in. I’d suggest having at least a day to spend here and exploring the surrounding beaches, many of them practically deserted when we visited.
Another reason to stay a few days is that access to the Peninsula Valdes closes when the weather is very windy, meaning that you will not be able to get to Puerto Piramides.
Not far from Puerto Madryn is Punta Loma, where you can look down on a colony of South American sea lions. And here I had it again, that feeling of being close to the end of the world. Here even more so, perhaps because of viewing this striking part of the coast from above. I’m including a video so you can see for yourself … and hear the sea lions 🙂
The Welsh Connection
On the way back to Puerto Madryn we stopped at the Museo del Desembarco, which is located close to where the Mimosa arrived in 1865 with the first Welsh settlers. The small museum tells the story of that voyage, which saw weddings, two births and even death during its two month duration. Museum exhibits also cover the early history of the first Welsh colony which developed in what is now Puerto Madryn. The sun was setting as we left the museum and we spent some time walking along the shore.
The Welsh influence is still obvious in this part of Patagonia, with place names like Puerto Madryn, Trelew, Gaiman and Rawson, where you will find signage in Welsh and having high tea in one of the cafés is considered a must-do when you’re in this part of the world.
If you are interested in finding out more about the story of the Welsh settlers in Patagonia, you can find a very complete article here. For an account of the voyage itself, have a look at this article, written by Susan Wilkinson, the great-great niece of the doctor on board the Mimosa.
We spent an afternoon walking around Gaiman (pictures above), where you can walk through the former train tunnel, itself now a museum (with audio commentary available in Spanish, English and Welsh).
Trelew is most known for its huge dinosaur museum, but I have to admit I didn’t go in, choosing to go to the town’s small history museum instead. It’s located just behind the old railway station.
Give way to penguins
The farthest we went from Puerto Madryn was to see the Magellan penguin colony at Punta Tombo. This is about three hours by car, but definitely worth the journey. It’s the largest Magellan colony in the world and the landscapes are spectacular.
It can be cold and windy here, so definitely wrap up. Even if it’s warm in Puerto Madryn, there can be a significant difference in temperature.
Once inside the nature reserve, there is a marked pathway that you need to stick to.
Follow the ranger’s advice and do not take too many photos just after entering thinking this is the only opportunity you will have to see a penguin. Or take a spare battery with you because you will see penguins everywhere and they will happily pose for you.
You can easily spend an hour or more to do the full circuit if you’re not in a rush.
And finally, if a penguin does cross your path, remember that here, they have right of way.
And finally here is a short video for those who would like to see the little guys in action:
This concludes the series of posts on my trip last year to dance tango in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, as well as my favourite places in the Argentinian capital, where to go if you need a break from it and why I think you should visit Montevideo. Thanks for reading and as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
2 thoughts on “Give Way to Penguins: Five stories from five days in northern Patagonia.”
Oh wow, this must have been such an amazing experience to see the whales with your own eyes!! Thanks for sharing this with us. I also wrote about whales once, if you are interested: http://effcaa.com/the-superpower-of-whales/
thanks finja! That’s a very thoughtful piece. It’s true that despite feeling really sick while I was on the boat the sound of the whales had a calming effect. A unique experience, just not what I had imagined, as is often the way!