Sea Lions, Whales, Penguins, Oh My!

I have to admit, on my first trip outside of Buenos Aires, I was a little bit nervous. After all, as I wrote in my last post, “Off She Goes,” I knew that no matter how much I planned, something was bound to catch me off guard on my trip. But what I didn’t realize was that, in the end, what would end up catching me off guard was that my journey to Puerto Madryn was even better than I expected.

We started off leaving from the Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires. For a 20-hour bus ride that should have been largely uneventful, I actually ended up enjoying myself a lot. I met a very nice hippie (with a head full of dreadlocks, of course) from England, saw a movie I’d been dying to see (Elefante Blanco or “white elephant” about a villa (slum) in Buenos Aires), and even managed to get a good night’s sleep. I also was lucky enough to get the best seat in the house-the very front seat on the second floor- where I had a full view of the road and a place to put my feet up. But, by far, the best part of the ride was after sunset. Free from the light pollution of Buenos Aires, I was able to see the stars for the first time in two months. I sat in awe, and, although it may sound cheesy, felt really happy to be alive. I guess I never really fully appreciated the stars until they were gone!

Best seat in the house!

20 hours later we arrived, dropped off our bags, ate dinner, and decided to explore a bit. My host mom had told me that there was a beached whale, so I asked some locals where we could find it. With a flashlight, we walked along the beach until we came across, to our surprise, not a live-beached whale, but the large, rotting carcass of a baby whale. It was eerie to hear the cries of live whales from the bay calling out in the darkness as we looked on to the dead baby whale; its belly was swollen from decomposition and flies buzzing around its open mouth. But at the same time, it was comforting to hear the soft crash of waves on the beach-a sound I had missed so much from sailing in Madison. After the chaos of Buenos Aires, the tranquility of the beach was such a relief.

The next day we woke up early and, following my plan, took a bus to Puerto Pirámides (north of Puerto Madryn) to see the whales. Like every good tourist to this area, we took a whale-watching tour. It was absolutely stunning. We were lucky enough that we had excellent weather-little wind, no rain, and lots of sun. And because it was so sunny, the water was very clear and blue, making it much easier to see the whales. We must have seen at least 10 whales. Every couple of minutes the motor of the boat would shut off, and I would see the slow, distinct rise of a whale’s head as it surfaced for air, followed by its tail. We also toured the cliffs nearby, seeing the triangular cliff after which Puerto Pirámides (or “Pyramid Port”) was named, along with a group of penguins basking in the sun. And just as we were returning to the beach to disembark, a baby whale surfaced near us and began playing underneath our boat. It was so close, I could practically reach out and touch it, and I even managed to get sprayed as it came up for air. The tour was only supposed to last two hours, but with the baby whale under our boat we couldn’t turn the motor on and return to the port. So the tour ended up being a half hour longer! If I get the chance to go back, I’ll have to thank the baby whale for letting me get my money’s worth!

The first (live) whale I saw!
Penguins basking in the sun on the cliffs of Puerto Pirámides.
Baby whale playing under our boat.

After we came in from our tour we hiked the nearby cliffs, admiring the beautiful bay. We then drove along the Peninsula Valdés to Punta Cantor, where we hiked the arid trails until we reached an outlook where we could see and hear the cries of elefantes marinos (sea elephants) lounging on the beach below. The sun was starting to set, and the view of the ocean from atop the cliff was absolutely breathtaking.

Hiking in Punta Cantor.

With only a little bit of time left before it was dark, we drove another 10 minutes north to Caleta Valdés, where we were able to stand only an arm’s length away from a large group of penguins nesting on the cliffs.

Seeing the penguins at sunset at Caleta Valdés.

At this point I’ll admit, I am not usually an animal person (which yes, may sound strange after I described all the events on this trip). But seeing all of the wildlife in Puerto Pirámides was exciting and at the same time extremely soothing. And as we drove back Puerto Madryn that night, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about all of the animals I had been lucky enough to see that day.

With only one morning left before our dreaded 20 hour return trip to Buenos Aires, I decided to wake up really early and spend a little time on the beach alone. Even though it was freezing, I kicked off my tennis shoes and walked along the beach, watching the sunrise. A little while later, just as my friend joined me, we were lucky enough to spot two whales in the bay. Words can’t even describe how beautiful it was to watch their heads slowly rising against the pink and orange sky. We walked along the beach, talking and pointing excitedly as the whales edged closer to shore.  I’d say it would have been pretty hard to spend our last few hours in Puerto Madryn in a better way.

Sunrise at the beach in Puerto Madryn.

And now, after another 20-hour bus ride, here I am again in Buenos Aires, feeling rested and refreshed after having spent some time in the great outdoors. I could not be more thankful for having such an amazing weekend in Puerto Madryn. I’d say it was a very successful first trip!

A great first trip!

From your whale-watching traveler,