Falling in love can be exhausting, but the past 60 hours have been absolutely amazing. I first became enamored with Patagonia when visiting the beautiful views, breathtaking mountains and stunning lakes of Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes in the Andes mountain range back in July. Now the pairs of penguins, the baby whales and the ocean airs have truly taken over my heart. Patagonia is vast and unique.
Patagonia consists of the southern most part of the Americas, located in Chile and Argentina, approximately 25% and 75% respectively. It extends from the Pacific coast across the cordillera (mountain range) to the Atlantic coast and all the way down to Tierra de Fuego. With lakes, rivers, arid plains and beaches Patagonia is rich in varied landscapes.
Day One: Penguins and Tea
Punto Tombo, where the penguins come to nest every year, was not what I expected. Upon disembarking from the shuttle, which ferried us from the informative visitor’s center to little peninsula, we were greeted with sunshine and sea air. It was not March of the Penguins — no snow and no huge mass of penguins. Instead the black and white heads of these funny little birds poked out from beneath the desert shrubs, blinking in the light. The penguins lay in the sun as if tanning on the beach. Penguins mate for life; therefore we mostly saw pairs cuddled up in dugout nests or grooming each other.
As we moved towards the water on the designated paths the penguins became more and more frequent. On the beach they lept into the waves, tumbling about in the surf until they let the waves carry them back to the beach. Oh the life of a penguin!
To contrast with our morning of natural beauty we headed to the nearby town of Gaiman for tea, tortas and education on the influence of whales. At Casa Gales de Té we took a typical afternoon tea of sandwiches, at least 10 different cakes, delicious marmalades, sweet bread, tea and good conversation. I tried everything (I had to in order to truly soak myself in the culture, right?!). The traditional ‘torta gales,’ a gingerbread/molasses-like cake with raisins, was quite tasty, but my favorite was a mocha cake made of layered chocolate and mocha cream.
Day 2: Bones and Whales
We visited the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio en Trelew the next morning to marvel at the dinosaurs that roamed Patagonia in prehistoric times. Many dinosaur bones have been found across Patagonia, some species unique to the area. We touched an enormous femur, stretched our necks to see the heads of some skeletons, wondered at the car-sized space between the legs of others and discussed the origin of the universe. There is nothing like ancient bones to get you thinking about eternity, life and purpose.
We next headed to Punto Pirámides the only populated pueblo (town) on the Península Valdés. Once out into the gulf we began to see the whales. At first the only sign of their existence were the puffs of spray as they came up to breathe. You have to be patient; whales are not showy. However, the wait ‘vale la pena’ (is worth it!). Suddenly three whales surfaced right next to the bow, their huge heads covered with barnacles just poking above the water. Although only a small part of their body showed above the surface, it was enormous!
After this group of gorgeous creatures, we also saw a mother with her pure white baby. Although born as an albino, this baby, which is 9 meters long at birth, will slowly change to the dark blue-gray of the other whales. Only a small percentage are born white; therefore we were very lucky to see this little (or huge) guy gliding along with its mother.
Although a totally different experience from my first in Patagonia, this rapid tour of Chubut, Argentina had me hooked once more. I could see myself living in Patagonia and, if not, I will certainly visit again.