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Posted by Tim on May 12, 2005
Five Days in Puerto Madryn

As mentioned previously, we arrived in Puerto Madryn on Tuesday, March 29th, and the first thing we did after getting off the bus (not counting arguing with the baggage handler or hitting the bathrooms in the bus station) was to wander around looking for a place to stay.


Puerto Madryn, Day 1

We first spent a little while making our way to a number of the hotels listed in our Lonely Planet Guide (three years out of date but still worth its weight in gold), then stopped in at the visitor's center. Many visitor's centers, we've found, have listings of the rates and amenities for every place in town, and this one was no exception. We marked several more places down on our map, and headed off again...

In the end, we found ourselves outside of the El Gualicho youth hostel. For all of our hard work, this was just some place we'd picked up a flyer for in the bus station. But it turned out to be perfect. We checked in, dropped our bags off in our room, and then struck up a conversation with a Scotsman we found reading in the courtyard. He recommended a good place for us to book ourselves some excursions, and invited us to a big barbecue they were having that evening. Score.

We booked ourselves a trip out to the Peninsula the next day, and then bought some hot dogs at the grocery store to bring to the barbecue (admirably non-committal, in case we wanted to bail early).

That night, the common room and kitchen were filled with people, and we found ourselves outside, talking to an Irishman named Eoin as we grilled our dogs. Feeling a little shy, we sat by ourselves at an empty table when they were ready, but Eoin spotted us and came over with his wife Aideen. The four of us (joined soon by a gently insane German man whose name we didn't catch) had a wonderful evening, staying up and talking well past the point Jessica and I had promised ourselves we'd get to bed. We had to get up at six o'clock for our excursion, but Eoin and Aideen were hard to say goodnight to. In the end, it was nearing one in the morning when we finally got to sleep.

Puerto Madryn, Day 2

At 6:00am, the alarm went off, and I smashed it into bits with a large hammer. Well, ok, no. But I wanted to.

We dressed and made our blearly way downstairs to wait for the bus that would pick us up for our trip to Peninsula Valdés. When it arrived, a friendly young man named Mauriceo took our tickets and piled us in. There were about four other people from our hostel with us, and the bus made two more stops at other hostels, picking up three more people. And then we were off!

Mauriceo was a fantastic guide, funny and interesting. He kept the bumpy, featureless, 2-hour long drive to our first stop from being at all boring, and kept us all awake. Eventually, we arrived at famous Punta Norte, where I hoped to see orcas snatching up sea lions from the shore. (Jessica was not, in fact, particularly hoping we'd see such things.)

In the end, even though we waited for almost two hours, we didn't get to see any orcas. We weren't especially surprised at this: seeing orcas is uncommon, and witnessing an attack is incredibly rare. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being rather disappointed, though, especially as Mauriceo said they'd spotted orcas eleven of the previous twelve days.

Our next stop was extremely exciting to us: penguins! We got to get within a few feet of them, and took photo after photo. It was a brief stop, and was really just a preview for us: we had already decided that we would tour the penguin colony at another wildlife sanctury (Punta Tombo) in a day or two, where we would get to see hundreds of thousands of them. But it was exhilarating nonetheless. After the penguins we stopped at Caleta Valdés, about half-way down the eastern shore of the peninsula, to see the massive elephant seals. Then it was a brief stop at the only village on the peninsula, Puerto Pirámides, and a long ride back to Puerto Madryn, and an early bedtime.

Puerto Madryn, Day 3

The next day, after booking a tour to Punta Tombo, we decided to walk out to the EcoCentro museum, which was highly touted in our guidebook. The walk, it turned out, was a bit further than we'd realized: around four miles one-way. Along the way, we acquired a friend, a black dog with white feet (whom we named "Socks") that decided to walk with us. Sadly, though, Socks had to be left outside when we finally arrived at EcoCentro.

The place was surprisingly nice. There was a whale-watching observation deck/reading room, with windows on all sides and big comfy couches. We plonked ourselves down and read the little guides they gave us, which translated everything into English for us. Then we made our way back down the stairs and among the exhibits, which memorably included a enormous pitch-black room with pillows on the floor. You sat on a pillow and pretended you were in the water, while the sounds of the ocean washed over you: from the chirping of Commerson's Dolphins to the bellows of humpback whales. Great stuff.

We spent a couple of hours there, in total, and were surprised to see Socks waiting for us outside when we left. He accompanied us all the way back to town, leaving us at last just before we made our way into a restaurant for dinner.

Stuart and Gemma

Back when we were in Buenos Aires (for the second time, before we left for Puerto Madryn), we had been on our way to the bus station when we had the most improbable encounter. We were making our way through the beautiful San Martin park, hurrying to try and get to the station before it started raining, when we heard a familiar voice crying "Stuart! It's the Americans!"

It was our friend Gemma, whom we had first met on our second night in Buenos Aires, and who was now flying towards us through the park at a full sprint. Ambling behind her was the lanky Scotsman, and the four of us exchanged excited hugs. In a city of millions of people, we happened by the most remote of chances to run into two of the only people we knew in South America. Even more amazingly, they had tickets to Puerto Madryn, too, a couple of days after us.

After we finished our dinner in Puerto Madryn on that third day, we were walking along Belgrano, the street that runs alongside the beach, when history repeated itself. Out of a small park leaped Gemma, once again screaming in joy at having run across us. She and Stuart had arrived earlier that day, and were renting a car with two people they'd met on the bus. Tomorrow, after the four of them had toured the peninsula and the two of us had seen our penguins, we resolved to get solidly drunk together.

Puerto Madryn, Day 4

We awoke damnably early again, and caught our bus to Punta Tombo. This would actually be a three-part excursion: first to see the penguins of Punta Tombo, then to see a dinosaur museum in nearby Trelew, then to a Welsh teahouse in nearby Gaimen. And as before, we'd spend more time on the bus than we'd spend at these destinations. That's the nature of Patagonia: getting there isn't "half the fun" so much as it takes "half the day".

The penguins were as amazing as we'd hoped. There were over one hundred thousand of them at Punta Tombo (being the largest colony outside of Antarctica), walking all around us. They were molting, and it seemed that some of them were allergic to their feathers: everywhere we were surrounded by the sounds of penguins sneezing. It was adorable.

The dinosaur museum was nice, if a bit of an odd addition to the tour. The Welsh teahouse was odder still, because who knew Patagonia was rich with pockets of Welsh people? But in fact, it is. In the town of Gaimen, you're more likely to hear Welsh being spoken than Spanish. And hey, Mom and Dad, I had tea! And I liked it!

Back in Puerto Madryn, we met up with Stuart and Gemma and set off in search of a restaurant. Soon, our streak of improbable encounters continued, and we bumped into Bo (from Amsterdam) and Cogi (born in Japan but raised in California). These two, it turned out, were the people who Stuart and Gemma had just spent the day driving around Peninsula Valdés with. The six of us immediately hustled ourselves into a restaurant and ordered many kilos of steak and many bottles of wine.

After dinner, we found ourselves a bar with pool tables upstairs, and immersed ourselves in hours and hours of pool and drinking and conversation. After Bo and Cogi headed out, Gemma continued drinking with us while Stuart made friends with every cantankerous old Patagonian in the bar. My memories from that night are a touch blurry, but spectacularly happy.

Puerto Madryn, Day 5

After getting in at 4am, we had to wake up at 8am to finish packing and check out of our room. We then spent most of the day sitting on the couches in the common room, sleeping and reading and talking with a young Dane named Jonas. Occasionally, I'd run out and buy pizza, but other than that we didn't leave those couches for twelve hours. (And we were surprised to find out how absolutely exhausting it can be to do nothing for twelve hours.)

Eventually, though, it was time to make our way to the bus station for yet another overnight bus ride, to leave for the sleepy mountain town of El Bolsón. Having seen penguins, a Welsh tea house, dinosaur bones, and orcas (well, no orcas actually), we were ready for a new adventure.

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Shana
May 13, 2005 at 1:50am
just lovely. :)
Philsie
May 13, 2005 at 7:19am
AHHHH Philsie is slipping, anyway nice one Timmy the Whale boy
Loofa
May 13, 2005 at 11:52am
Nice Captions!
Sister Soldier (The Post Hog)
May 13, 2005 at 1:42pm
I don't know weither to be happy that you didn't see any Orcas eating Sea Lions or to be empathetic and feel sad for you tat you didn't get to see a poor Sear Lion get eaten. I suppose that if you want to see a crazy killer whale eat everything in sight you're going to have to rent the cheesy classic "Orca." In the mentime be nice to Jessica and stop picking on the poor defenseless Sea Lions…
Greg
May 13, 2005 at 3:01pm
Wow, talk about your slim chances! Nice to run into people you know, especially so far from home.

Too bad about the orcas though. I would have liked a seal-eating picture on the site.

Janet
May 14, 2005 at 7:25am
Day late and a dollar short again.
I'm feeling more adventurous and jealous every time I read your great narations!
daddy
May 14, 2005 at 6:00pm
philsie shouldn't complain i'm a whole day later then him in posting,and sorry timmie i agree with jessica i'm glad you don't have your orca attack. i'm glad that you seem to run into people that you previously met ,makes it seem like a small world. love woof meow chirp and binkies from all
Turquoise
May 15, 2005 at 3:55pm
Laughing out loud at the photo labeled "uneaten sea lions" and "disconcerting lack of orcas." Bwah!

Glad to hear your merry adventures are continuing! A Welsh oasis and sneezing penguins… who knew?

Gemma
June 25, 2005 at 5:43pm
Hey Guys,
Really you guys are the sweetest ever.
Meeting two wonderful hedgehogs such as yourselves
was such luck.
love you forever
Gemma

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