Argentina 16: Along the Coast, Burrowing Parrots, Raspberries and Beaches

  From Valdés we continued north and camped wild at Playa El Doradillo behind a dune.
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Camping wild at Playa El Doradillo
Next morning we drove up to Las Grutas – here we could see that in the main holiday season, camping sites seemed full and noisy. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-2
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Las Grutas beach
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Obesity also a problem in South America
Finally we ended near San Antonio Oeste camping on El Oasis, a much quieter spot along the coast. A camper told us that we are close to the best source of fresh prawns – when we get to San Antonio Oeste we should buy there, which we did next morning and were grateful for the tip as they were indeed fresh and delicious. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-5
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San Antonio Oeste Prawn Boats
Along this stretch of coast we were keen to see the Burrowing Parrots that are supposed to breed in the sandstone cliffs. We turned off to reach Punta Mejillon, but after driving around in Reserva Provincial Caleta de los Loros we had not found them. On the way we again met the friendly couple from Buenos Aires, Luciano and Natalia, that we had previously briefly met before and they directed us to where we could see the parrots further on. They insisted that, should we come to BA, we must please stay with them. For the night we wild camped just before La Loberia with a splendid view over the ocean and had a delicious meal of fresh prawns. During the night the wind again started pumping – it was impossible to prepare breakfast next morning and we decided to eat in town. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-7 From El Espigon ( a surfer spot) onwards we started to observe the first green-blue-yellow Burrowing Parrots (Loro Barranquero) high up on the cliffs. At El Condor we saw many more although the breeding season was already over – this must have been very impressive a few weeks earlier. In this area the Rio Negro flows into the Atlantic and the many trees provide plenty of feeding for the birds.
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Sheer cliffs at El Espigon - a spot also enjoyed by surfers and anglers
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Burrowing Parrots breeding in the rock face
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Burrowing Parrots
The landscape changed along the R3 – more grasslands and cattle as well as fields of sunflowers. In Pedro Luro is a meat control point – however, only a problem if you travel southwards here. For the night we turned in at Laguna La Salada, a saline lake with some flamingos as well as ducks, swans and other shore birds. We parked in a little wood along the lagoon, quiet and distant from other campers around this popular place during holidays.
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Chilenean Flamingos
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Black-necked Stilts
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Coscoroba Swan and Koot
When we reached Bahia Blanca we were surprised to see another control point – this time one for fruit and vegetables – again only applicable for southbound travellers. On the R51 we reached Saldungaray and saw at its entry to the cemetery a unique entrance portal named “ Christo de Salamone” that was created by the Italian architect Francisco de Salamone.
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“ Christo de Salamone” by the Italian architect Francisco de Salamone
In town we visited the local church that has a virgin Maria in a lying position -somewhat unusual. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-15 We carried on to Sierra de la Ventana in which area swallows come to breed. Camping Lourdes was fairly full, but offered good facilities. Next we tried to see Swallows  ( Golondrinas esp.) in Parque Provincial Ernesto Tornquist – unfortunately too late in the season, they had already migrated back to North America.
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La Ventana - the window in the rocks
So we proceeded along the RN33 via Pigüe to Guamini on Laguna del Monte and enjoyed the antics of the wind-and kite surfers and took a dip in the lake. We camped in what seemed more of a picnic area than a campsite. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-20
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Carnival time
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Street art in Guamini
Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-19 When we arrived in Benito Juárez we were again able to withdraw money and while parking opposite Escuela San Martin, the school in town, we got spotted by the teachers who welcomed us to their region and related stories about town and the area.
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Warm welcome by the teachers of Escuela San Martin in Benito Juaréz
Here we realised that we had missed the annual raspberry festival by a few days. They strongly recommended that we drive a few km to Villa Cacique, the center of raspberry farming ( frambuesas esp.) and they promptly arranged that Alejandra, the local tourist officer, would receive us and guide us around. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-22 On arrival Alejandra was already waiting, showed us where we could camp for free in the forest with a park and pond nearby and took us to the Olympic size swimming pool to refresh. A little unusual was the procedure of us being checked for hair lice and athlete’s foot before being allowed in – a standard health and safety procedure at this facility! We passed and enjoyed the cool waters. Next morning she took us to a frambuesa farm where we learned about this fruit being planted and bought the freshest fruits having been harvested only an hour before.
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On the raspberry farm with Alejandra
Along the 74 we passed Ayacucho, then along the Ruta 2 until Pinamar, where we turned off, drove past Villa Gesell on to Mar de Las Pampas, which was a recommended by our friend Caro to visit. This area is popular with coastal holiday seekers at this time of year, we nevertheless found a camping spot at Autocamping Casablanca with direct walking access to the beach with the possibility of bathing – not in the clear, cold waters of Patagonia but now in the warmer, brownish waters from the major rivers. Driving here, there was not much natural habitat left, everywhere huge farms with soya, sunflowers etc.
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Mar de las Pampas
The camping was very relaxed and we enjoyed lazing for 4 days , doing long beach walks and visiting the quaint, touristic town that offers a lot of different artisanal handy work and we found also a lot of music from South America, recommended by Pablo in his train carriage shop. Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-27   Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-28   Argentina 16 Burrowing Parrots Raspberries Beaches-29  
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Pablo at his music shop
Then we headed further in the direction of San Clemente de Tuyú - their beach is also brown from the nearing Rio de la Plata delta. There is an Ocean World here ( Mundo Marino) which we did not visit as we do not like show animals in captivity. On the way we were forced to pay P75 toll for a very short stretch as we turned off on to the 11, a scenic rural road and we reached, near Punta Indio, the Camping Municipal Sarandi – not much of a camping site, but directly situated on the coast and it seemed free as nobody collected a fee from us.
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Camping Municipal Sarandi
This post covers 10th–21st February 2018

Argentina 15: Trelew and Peninsula Valdés

  We continued northerly to Trelew, originally a Welsh settlement. At the ATM we had some bad luck: the commission the bank wanted for withdrawing cash was 20% ! - I cancelled the transaction, yet via my cellphone I got notification that my bank account was debited. In all of our 18 months travel this was the only such occurrence. Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-10 Trelew had an important paleontological museum displaying fossil bones of the largest dinosaur, that ever lived. We decided to visit Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio.
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Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio in Trelew
As we entered we met other South African overlanders Johann and Marianne Ter Verloren van Themaat from Pretoria.
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Meeting South African overlanders, Johann and Marianne Ter Verloren van Themaat,from Pretoria.
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The fossil remains of the biggest dinosaur that roamed earth - Titanosaurus, found in Patagonia
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Can anybody explain the measurement differences in the translation, please?
We enjoyed the visit together, had a good look at their vehicle, exchanged travel information and then unfortunately departed in opposite directions.
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House inspection -well kitted out Landcruiser 79 from South Africa
As they were still southbound, we continued northwards to Gaiman, another Welsh settlement where pastries and tea can be had. As we left Trelew we passed a replica of the Titanosaurus - gigantic!
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The biggest creature that roamed the earth - approx 70 tons and 40m high.
Rawson was our next stop, right on the coast with a nice beach promenade, and we camped in Playa Union on Camping Issys – a well-run site. The RP6 to Ninfas was a rough gravel road, in the beginning a lot of rubbish strewn. Then we returned to the RP1 via the RP5 and stopped at Puerto Madryn.
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Puerto Madryn
The wind increased and prevented us from much sightseeing along the coast and we sought shelter on the ACA Camping, being a little calmer due to rows of bushes that had been planted defining the camping sites, but we still had to prepare our supper inside the car to the drifting sand. At 9pm the wind disappeared and stayed down for the night – such a relief.
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At the camping site you know where to go.
Puerto Madryn was a midsized city that benefits from tourism during the season of the breeding Southern Right whales and was founded when the first Welsh settlers arrived in 1865 in the sheltered Nuevo Golfo bay between Valdés and Punta Ninfas. Proceeding towards Valdés we kept on the coastal road and stopped at a few of the outlook points. During the whale season this must be fantastic as some of the spots lend themselves to very close observation of the animals ( August-September). Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-13 Once we entered the Peninsula Valdés park we spent some time at the information centre, then tackled the 77km to Punta Norte and stayed there until late afternoon observing the Sea Lions, Black-capped Night Herons, Cuis Chico (like a rock hyrax/dassie)  and the larger Hairy Armadillo (Peluda).
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Skeleton of the Southern Right whale at the information centre of Valdés.
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Harmless Ciamidos or |Whale's lice form the calluses on whales that are like a fingerprint on each animal
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Closeup of Ciamidos crustaceans
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Young Sea Elephant male
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A Sea Lion looks small even compared to Sea Elephant cow
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Digging in to scare insects
Since there is no camping at Punta Norte we turned back past Puerto Pyramides and turned towards Playa Villarino, where we had been told that wild camping is possible. It turned out to be true and we encountered many Argentinian campers with their converted busses and tents, most of them fishermen enjoying the holidays. Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-28 Next morning we took a round trip to Caleta Valdés, then on to Punta Cantor where we saw some Sea Elephants (we first mistook them for grey rocks -then they started moving). Males can reach a weight of an impressive 4000kg, females are much smaller at 800kg and the Cachorros ( babies) are born at 44kg approx.
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Sea Lions enjoying their beach holiday in Peninsula Valdés
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Sea Lions pups were still being born while we visited
Since Orcas had been spotted in the area the previous day, we drove up to Punta Norte again, hopeful to see them in action catching baby Sea Lion. However, we were about 3-4 weeks too early – the adult Sea Lions still prevented the pups from entering the water and there were still pups being born. Best time to visit is early March to the Orcas in action.
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Stretch of coast where Orcas take Sea Lion pups
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Visitors attention is drawn to the problem of coastal pollution
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Magellanic Penguins at Peninsula Valdés
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Punta Pyramides
This night we spent on the camping site Punta Pyramides – a little touristic town with good food and reasonable camping sites.
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Good restaurants and shops in Punta Pyramides
At Isla de los Pajaros we met an Orca researcher, Roberto Antonio Raffa who can be contacted on Facebook and it may be worth finding out when the best season for the Orcas is if you intend to visit. Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-34
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Isla de los Pajaros
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Chapel atIsla de los Pajaros
Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-37 As we departed, we saw this beautiful Armadillo with its orange colouring . Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-26 Argentina - Trelew and Valdés-27 This post covers 5th – 9th February 2018

Argentina 14: Rockhoppers at Puerto Deseado and Sea Lions of Bahia Bustamante

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View of Puerto Deseado where the church tower doubles as a lighthouse, in front of it the old railway station
While in Puerto Deseado the railway  museum could be of interest as it gives insight into the importance of the railway in the early development of Patagonia. Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-2
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Memorabilia of the train company
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Watering hole
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Retired Station Master posing for us
In Puerto Deseado we found shelter on Autocamping inside the small Cañon Geminez (close to town), unfortunately with half functioning and dirty ablutions. We immediately booked a boat trip to the penguin island to see Rockhopper penguins the next day. The boat trip with Darwin Expeditiones with captain/owner Ricardo and guide Roxanne was worth doing, especially as they provided ample time to photograph the beautiful black and white Commerson’s dolphins (Toninas Overas) that we encountered on the way.
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Commerson's Dolphin - the smallest ocean dolphin
Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-7 We also had sufficient time on the island with the Rockhopper and Magellanic penguins near the lighthouse.
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Roxanne explaining the history of the lighthouse on Penguin Island
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Rockhopper Penguin
Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-12 Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-13 Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-14 The Brown Skuas were aggressive when we passed their nesting sites, other birds included Imperial-, Rock- and Red-legged cormorants, Flying Steamer Ducks, South American Terns, Snowy sheathbills and Dolphin Gulls(Leucophaeus scoresbii), sometime erroneously called red-billed gull.  
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Snowy Sheathbill
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Breeding Skuas
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Brown Skuas were aggressive making mock attacks
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Brown or Subantarctic Skua chick
On our way we passed colonies of Sea Lions.
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Sea Lion male with his harem
This time round we tried the Camping Municipal and spent the evening chatting to Paul from the Netherlands, our neighbour. The passing truck traffic can spoil a quiet night on this site, otherwise ok.
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Antarctic Terns photographed along the way
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Antarctic tern
Our route then took us past the town of Fitzroy, Caleta Olivia to Rada Tilly, a town with highrise holiday buildings on the coast and a dusty camping ground further back, where we stayed for the night – odd times to shower namely 9-11 pm and 9-11am – why? When we passed the city of Comodoro Rivadavia we could not resist shopping when we realized that the local Jumbo Supermercado was very well stocked – we assume it is to keep the many expatriates happy that work here for the oil and gas industry. We followed Ruta 3 for a while and then turned off on RP28 to reach Bahia Bustamante where Estancia Bustamante with it Reserva de Aves is a quiet place to stop and to explore. The owners allowed us to camp free of charge although they had accommodation and a restaurant.
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Camping on Estancia Bustamante
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Family Museum at Estancia Bustamante
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Restaurant on Estancia Bustamante
For a special fee of US$70 we participated next day in their 3 hr boat cruise to the various islands to see many different birds and Sea Lion. Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-28
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Our guide enjoying mate
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Flightless Steamer duck - The Chubut Steamer Duck
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Chubut Steamer Ducks
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American Oystercatchers
As we circled the various islands of Bahia Bustamante, we had wonderful views of Sea Lions and could observe their constant rivalry to keep their harems together. Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-31
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Sea Lion males keeping their harems in check
Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-38 In between we had sightings of Southern Giant Petrels (also named  Antarctic Giant Petrel) , Dolphin gulls, cormorants and shags.
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Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
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Magellanic Cormorant or Rock Shag
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Blue-eyed Cormorant
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Dolphin Gull
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Courting Sea Lions
Owners Mattias Sorano and wife Astrid farm here in the third generation – Mattias’ grandfather started harvesting and processing kelp for export. In recent years they even imported kelp from South Africa and Namibia as overharvesting has reduced the kelp on their coast and it can only be harvested by divers now. After taking a shower (arranged with the manager in the restaurant), we proceeded along the RP1, turned off before Camerones to reach Reserva Natural Turistica Cabo dos Bahias, where there was another Pingüinera and Loberia, all developed with walkways and penguins nesting around but the Sea Lions were far off on Isla Moreno -not worth photographing.
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Camping near Camerones
Our further route took us into sleepy Camerones that used to be important in the days of wool exports – now it dwindled into insignificance after the harbor of Comodoro Rivadavia was extended. Most buildings  were built of corrugated iron, the grocery shop dating back to 1901. Drawing money from the ATM here was impossible - empty.  
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Dollosse at Camerones Harbour
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La Brigade hostal on wheels -join in for the ride
We also met the bus "Natasha" of young french entrepreneurs of La Brigade that are pioneering a roving hostal idea - a sort of jump on,jump off travel idea for young travelers - will it be successful? Up the RP1 we decided to stop at the beach Playa Isla Escondida – a few other campers also enjoying this stretch of coast. Despite a thunderstorm during the night we enjoyed this part of the coast, the beach mainly consists of colourful pebbles. As the weekend had passed the beach became deserted and quiet and only one other camper remained approx. 500m away.
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Playa Isla Escondida
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Impressive morning thunderstorm
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Rock pools at Playa Escondida
Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-45 We realised, that no matter how remote you are, there is always somebody watching you... Argentina 14- Rockhoppers at Deseado and Bahia Bustamante-46 This post covers 29th Jan to  4th Feb 2018