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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Isla de los Pajaros
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Chapel atIsla de los Pajaros

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As we departed, we saw this beautiful Armadillo with its orange colouring .

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Sea Lion males keeping their harems in check

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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

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We realised, that no matter how remote you are, there is always somebody watching you…

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This post covers 29th Jan to  4th Feb 2018

Argentina 13: Bosque Petrificados and the Penguins of Punta Buque

 

Via the RP101 we reached Bajo Caracoles, a bad piece of ripio (gravel) road, then eastwards on the RP79, a very quiet and remote road passing between, what looked like, many abandoned haziendas.

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Hazienda seemed abandoned

There seemed to be very little hunting in this area as the herds of guanacos and Rhea were less skittish and much larger than anywhere else we had been to.

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A flock of lesser Rhea – the birds are about half the size of an African Ostrich

Just before turning onto the RP12, our vehicle developed a problem – every time we tried to brake, the vehicle shuddered and a grinding noise was to be heard. We had no option but to turn back and slowly make our way back southwards to Gobernador Gregores again, a detour of about 200km. This town developed as a town supporting agriculture in this area.

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Monument celebrating Patagonian sheepfarming
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Early tractor

We slowly managed to get back with no braking, just shifting gears. In the town we inquired and were directed to the mechanic shop “ Taller Sergio Soto” where we were lucky to find Sergio, who diagnosed the problem within 5 minutes (we had lost a bolt holding the disc pad assembly) and he found us a replacement in town within 30 minutes. An hour later we were on our way again. Including a spare bolt the damage was P 300 or about R200 – a very fair price to solve our quandary.

For the coming night we decided to stay in town, spoil ourselves eating out and retired at Camping Municipal for P 200 (R 130).

Next morning we again left via the bad R25, then reached the RP12 and enjoyed the wildlife and colourful mountains along this remote road.

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Only a single vehicle passed us all day and via the R49 we arrived late afternoon at “Monumento Nacional y Reserva  Nacional Bosques Petrificados”.

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We were still welcomed by the rangers and were surprised that no entry fees were charged at this park.

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After a short guided tour of the museum we followed the trail along the petrified tree trunks, some up to 30m long and 2.5m is diameter -an impressive sight.

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The many fossils are testimony that Lago Grande used to be a large lake with enormous trees and dinosaurs until the fateful eruption of nearby Volcano Madre y Higa that blew over the Pre-Araucaria trees 150 million years ago. Nothing remained standing with the estimated 300km/hr pyroclastic wind, and ash then covered the entire area which led to the petrification through rain.

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Up to 30m long petrified trunks of the Pre-araucaria trees
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Volcano Madre y Higa in the background

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Well camouflaged and adapted

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This park had no camping facility, the rangers also ensured that we did not camp wild anywhere close – this is to minimize the risk of souvenir pieces being carried away. Outside the park the camping site on a hazienda, La Palomo ,was also closed so we veered off the road along the track under a large powerline and hid behind a hill for the windy night.

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Wild camp along powerline near Bosque Petrificados

When we reached Puerto San Julián along the main Ruta 3, the YPF Service station would not accept any credit cards – solo effectivo (cash)! In town the service station did not have any diesel – we should come back in an hour’s time, they were awaiting delivery. In town we had to ask our way through to find the only ATM accepting foreign credit cards. All this arranged, we decided to stay on Camping Municipal, where we met English-speaking Jeanette Carolina Walker working at reception – she had studied 3 years at Wits University in Johannesburg and her father farmed on an hazienda along the route we intended travelling from here.

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The Camino Costanera along the coast proved to be a good choice, scenic and with a lot of birds. Along this stretch camping is permitted along the Sandstone cliffs and pebble beaches.

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Red-legged cormorant

At La Loberia viewpoint we took time to observe a colony of Sea Lions and flocks of cormorants and skuas. Although we were now in the middle of the holiday season, the number of visitors along this stretch were very few. Towards afternoon we stopped at the furthest point of Playa Grande and spent the night camping near the beach below.

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Extraordinary pebble beaches of Patagonia

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Wild camping on Playa Grande
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Miniature windmills on the Patagonian plains to cope with the high winds

Along RP47 in a westerly direction we passed Estancia Las Manatiales and stayed for a coffee and had a chat with Carlos Walker where he confirmed that farming in this area was tough. It was a family farm where he already had grown up. This year they were in a drought, but he also bottled water on a different farm and supplied it in the area, branded Agua Nao Victoria, to supplement income.

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Las Manatiales – the Walker family farm

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As we left the farm, we came across some more Armadillos and Crested Tinamou.

 

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Hairy Armadillo on the Patagonian plains

We never really managed to count the bands to decide whether this was a 6 or 7 banded Armadillo. Apparently only the bands which can bend are counted – kind of tough to determine that on a photo.

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Armadillos have strong digging tools
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Crested Tinamou blend in with the vegetation

In the afternoon we reached Punta Buque where we could observe many Magellanic Penguins and European hare (Lepus europaeus), or brown hare.

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Lighthouse at Punta Buque
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Discussion about strange visitor from Africa
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Nowhere to hide – European hare (Lepus europaeus)
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Magellanic Penguins
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Why can’t we fly?
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Adults returning to feed the young

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Nesting hole – chick and adult shelter from wind, sun and rain
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Hurry up, the rain is coming.

The night we spent on Estancia El Amencer, with basic camping site. The  Telhuelche indian owners also own the area close to the lighthouse at Punta Buque, where we saw many people camping illegally, due to the road to the lighthouse being a public one. The area is actually private and archeologically sensitive.

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The farm owners have their own little museum in their house, proudly displaying the stone and bone tools found in this area of their ancestors.Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-39

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From this farm there is a backroad to Tellier to reach Puerto Deseado. Along the way we saw some red foxes strung up at the gates – a grizzly reminder  that they still get exterminated, together with the few remaining Puma, that are considered vermin by the sheep farmers.

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Zorro Colorado – Red Foxes not welcomed by sheep farmers

Along the way we spotted some Patagonian Maras that look similar to rabbits .

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The near-threatened Patagonian Mara

This post covers 24th – 28th January 2018

Chile 11: Wind, Clouds and King Penguins

 

By now we had two goals: visiting the only colony of King Penguins and reaching Ushuaia for New Year.

 

As we drove southward the wind increased and it grew colder by the minute, light rain set in that sounded like hail hitting the vehicle. Around us nothing……really nothing. Flat country-side for miles on end, no trees, no hills, no estancias. We started wondering whether tonight would be the night where we had to sleep inside the vehicle without opening the rooftop tent.

 

As we deliberated our options, a small hut appeared on the horizon – amazing that it withstood the gale. As we got closer our decision was taken – we shall park next to the shelter on the lee side. Since wind in Patagonia normally blows from the west, the door opened to the east and to the roadside. As we came closer we realized it was not inhabitated – this is a type of shelter for herders passing with their flocks. One room was reasonably intact and still had floor planks -the other must have been used as firewood.

The stench was barely bearable – a herder with his flock and dogs must have stayed here for a while. Judging by the graffiti on the walls the herders must be lonesome and longing for their loved ones. We moved in, happy to have found a little niche in this nothingness. After a supper and a tea the world looked much more attractive again.

Next morning we were greeted with an overcast sky, the world looked a lot friendlier then and in the distance we could see the large shearing shed and winter quarters for the animals on the estancia.

An hour later we reached Parque Pingüino Rey in the Bahia Inútil – too early, it was still closed. However, the local ranger ( very knowledgeable, also having visited Cape Town’s penguins in Boulders Beach as part of a Penguin Conference in the previous year) had mercy with us and allowed us in early at 10:00 to make good use of the prevailing sun which just poked through the clouds for about an hour (the park opens at 11:00).

The King Penguins used to breed in substantial numbers along the Magellanic Channel, then disappeared as the fishing depleted the channel. Since about 7 years they have returned and commercial fishing is no longer allowed. Their numbers are slowly increasing again, currently there were about 100 of which are 30 breeding pairs. They also stay here for the entire year as there are sufficient Sardines in Inútil Bay. We considered ourselves lucky being able to see Penguins of all ages here – some still in their infant brown downs, some moulting into adult and some with eggs breeding. King Penguins reach a height of 1,20 meters and age to 25 years.

Here we also met Sven and Iris from Germany travelling in their double storey Mercedes Sprinter and we might  see them again in Ushuaia as they were travelling in the same direction as us.

From the park we continued along a good gravel road, a very remote area, drove through the village Cameron with the Communa Zimaukel and observed some ducks along the coast.

Along the road we saw many trees strangely formed by the constant winds of this region – reminding us of some trees at home in Cape Town that also grow in the direction of the South Easter winds.

Just before Parador Russfin, as small hospedaje that seemed to have catered for the gold miners many years ago, we left the road and found a clearing in a small forest providing us shelter from the wind for the night and with an idyllic view over the plains. Since we would be passing over the border next day into Argentina, we had to finish all fresh produce – Asparagus with Ham – not a bad meal in this desolate area.

We had done 20000km since we had started in September in Montevideo and we realized, that travelling this part of the continent requires a lot of distance driving, much more so compared to our first 11 month going north in 2016.

The next morning greeted us with drizzle and 8 degr. C , we left early, passing some old gold digger machinery at Dragua Aurifera. Along the Y895 road we spotted four grey foxes ( Zorro gris),  some guanacos with foals (or what is a small camel called?), passed some beautiful old estancias, normally situated in depressions with some wind shelter through small forests.

Here we  met a gaucho along the road, who was keen to know where we were coming from and heading to.

We reached the 257CH again that took us down to San Sebastian, the border town, where we stopped next to the police station (less wind) and prepared a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and mushrooms – ensuring that border control does not have a chance to seize it.

Passing the Chilean border here was quick and the Argentinian side is about 15km drive, again no problems and was quick to enter.

 

Entering another country always means to find a supermarket as soon as possible, in order to stock up again. In Rio Grande we found a La Anonima  – thereafter we proceeded to find our next stop for the night. Little did we know what weird place we would find for the night.

 

 

 

This post covers 27th to 28th December 2017