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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-5 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-6 Only a single vehicle passed us all day and via the R49 we arrived late afternoon at “Monumento Nacional y Reserva  Nacional Bosques Petrificados”. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-7 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-8 We were still welcomed by the rangers and were surprised that no entry fees were charged at this park. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-9 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-10 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
Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-14 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-17 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
Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-24 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-25 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-38 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 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-40 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