A village to fall in love with
After three nights at campgrounds, the anticipation of our rented cabin and having significantly more space to live than the few square meters in our Gaucha, was great. 220 kilometres down the Ruta 3 heading south and we turned left shortly before Puerto Madryn, where another 100 kilometres were waiting for us. But first we had to pay admission to the nature reserve on the Valdes Peninsula - our home for the next four days. The friendly entrance guards gave us a warm welcome and already the first views of the blue-turquoise sea, surrounded by a desert landscape, were spectacular. Shortly before our destination today, we passed by the visitor centre of the reserve, where we made a short stop. A small museum with lots of information about the local flora and fauna prepares visitors for what awaits them on the peninsula ... and it definitely is true! 10 minutes later, we rolled down the hill to Puerto Piramides. The only village in the nature reserve, once served for salt production, today it is the tourist starting point for all the animal excursions on the peninsula. It exudes a very special charm, since it has (still) been spared from mass tourism, except for a few huts, apartments and guesthouses. The tourists usually spend the night in the town of Puerto Madryn and come by car or bus for a day trip to the peninsula. We had well chosen to stay in the reserve to be close to nature and to experience the charm of this small community. And Puerto Piramedes has a lot to offer. The villagers live a chilled life, are super proud of everything they have: a very nice beach right in front of the village, spectacular viewpoints on the cliffs, a supermarket that is delivered once a week, a culture house with live performances on weekends and a few small but very authentic bars and restaurants - but first and foremost, of course, are the whales. The southern right whale uses the protected waters of the Valdes Peninsula to raise its young between June and December. During the high season between July and September, the sea giants can be observed from the beach. Then the bay is teeming with air blasts of V-shaped breathing. The relationship between mother and her young is enormous. For weeks, for example, the mother goes without food of her own and devotes herself completely to raising her young. But the whales are far from being the only animals that can be marvelled around the nature reserve. Around the peninsula live several colonies of sea lions and sea elephant seals, which are here all year round and love to loll in the sun on the beach, splash themselves with sand or take a refreshing dip in the water. At the same time, each colony is led by a dominant "macho" male who clearly towers physically over all the females. The biggest danger are the orcas, which love the protected waters of the peninsula especially from January to March for hunting. The penguins are more relaxed. A few Magellan penguin colonies nest on the peninsula and can be marvelled in a relaxed way at close range. In the interior you will find many guanacos (relatives of the llamas) roaming the peninsula in small or large groups, as well as sheep and horses. So there is a lot to explore here! Our super friendly host Tina welcomed us to her quaint "Cabanas El canto de la ballena" right behind the dunes and had already reserved a whale watching tour for us in advance for the next day. However, when we heard from her upon our arrival that orcas were sighted today on the east side of the peninsula, we immediately decided to change our plans. If the orcas were there today, they might be there tomorrow. Tina gave us the tide calendar, which is crucial for all marine observations here, as the sea creatures can only be observed from land at high tide. For the next day this was announced at 9 o'clock, so it was time to get up early. Before that, we unpacked, shopped at the supermarket and finally cooked ourselves a great meal before falling into bed, tired but full of anticipation for the animals that would await us in the next few days.
At 7:30 a.m., the Gaucha was already cruising east over the gravel roads of the peninsula. Followed by a brand new Mercedes off-road vehicle, we reached the viewpoint and were blown away by the wind. Equipped with sunscreen and windbreakers, we waited anxiously to see if the orcas would show themselves. A few more early risers joined us and so we waited. Unfortunately, we amateurs had no binoculars with us, so we had to watch the sea lions lying on the offshore headland and especially the water in front of them with sharp eyes. After a little more than an hour and slowly already retreating water it was clear: no more orcas will pass here today. Too bad, but fortunately we still had a few days more left. The next stop was at the penguins place. Here we had more luck and were rewarded for getting up early. Without other tourists we could visit the penguin colony nesting here all alone: sensationally cute the little ones! At the end of our first exploration tour we went to the northernmost point of the peninsula, where sea lions and sea elephants should be waiting for us. Unfortunately, the road to the north from here was closed. But not for our Gaucha. More and less big potholes, threatening deep sand passages, and with sea water flooded places were nevertheless no problem for her, so that we reached the north of the peninsula after one hour of very bumpy driving. A gigantic view over the coast awaited us, which was populated by numerous sea lions and sea elephants - a wonderful sight. When then also the macho went for a swim in the water, the spectacle was perfect. A small snack and off we went back to Puerto Piramedes, where our whale watching tour was waiting. Thanks to the Gaucha and their four-wheel support we arrived on time and boarded the boat of the traditional agency "Jorge Schmid", one of the pioneers of whale watching from Puerto Piramides. Since even Lady Dy trusted in the services of the German expatriate Jorge during her visit to Argentina, we felt safe. Steven, a whale enthusiast from San Francisco, who moved to Argentina 25 years ago, immediately captivated us with his exciting whale stories on board and after setting sail we kept a lookout for the sea giants. We got ourselves a place right at the front of the boat and so had the best view on the water. Then it was time: The first whale breath was spotted and after a short trip we discovered a mother with her young, who were relaxed and ready for interacting with us. Definitely a goose bumps moment. Unbelievable to see these huge animals so peacefully up close and feel their interaction with us. When they had enough of us, they turned away and we kept a new lookout. In the morning the sea was still wild, stormy and wavy. Now it was totally calm, so we met and marvelled at three more mothers with their young. Our boat was fortunately only half filled with tourists, so we had enough space for photos. Steven gave us all his knowledge, had a super eye for the animals and finally earned a well-deserved applause when everyone went ashore happy and satisfied. Totally fascinated by so many outstanding impressions, we strolled back to Tina's cabanas, treated ourselves to a sunset cerveza on the terrace and, after a delicious cooked pasta, fell asleep with our thoughts on the whales, penguins, sea lions and elephants.
On Saturday, we left the village for a daytrip and returned to civilization in Puerto Madryn. But of course not without having a mate breakfast at the sensational and deserted natural beach "El Doradillo" at the gates of the city. In the high season you can watch whales from the beach here, we tried our luck and planned our arrival with the predicted high tide. Unfortunately, there were no whales, but a chilled start into the day with lots of sun and a decent breeze in the face. When the sun began to burn too much, we went to the city, where we first shopped in the supermarket, before we walked along the beautiful and long beach riviera and later strolled through the whole city. Puerto Madryn is the base for all tourist activities in the region and you can see that on every corner. Travel agencies, restaurants and smaller hotels. The Riviera and the huge beach are definitely the highlight, with the wind already blowing tremendously here - ideal for surfing and kiting. After a stop at a cervezeria, we found a great travel diary at a craft market, which Mari will keep from now on. Then the highlight of the day was upon us: Debby from Germany follows us on social media and spontaneously invited us to an asado on her roof terrace. Of course we didn't say no and accepted immediately =) We quickly bought drinks and were already at her door. She could not hide her Swabian accent and when it was clear that she comes from Echterdingen, not 10 km away from our home in Ostfildern, the surprise was great. She has been living in Puerto Madryn with her Argentinian boyfriend Maxi for one year. Since with Tabea from Bielefeld and Maxi from Buenos Aires there happened to be another German-Argentinean couple in town, also known to us from the social networks, the German-Argentinean evening was perfect. Host Maxi invited more friends and had already prepared the asado when we arrived: A big piece of vacío meat, chorizo sausages, potatoes and lots of vegetables - exactly to our taste! Of course, we spoke German about all kinds of things. Everyone told about his story, his experiences and his plans. So it was not until 2:30 in the night that we started our return journey. To be on the safe side, we had assured our host Tina that we would be able to return to the peninsula at that time as well. When we stopped at the entrance to the reserve, we found the park rangers asleep in their cabin. With the first knock on the window they jumped up from their chairs, whirled around wildly half asleep, opened the gate and let us pass without much inspection. Marina steered the Gaucha through the night to Puerto Piramides, and we plopped right into the bed.
The night was short, because we already had plans for Sunday. For the afternoon, we were able to book an absolute highlight at short notice: snorkeling with sea lion seals was on the agenda. But before that we made the southern part of the peninsula unsafe with the Gaucha and in the morning we drove over the gravel roads to the orca viewpoint, where we had no luck two days ago. But today we were rewarded! Almost with our arrival a few young orcas appeared a good distance away from us and played and raved in the water: Goosebumps moment #2! After a few minutes the spectacle was over and the young animals moved further north along the coast. Besides us, there was a whole crowd of early birds, among them our neighbour Yasmin, who had a professional camera with her and later sent us her great shots. We enjoyed this natural spectacle a lot and will definitely never forget this. After that, we continued on to the next sea lion and sea elephant colony with beautiful walks along the coast. Only at the last planned stop, in the very south, we were disappointed, because the estancia used for research purposes was unfortunately closed and we ate our sandwiches in front of the closed gate for lunch. Then we headed back, full of anticipation for the upcoming snorkeling highlight, to Puerto Piramides. Unfortunately, on the way, news reached us, that strong winds had picked up and the excursion was on hold. The guys from the snorkel base arranged an alternative and so we rearranged at short notice. Besides us, an Argentinean couple of our age, who were on their honeymoon, were the only participants. The new plan was to cross the island by SUV to another bay and from there take a boat to the alternative snorkeling area. When they asked us if we had an off-road car with us, we were just smiling. Some minutes later, we were chasing our guide in the red Toyota jeep with the Gaucha. Upon arrival, the toyota got stuck in the deep sand, but it didn't matter because the boat was already ready to leave. The Capitano had his two little kids with him, so instead of playing on the Playstation, his son was allowed to ride our boat along the coast. Meanwhile, we put on wetsuits, goggles and snorkels, got a short briefing and then we were there: In the natural swimming pool of the seals! Excited and full of curiosity they watched us from their rock and when we were in the water, they came swimming up one after the other. At the beginning still a little bit cautiously and hesitantly, they approached more and more and after a short time we were surrounded and they swarmed in front, behind and above all under us. An unbelievable experience: Goosebumps moment #3. We had not imagined them to be so cute and playful. In between we lost several times the overview, what is human and what is seal and when we started to dive down without snorkel, their play instinct was finally awakened. Only when the Big Boss, the macho male of the colony, went into the water and inspected us newcomers, there was a short silence in the water. After an inspection dive, however, he obviously classified us as welcome guests and the party in the water continued. What fun and what laughter! Only with heavy hearts did we paddle back to the boat and it seemed that our new friends waved us goodbye. We were definitely their highlight of the day and they were ours. Then it was back on board with a mug of hot tea and since our newly married couple had to catch the last bus to Puerto Madryn and didn't have time to wait until the Toyota was ditched, we gave them a ride in the gaucha and played wedding coach =) We made it to their bus on time and exhausted but happy we told our host Tina about the great day. At sunset, we went for another round through the village before we already packed for the departure the following day, cooked our leftovers in the fridge to a delicious rice dish and after a call with the family at home we went to bed.
The next day it was time to say goodbye to Puerto Piramides - the village we definitely fell in love with. After we had packed all the bags again, the last leftovers were served for breakfast, we said goodbye to Tina and finally went to the most beautiful viewpoint high above the bay. Then, a good 300 km along the Atlantic coast south to Punta Tombo, awaited us. Punta Tombo is home to the largest Magellan penguin colony in South America and offers its visitors an impressive insight into the life of the penguins. The last stretch was gravel road again, but after the days on the Valdes Peninsula we only smiled for this. Then it was time to dive into the world of the penguins. In an interactive museum at the beginning, you get first-class information at hand and the very friendly park rangers answer all your questions. Now we know that the Magellan penguins here in South America is only one of 17 penguin species that loves it in the warm. That's why they are here and not in Antarctica in the ice. From August to April they nest here, most of them revisit their nest every year. In April, they leave for their summer vacation to Brazil, where they spend four months in the sea before returning. Penguins live mostly monogamous and some partnerships last almost a whole lifetime - others are more changeable, just like us humans =) With all the background knowledge we went out on a 3 km long circular walk, which leads across the area of the penguin colony. Here you can experience them up close in real life: sleeping, getting up, bathing, breeding, going to the toilet and chatting with their colleagues =) With the appropriate distance to the animals and respecting certain rules (if a penguin crosses the path, he has the right of way), a respectful interaction between human and animal. And how cute they are! Their waddling gait makes you melt away and you would like to hug and cuddle them immediately, which is of course forbidden. The weather also played along and so we had a great end to our animal adventure on the Patagonian Atlantic coast. Back on the Ruta we turned for further 250 km to the west in the direction of the Andes. Mountains instead of sea were the order of the day. How far we would come, we knew at the departure not yet so exactly - let's see how far the Gaucha would carry us into the night. After 100 km, half of it on a quite well passable gravel road, we arrived at Gaiman. One of the most original Welsh villages, once built by the first settlers from Wales. The Welsh influence is still immense throughout the North Patagonian section of the Atlantic coast. Street signs, official information and more are written in two languages. Because of its authentic charm, Gaiman is a popular excursion destination from Puerto Madryn. Even the Princess Lady Dy, did not miss the opportunity to have a cup of tea in a Welsh tea house in Gaiman during her visit to Argentina. The village still advertises this today. Instead of tea, we had a hearty dinner: Churasquito burger with salad. Afterwards we used the toilets of the small restaurant to get ready for bed and off we went on the legendary Ruta 25, which connects the Atlantic coast with the Andes. Spectacularly, the sun set in the west almost directly in front of us and transformed the desert landscape into an outstanding play of colours. No sooner had it set than the moon and the first stars shone brightly above us. A dream route to the sunset. We didn't mind that the last gas station was closed - we still had a half-full tank and every 100 km there's a village with a gas station. When night had fallen, we decided to drive to a campground instead of continuing into the night. In advance we had announced our coming, which was advantageous in this case, because we rolled in first around 21:30 o'clock in the "Valle Verde". The last 20 km off the Ruta 25 were also at night very special: Steeply downhill into a canyon, right and left the canyons piled up more and more, two tunnels without lighting were crossed, until we suddenly rolled over a huge dam. The starry sky shone incredibly and showed us the way to the small village at the foot of the dam to the campsite. The owner was already waiting for us and of course we were alone again. The Gaucha was made ready for the night and we made ourselves comfortable in it, eager to see the next day in daylight where we had actually ended up.