Argentina – Penguins in Patagonia

It was another beautifully sunny morning when I got up on Monday after a decent night’s sleep. I grabbed a quick coffee in the hotel, before waiting to board my bus to Punta Tombo. I was pretty excited – the main reason I’d flown down to Puerto Madryn was to see some wildlife. Unfortunately I just didn’t have time to do two excursions. Otherwise, I would have gone whale watching too nearby, but that’s a day long trip, as was my visit to Punta Tombo.

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I was a bit worried my tour bus wouldn’t turn up after the shenanigans yesterday, but lo and behold it did, and soon we were on our way, after a quick stop off in Trelew, another town near Puerto Madryn. It was a two and a half hour trip, which seemed VERY LONG, but that gives you an idea of how remote the place is.

En route, our guide Laura gave us a bit of background about where we would be going.

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The view out the window for the whole time looked like this….

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Totally barren! Finally, we arrived – after spending the last twenty minutes rattling down a dust track. Laura bought our tickets to enter the reserve, we climbed off the bus, and started walking.

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Punto Tombo’s a 3km long peninsula which is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world. 500,000 of them to be precise! (According to the internet). Every September they migrate from Southern Brazil right down to Argentina to come on land, lay their eggs and wait for them to hatch. So my timing was perfect (although if I’d come later in November I’d have seen some chicks).

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It wasn’t long before we had our first encounter! (Below). Laura had told us on the bus that if a penguin’s waiting to cross the path, it’ll stand there forever unless you stop and let it cross – it just can’t work out what’s going on. So we let it pass 🙂 I thought that was very polite of the penguins to wait for us to stop!

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There were literally penguins everywhere – some in holes in the ground protecting their nests.

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Others were making their way down to the sea…

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….where they went for a swim. Apparently while one parent’s looking after the nest, the other goes off fishing for food, and then they swap over.

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It was a beautiful area – and really, really hot – I thought penguins only liked the cold! But it was really ferociously windy – so windy in fact I didn’t notice that I’d got completely sunburnt on the two hour round trip along the path. You really felt like you were at the end of the earth, there was just nothing to see apart from scrubland.

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It was just really cool to see wild penguins up close going about their stuff.

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I don’t know if this one was protecting its egg or just having a little lie down in the sun.

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After we did the tour, we headed to the visitor centre for a spot of lunch – it was really well designed – hidden really in a sunken spot.

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I just grabbed a quick empanada or three, as I wasn’t that hungry, but everyone else seemed to be there forever. That’s our guide Laura on the left.

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While everyone finished their meal I went off for a look around the exhibit. It was really well done inside and looked modern and new, but unfortunately not that much of it was in English, so although I wanted to find out more about the penguins I couldn’t really 🙁

After being at Punto Tombo for just three hours, it was time to get back on the bus for the two and a half hour journey back to Puerto Madryn. This time though as well as stopping off in Trelew, we had to stop off at the airport there too to drop people off, so it took like nearly three hours.

As we were driving out the reserve, we did see some other wild animals though… these which are related to alpacas…

…and also Laura spotted an armadillo when we stopped to look at the animals above. I followed her glance, and just caught a glimpse of it scurrying off. That was a cool way to end the trip!

I slept for the first hour on the bus – it just felt like we were taking forever, but then I read my book, and before I knew it we were back. After a quick shower, I headed out to dinner. After last night’s Mexican I fancied someplace more traditional, so using a combination of Trip Advisor and Foursquare, narrowed it down to three places. A lot of restaurants on the main tourist street had reviews saying stuff like “Yeah I got a beetle in my salad” etc. so be warned!

Nicolas at reception recommended a place called Macacha – one of the places on my list, as his relative worked there.

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It was situated five blocks from my hotel – in the opposite direction of all the touristy shops and restaurants – which I took to be a good sign.

This was a real locals’ restaurant, and I was glad I’d gone. It was full of families and groups of mates out for dinner (photo below taken before they arrived!)

The gorgeous waitress didn’t speak any English (but kept speaking to me in Spanish anyway) but thanks to the power of the camera feature of Google Translate I was able to decipher the menu. I ordered soup of the day (learning from the massive starter portion error last night) which I understood from the waitress to be cauliflower, but then she came back and said there was none left (I think). I asked for carrot which I thought was the other option, but she just repeated it slowly and looked confused. Anyway, I did have soup, and it was carrot, and it was delicious.

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And again it was a large portion. For my main I went traditional, asking for a steak with chips (it was the only remotely Argentinian thing I could see on the menu really) – after checking with the waitress it wasn’t ‘grande’ or massive – and while it was big, I managed to finish it this time!

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It had been a really long day, and I was beginning to feel the effects of the sun. I was keen to get back to the hotel and get to sleep, but on leaving the restaurant spotted something a bit weird. Can you tell what they’re doing?

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It was two teenagers using white tape to mark out a pedestrian crossing on the street. I really can’t work out what that was about – some local safety campaign maybe? Just up the road their mates were doing the same thing.

Anyway, that was the end of my evening – unfortunately it was about 11pm by now, and check out was at 10am (a bit early!) so I wasn’t going to get a lie in.