Monday, 9 March 2015

0225 Around Peninsula Valdes

9th March

Yes, Today I again got a whole packet of black wine gums when I got to see Orcas up on the beach chasing sea lions for lunch – Wow, wow, wow.   But more of that later !


By 10 am I was heading up the dirt road towards Punta Norte right at the north end of the Peninsula in order to be there in good time for high tide.  Not long after starting out, I saw a car I recognised coming the other way – It was my French buddies, Joel and Brigitte.  We stopped and chatted – They had been up to Punta Norte yesterday and unfortunately saw no Orcas – Apparently none had been seen since about Feb
27th, some 2 weeks ago.  They also told me that they had found a nice beach camp site just up the road, as well as suggesting that I go across the island first to Punta Cantor where I could see elephant seals, and then head up the east coast to Punta Norte.  They were heading back towards Santiago so I said farewell to them (their friend Xavier managed to get his brakes fixed on his Land Rover, fortunately), and promised to come and find them in France.  They are actually off to Easter Island, Tahiti, and then Australia where their daughter lives in Sydney, before turning to France. 

Back on the dirt road, it was basically 80 kms of pretty flat bleak pampas, so I started up one of my recorded talking books that I had been listening to in the US some 7 or 8 months ago, and never finished !  I also spotted a couple of Patagonian Hares scampering down the road, and soon after a couple of foxes (locally known as Zorros !) crossing.  Arriving at Punta Cantor there were not too many Elephant seals hanging around, and those that were seemed to be sound asleep on the beach – Basically they looked a bit like rows of oversized dead sardines waiting to be put in a can !!  Not the most active of colonies at this time of day !  There were also a few lonely penguins sitting around on the beach at various spots.

Saw a big German Iveco truck in the car park  that I had heard about from others, and then headed out past the local Estancia where a gaucho was just riding out on horseback accompanied by 3 or 4 dogs – Missed the photo but it was a lovely Argentinian scene to enjoy for a moment.  The coast north has an amazing set of islands which form little sheltered waterways beside the road, and it is these that attract a lot of the wildlife that abounds out here.  Indeed, Charles Darwin was out here and fascinated by it – He certainly got around, that bloke – Surprised he found time to write his Origin of Species book !  Mind you, he probably had lots of spare time when he was on his sailing ship going slowly from one place to the next !

I arrived at Punta Norte at 1.10, still before high tide, so enjoyed a quick bite to eat before heading down to the lookout point.  Down there I found a long stretch of beach covered in Sea Lions and hundreds of young pups (or cubs, or whatever they call them), some lying around, but many of them frolicking in the surf. You don’t have to be very close to be able to smell them, either – Sea lions have a distinctive fishy odour even from far away ! While I was watching a few of them, a hairy Patagonian Armadillo wandered past, looking for some lunch.  There were probably 40 or 50 people there, all with cameras poised, waiting for the possibility of an Orca sighting.  Being the pessimist I am, I reckoned there wasn’t much chance, but was willing to hedge my bets by hanging around for an hour or
two !  In the mean time I spent my time enjoying the floor show – There really is a LOT going on in a sea lion colony, and if you watch a group for a while, it becomes quite a story line.  Babies swimming and running off and then calling for mama, The mum’s all lying round in groups socialising and snoozing in the sun, and the big Dads overlooking his harem, and chasing off any other males who come too close to his party !!  One big Dad even decided he wanted a little action down there on the waterfront, and all the others cleared out for a bit while he and one of his girls had a cuddle !   And when they go swimming they frolic and dive in the waves, really having fun – You can almost see the smiles on their faces. 

Suddenly, at 2.15, someone called out “ORCA” – We turned, and there was a fin moving through the water as the Orca came south down the beach.  Then there were 2, and 3, and 4 of them !  We had lucked out – The Orcas had chosen today to come back to the beach !   And they stayed there for a whole hour !

It really was an absorbing and amazing sight – Like many, I have seen the action on documentaries, but to actually be there while it unfolded in front of you was just so very special.  There are quite a lot of photos in there – Believe it or not I have deleted over 200 !!  But it was an hour of my life that I want to remember, so I make no apologies.

Basically the 4 or 5 Orcas slowly patrolled up and down the beach 2 or 3 times, making dummy runs at the beach and then turning away at the last moment. They only really beached themselves once, and that was right up at the far end of the beach ! Grrrr !   Today was a day when I really needed a long telephoto lens on a big camera – Hopefully I can poach a few off websites
of people that I met there today.   The seals did come out of the water when the Orcas arrived, but there were a few foolhardy groups, both adults and pups, who continued to play in the surf within feet of the noses of the Orcas as they came in, as if they were saying “nah, nah, nah, Mr Orca – Can’t catch me !!” and sticking their tongues out at them !  And one of the Orcas was definitely a baby itself if you compare the dorsal fin sizes – It was often swimming between two adults.  “Beaching” is apparently only ever done by the biggest and fittest whales, and apparently larger ones will often beach themselves beside a “beginner” in order to help them get back off the beach if they get stuck !

Besides them swimming up and down, there were several splashy moments in the deeper water when 3 or 4 Orcas would accelerate fast and then be twisting and turning in the water – We can only guess that they were chasing sea lions that were in the water.  But it really was a performance, with all the humans spectators up on the bank oohing and aahing and pointing out to others when something happened – It was one of those days when language was not a barrier – Everyone know what you were saying regardless of your origin !   I met up with the German family from the Iveco truck that I had seen earlier – Jochen and Katerina and their 18 month old son Moritz.  They have been on the road almost a year so little Moritz has grown up sitting in a seat in the front of the truck as they travelled down from Newfoundland and then Alaska all the way down to here – Basically the same journey as ours.  They are now heading home and have to buy a house – They sold everything to come on the road and do this trip.   We enjoyed sharing the excitement of the moment together.

At one point the Orcas disappeared round the headland, and we thought they had gone.  Many people left, and I went up to the cafĂ© to get a cup of coffee – Suddenly someone came in – “They’re back” – And we all went back down to the beach where sure enough they were back, and the show continued !

What a fantastic experience.  It is a beautiful location, but to be there when the Orcas chose to come in made the whole day just so very special.  As I wandered up the path to the car, even little lizards (that have sharp teeth and apparently bite hard !) and a little cuis were out enjoying themselves in the sunshine.

I then drove back towards Puerto Pyramides, some 80 kms fairly straight flat road – Good surface, but very dusty.  There were quite a few cars on the road and every one settled into about 85 kms an hour, even though some may have been faster or slower, just so we could all keep a gap between us that enabled us to be dust free.    Except for one stupid tourist mini bus that just HAD to go 5 kmh faster and try to overtake everyone, causing everyone to have to slow down and let him go in order to get out of his dust.  It was a good job I turned off before town otherwise he would have got an earful – Especially since he proudly displayed an “80 kmh limited” sign on the back of his van !!

Just at the end of the dirt road, I bumped into Sam and Erica, and Californian couple who I first met in Ushuaia – They had just arrived in the Park and were looking for the same beach camp spot that Joel and Bridget had told me about this morning.  We found the turn off and headed through dunes and a soft sandy track down to the beach – Playa Punta Pardeles.  And when we arrived, what an amazing scene greeted us – A few cars and
caravans dotted around on the beach, blue crystal clear sea, and these flat areas of rock that I have seen and commented on before.  On walking around, the rock is not actually rock, but a kind of mudstone that is embedded with shells of all sorts – big, small and medium, and many of them unopened, as if they got buried long long ago in a mud slide.  And on top of the cliffs, 100 feet above the water, whole layers of this shell layer -  A local I spoke with on the beach says this whole area is slowly emerging from the sea, and it really looks that way – It is indeed active geology or paleontology (or whatever) unfolding in front of your eyes.  This stuff is limestone in the making !

Anyway, a beautiful peaceful camping spot on an almost isolated beach down in Patagonia.  Almost perfect end to an almost perfect day.  After a drink with Sam and Erica, I cooked some spag for supper, and turned in, to be rocked gently to sleep during the night by just the slightest of sea breezes blowing down off the cliffs behind me. 

Tomorrow a couple of other places to visit on the Peninsula Valdes, then I am going to go back into Puerto Madryn and try to get an oil change on Troopie as yet another 10,000 km interval has just clocked up, (55,000 kms in total so far…..) and I think it would be easier to get it done here than in a big city like Buenos Aires. 

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic Giles......very special!!! Great shots too.....jealous :)