Posted by: robinson2000 | July 16, 2011

Having a ‘Whale’ of a Time – Puerto Madryn

11th – 15th July

After enduring another long day of travel that began with a 4 hour journey to Rio Gallegos, followed by a 4 hour wait, and finished off with a 22 hour overnight journey, I arrived in Puerto Madryn. This also included a 3 hour breakdown on the side of the road so when we eventually arrived I was shattered. I found an excellent hostel called El Gualicho and headed out for a stroll along the beachfront and a steak. My first impression of Puerto Madryn was how much warmer it was compared with the previous 6 weeks of wearing unfashionable thermal underwear with multiple layers, just to stay warm.  

Puerto Madryn is a seaside town about half way up Argentina on the east coast. It sits on the wide bay of Golfo Nuevo and is the base for Peninsula Valdes and its extraordinary array of wildlife. My main purpose of stopping in Puerto Madryn was to see the Southern Right whales, which come to the sheltered bay to breed at this time of year. After speaking with lots of travellers in the preceding weeks, I had come to the conclusion that the best and cheapest way to see the whales was by cycling up the coastline and observing them from the shore. Due to the protection that the whales receive, boats aren’t allowed to get very close to the whales so it seemed the best option. Having been told that the best time of day to view the whales was at high tide, about 4pm, I spent the morning cycling down the coast with a Manc fellow. Unfortunately he suffered a puncture about 10km out-of-town and neither of us had any repair equipment, leaving him with a long walk home. He seemed chirpy enough as I pedalled back to town for lunch. After lunch I decided to tackle to short 17km ride up the coastline to a popular viewpoint to see the whales. The measly 17km ended up being one of the worst rides I’ve ever done, as the route first took me through a huge industrial site full of aluminium and fish processing plants, then onto a sandy gravel track and into the most vicious headwind that I’ve ever felt. To make up for my aching thighs and burning eyes, I could see dozens of spouts of water as whales cruised up and down the shoreline. After 90 minutes I made it to the beach and was able to see the whales only 25 – 30 metres out to sea. Unfortunately my miniscule zoom couldn’t capture much of the action but it was an incredible sight and there were only a handful of people around.

To complete my wildlife experience, the following day I took a short trip to see a colony of seals that inhabit one of the beaches, 80km south of Puerto Madryn. Our guide for the afternoon was a lovely old man but seemed completely oblivious to any oncoming traffic and who would continually take both hands off the steering wheel as he turned around to point out the sights. Sitting up front next to him was a nerve jangling experience but we made it safely to the beach and headed down a steep path that lead down from the cliffs. On the beach were about 30 seals resting on the pebbles and we were able to wander freely around them as they belched away, and eyed us with curiosity. Disappointingly there were no elephant seals around but it was great to spend a couple of hours with the seals, and again there were only 5 of us on the beach.

Before leaving Puerto Madryn, I got chatting to a South African girl who told me that only a couple of weeks ago, she and her parents were in a remote part of Brazil taking a small ferry ride down the amazon river. About a day into the journey, a group of Brazilians aboard the boat whipped out some handguns and machetes and shot a couple of passengers. They then herded everyone down into the hull of the boat and were told to strip down to their underwear and hand over any valuables. The 50 passengers were locked in the pitch back hull for a couple of hours as the pirates ransacked everybody’s belongings, before crashing the boat into the riverbank to leave. She said that there was hardly any air to breathe in the hull and it was stiflingly hot and at one point she thought the attackers were pouring petrol into the hull. Once the pirates had left, the captain who had serious machete wounds was finally able to release the passengers from the hull. For the rest of the journey, being the only three westerners on the boat, the other passengers looked to them to bandage and treat the gunshot and machete wounds that some of the passengers had suffered. I was in disbelief as she told me her story, but luckily, her and her family were unharmed.

Next stop is the capital, Buenos Aires.  

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