Animal adventures in Argentina: Puerto Madryn

Animal adventures in Argentina: Puerto Madryn

Those who have been reading this blog since we started our travels (almost a year ago!) know we had some disappointments on the way concerning animal encounters.

-  Arrived to a town in Tasmania called Penguin just after all the penguins had left.
-  Drove to a small town in New Zealand just for penguins – who weren’t there.
-  Paid $400 AUD each to snorkel with whale sharks in Coral Bay, Western Australia. You guessed right – they were nowhere to be seen. Or actually just couple hundred kilometres North in Exmouth where we were couple of days earlier. Duh.

On a positive note, on that snorkel trip we did see everything else from manta & sting rays to whales, dugongs, more whales and dolphins.

And the greatest comeback was me fixing Richie up to get picked “randomly” from the audience of over a hundred people to feed dolphins in Monkey Mia in Western Australia. You should have seen the looks on the faces of all the kids and their parents when an almost two-meter tall twenty-something gets chosen for this cute activity!

Thus the stakes were quite high for our next Argentina stop. Puerto Madryn was always looming on the planning list but as it added a diversion to our route to Patagonia, we almost considered dropping it until we found out it was ORCA SEASON!

And not just any orca season, ORCAS SNATCHING SEA LION BABIES FROM THE BEACH season. You just don’t see this shit anywhere else in the world.

Could we be so lucky? Could the stars be aligned to make all this happen? For once being at the right place at the right time?

Well, no.

But I’ll come back to that later.

Puerto Madryn is the “base camp” for wildlife exploration in this area. You can see penguins (second biggest colony in the world, maybe now third as they found a new one in Antarctica), elephant seals, sea lions, Southern Ballena-whales, black-and-white dolphins (that look like mini orcas), regular dolphins, orcas, armadillos, local camels as we still call them (official name is guanaco), local emus, rabbits, pumas.. you name it.

You’ll need to either join quite expensive tours totalling $75-$100 USD / day or rent a car and drive and drive and drive to reach the animal spots. As we wanted more opportunities to spot the orcas, we rented a car and stayed inside the Peninsula Valdes National Park area to avoid paying the park entrance fee every day. On the first day though we drove to the opposite direction to Punta Tomba to check out the penguins, finally! During the drive there we joked half-heartedly about the possibility of no penguins. We figured that’d be our luck. Second biggest penguin colony without penguins.

Luckily we were wrong! It’s not exactly the advertised 400,000-500,000 penguins but enough to make us very, very happy. Until you have seen a penguin swim and bathe (they were clearly washing themselves by doing barrel rolls) you haven’t really experienced joy!

This successful first encounter made us hopeful for what was to come. Checking the National Park and Punta Norte Orca Research- Facebook pages, confirming high tide times, estimating driving times… orcas we are coming for you!

There’s two places where orcas are normally seen. Punta Norte which houses a sea lion colony and Cadeta Valdes with elephant seals, sea lions & an “attack channel” where only professional photographers and film crews can go. You are most likely to see these glorious predators during high tides and those are 1,5 hrs apart on these two places. Thus depending on the day you might get two high tides = better chances.

We spent the first day driving around and sitting in Cadeta Valdes. Talking to people who were on their third day of orca search with no results. But we also got our hopes up as a group of 15 orcas had been seen – just not at the usual spots but in a place were they haven’t been spotted in two years. So they were definitely around..

Second day’s first high tide was at 7.30 am in Punta Norte. We had to start the drive at 6am to make it through the gravel roads with our white Ford Fiesta – not exactly the same as driving with our Toyota Landcruiser 4WD in Australia…

Then we waited. And waited. Watched sea lion pups play at the water. Thinking if it’s disturbed to hope a predator would come and eat them? And really hope for that?

No orcas.

It was time to switch location back to Cadeta Valdes to wait for the 17.45pm high tide. Only 8hrs to go. We are pretty good at the waiting game when Kindles are fully charged and you have a place in the shade. Eating self-made sausage sandwiches and yesterday’s pasta cold, buying hot water to make your own coffee (did I already tell you Argentina is expensive?), gazing at the sea, hoping to see a black fin or two emerge from the water.

Eight hours later, cold and wet from sitting in the rain for the last hour, it was time to admit defeat and head back to the base camp while there was still sunlight left.

No orcas.

When I am a famous writer I’ll come back for a month to live in a hut with views to the sea. Write and wait for the intelligent black and white friends to show up. Until then the Youtube clips and documentaries are all we have.