|Friday, February 4, 2011
Our tour today would take us to the Peninsula Valdes, with a guide whose name I didn’t understand and it was never repeated. We do not have organized rotation on the buses, but depend on the honor system of not occupying the first seats on the bus all the time. I was seated farther to the back with the sound not always the best. Each of us has a transceiver with earphones that really help in such situations and when we are outdoors with a guide. The guide has a microphone and transmitter and does not have to shout to be heard when speaking to a large group or to be heard over other groups that are in the vicinity. We see those groups envious of our system.
We docked at Puerto Madryn and drove over a bridge to get to Peninsula Valdes. Puerto Madryn was a very clean modern city with about 83,000 inhabitants. The shops and business buildings were mostly of modest size and the house looked well kept. The largest industry is an aluminum plant that takes up considerable space. With access to an excellent port it is an ideal location. There were many stones on the ground and these are shipped to Italy, for what purpose I have no idea. The other major industry is fishing and fish processing.
Crossing the bridge into Peninsula Valdes the landscape changes dramatically. The entire peninsula is low, treeless, with mostly grasses and low bushes.
It is very windy with little rainfall; the average is 250 mm per year, but it is dryer this year. Valdes Peninsula is a huge nature reserve for colonies of elephant seals, sea lions and Magellan penguins. As we drove on mostly gravel roads the people on the left side of the bus spotted guanacos, a kind of llama; and rheas, kind of like an emu; I was on the right side of the bus. Estancias raise mostly sheep, and we saw a few. The guanacos compete with sheep for grazing land and water, which make the guanacos undesirable. The sheep, unfortunately, strip the ground of all vegetation and have to be moved from place to place for the land to recover.
We also saw in the distances a change of color in the landscaped caused by depressions, which are mostly salt; one is called Salina Chica and a much larger Salina Grande. The latter produces much salt, while the former has a lot of clay mixed in making it unusable.
The active season for the animals is September through December; therefore we would not be seeing the masses of animals advertised in guidebooks. Our first stop to see elephant seals was from a distance to see a few swimming in the water and one on land.
The Magellan penguins were more numerous at our next stop, some quite close; but most were near the water some distance away.
The erosion is dramatic with the banks sculpted by years of wind and water. Posters describe the kinds of fossils we are seeing as we walk along the path. The contrast between land and sea is amazing, with the ocean so vibrantly blue and the land so stark.
We stopped for lunch at a small, but comfortable restaurant in a very small settlement, hardly a town. We sat at large tables and had a cold relish with crusty bread as a first course. The main course was a huge portion of fish with a matching portion of mashed potatoes. The fish was dense and rather tasteless, but everyone seemed to enjoy the mashed potatoes. Bowls of cooked vegetables were also on the tables. The best part of the lunch was the Dove bar that we had to consume in a hurry because our time was limited.
You could hear the sea lions from a distance at our last stop and enjoyed seeing them fall into the water and a couple of males trying to prove their dominance. There were many sunning themselves on the flat rocks jutting out from the ocean.
We had to cut our excursion by one hour because the ship’s departure time one hour earlier than announced previously. As a result, we did not visit the EcoCenter as planned. We had a lot of distance to cover between sites and the bus raced to get us back to the ship by 4:30 pm. We were boarding at 4:50 pm; that was almost too close for comfort.
Today is Valarie‘s birthday. Dorothy managed to get champagne served at dinner, Sarah Jones ordered the cake, Sue co-coordinated the signing of a chef’s hat by all of us which she also decorated with one of the wishing ribbons from Salvador, Janet composed a poem that included a gift from all of us that because we love Valerie so much we’re buying condos in her neighborhood and Celine from Quebec taught us a song in French to sing to Valarie.
“Chere Valerie c’est a ton tour
de te laisser parler d’amour”
After dinner the waiters brought out the beautiful cake and sang their own rendition of “Happy Birthday”.