Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Feb 15, 2020
|After two days of sea travel, we arrived in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. It was founded in 1865 by a group of Welsh settlers. In the 1970s, the government wanted to encourage settlement in the area, and offered tax free status for a period of 30 years. There are 3 main industries:
1. Aluminium production using bauxite that is imported from Japan
2. Fishing, with squid being the major catch
It is part of the region of Patagonia, 1300k south of Buenos Aires and 1700k north of Ushuaia. Population is sparse and fuel is subsidized because of the great distances people are required to travel.
This part of Patagonia is considered a semi desert, getting about 200 mm rainfall per year. Water is brought in via aqueduct from a river 600k away. Because of the windy conditions, there are 180 wind turbines that provide power to the aluminium industry. At one time, it was very treed, so it is rich in paleontological artifacts, including dinosaurs. There are now almost no trees, just very scrubby vegetation.
There are a lot of sheep in this region. They were introduced in the early 1900s and are of the Merino breed, mainly used for their wool. Most of the wool that is sheared is sent to Peru, as they have more infrastructure to do the processing. Large water tanks are set up to supplement the insufficient natural supply. The tanks are filled from wells that are 150-200m deep.
Many species of wild animals live here. The ones we saw most were guanacos, which are like a llama or alpaca. The guanacos were drinking from the water intended for sheep, so many were killed by the farmers. They are now a protected species but are sometimes poached for meat. They have very fine hair that can be used for cloth, but the yield from each animal is very small. They can run at speeds of 60-65k/hour.
There are also large rodents called mara that look something like a jackrabbit. These rodents are interesting in that they are monogamous. We saw a few bird species – elegant crested tinamou, burrowing owl, and rhea. The rhea looks like an ostrich but is not quite so large.
We took a tour to the Valdes Peninsula Wildlife Sanctuary. This peninsula is connected to the mainland by a 35k isthmus that is 7k wide at its narrowest point. A special permit is required to enter the sanctuary. The peninsula is home to 3 colonies – Magellanic penguins, sea lions, and elephant seals. The views were from high cliffs, so not optimal for pictures. However, the penguins were very curious and some came up the hill to look at us. They come here to breed, and then return to Antarctic water for the rest of the year.
The restaurant in town provided a typical Argentinian lunch, empanada, large hunk of beef, and a flan for dessert.
We spent about 6 hours driving, so the rest of the day was quiet. Another sea day tomorrow as we head for the Falkland Islands. The last two cruises were not able to go ashore there because of high winds, so we are hoping for calm.