Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy Feet

By Sanne

The idea was to make this blog post about the rest of the way down to Ushuaia, but then I realised how many photos we have from this little place called Punta Tombo and I decided to keep it short and show you all some photos from there. If you're anything like me and LOVE LOVE LOVE penguins, well then I think you're gonna love this too.

I knew I wanted to come to Punta Tombo as soon as I learned that it is the largest penguin colony outside Antarctica. Close to 1 million(!) Magellanic penguins migrate to this peninsula between September and April to breed. When we were there only 100,000 penguins had arrived, but they were everywhere you looked, so I can't even begin to imagine what 1 million penguins together in one spot are gonna look like. Because they dig burrows for their nests, they have left the area looking much like a moonscape. Penguin couples stand together in front of their nests, protecting their offspring from predators and occasionally one of them goes to the sea for food. We were lucky; only two weeks earlier the eggs had hatched and now little too-cute-to-fathom baby penguin fluff balls were peeking their heads out and some of the braver ones were standing outside the burrows, keeping close to their mum and dad. Penguins are monogamous (researchers found one pair who stayed together for 16 years) so every year the males come here first to find (and sometimes fight for) a nest and then later the females arrive and the pairs find each other again. What's amazing is that outside this breeding season which runs from September to April, the penguins stay out at sea and don't come to land at all (unless they are sick). That's 4 months at sea without seeing land. They can also dive more than 75 meters below the water's surface.

Before you see them, you hear them. They are noisy little things. What was surprising to me was that the sound they make sounds exactly like the sound of a braying donkey! So imagine 100,000 penguins doing that and you can imagine the noise. The reserve is excellently set up so you can walk along walkways where you will cross paths with the penguins. Bridges have been set up certain places so the penguins can walk underneath so it doesn't interrupt their routine of going to and from their nests and the ocean. The penguin male is the ultimate 'modern man'; both the male and the female care for their young, taking turns to incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. It was really sweet seeing the little families stand together next to their nests and sometimes hold each other. Punta Tombo was an amazing experience and definitely one of the highlights of our South American trip so far.

It was early evening by the time we thought we had seen enough penguins and it was too far to travel much further to find a camp. So we rode a few kilometres down the road, found a small dirt track that lead into the bush and found a totally out of view, quiet place to set up the tent and this is where we spent the night. We had hopes that we would be surrounded by guanacos, but when I got up the next morning to pee, instead of lamas all I had was a flock of sheep standing there staring at me. Well, I like sheep too.

Before we got to the penguins we had to dodge a herd of Guanacos

On the dirt road leading to Punta Tombo

The moonscape of penguin burrows

They even take over the walkways

Not too fussed about me sharing their space

 It was quite hot so many of the penguins were seeking out some shade under the boardwalks

To cool down, penguins pant much like dogs and stand with their wings spread out

The curiosity goes both ways it seems!

Penguin highway

And this is where they're heading - the water

As crowded as a Mediterranean beach

Wobbly and uncoordinated on land, but as soon as they hit the water
the penguins transform into super swimmers

OK guys, be prepared for some cuteness...

Check out the size of those feet!

Birds join the party too

And guanacos too

Penguins are so funny - they mimic your movements

I love this photo - did I mention penguins are monogamous

And I love this photo even more...

 Our great little bush camp for the night, tucked away out of sight

Friday, 27 December 2013


By Mark

We awaited Shandy Man's arrival in La Plata before riding south. We had decided back in Buenos Aires that we should ride together until we got to Peninsula Valdes. Our plan was to keep heading south from there while Shandy would head west. The days were long and the scenery was quite dull which made for boring riding.

There was nothing particularly interesting to see in the area so we all decided we would just to push on and make kilometres each day. We found a good routine each day and found that we travelled well together, except for Shandy Man's habit of lighting a smoke every time we stopped. Each evening would usually be spent hassling poor Shandy, Sanne was having a great time giving him stick and for a change I wasn't the one copping her flack. Sorry Shandy!

Heading south there was nothing really noteworthy over the 4 days of riding to Puerto Madryn. The dull landscape would be interrupted once in a while by signs declaring The Falkland Islands to be Argentinas. They are very adamant on this subject. We were talking to an elderly woman in one of the towns we passed through about our trip and almost mid-sentence she bursts out: "Las Malvinas son Argentinas!" Jeez...where the hell did that come from?!

We did head through the mid level mountain ranges of Sierra De La Ventanna which made for a nice change in the long flat dry landscape. Shandy's little bike was not liking the long days however and was showing signs of its dislike by leaking plenty of oil over the engine; when we inspected more closely we also noticed oil in the airbox which is also not good. The piston and rings are likely needing to be replaced also along with a few other bits and pieces I would suspect to slow the oil flow out onto the engine. When we arrived in Puerto Madryn we did give the bikes a service and this is when I noticed that our tyres were on their way out and were not going to last as long as I had hoped. We got great mileage out of the last tyres we had on the bikes and I had expected the same again but the endless kilometres on the straight roads in Brazil and Argentina have taken its toll on the tyres that are squaring off.

We spent a night in the campground in Puerto Madryn, a big town on the mainland of Peninsula Valdes. Here there were quite a few other overlanders in cars, one Austrian guy in his Land Rover was just in the beginning of his 10 year quest around the world! The next day, after doing some grocery shopping, we set out for the peninsula and the little settlement of Puerto Piramides where we camped in the municipal campground which was free because they were doing some maintenance work on it. Peninsula Valdes is a 3,600 km2 nature reserve and a UNESCO world heritage site. Most of the peninsula is barren land with a few salt lakes, one of them being 40 m below sea level, one of the lowest salt lakes in the world. It's when you get to the coast line that the real action happens. Here you'll find marine mammals such as sea lions, elephant seals, fur seals, penguins, southern right whales and orcas. The orcas here are famous for sometimes beaching themselves on shore to catch sea lions and elephant seals, although you have to be very lucky to see this and it only happens around February.

It is about 250 kms of gravel road to go around the peninsula so we set off in the morning so we would have time to explore all the hotspots. Our first stop was to see the sea lions which were all pretty chilled out enjoying the morning sunshine. The other big attraction was the little penguins just a few kilometres up the road. The is only a small population of these little guys there but they were all up on the banks also enjoying the sunshine, one couple were even enjoying a little morning nookie!
We were surprised with the very small amounts of traffic specially after meeting so many travellers back in Puerto Madryn the day earlier. We were happy with this, not just to have good close encounters with the wildlife without the hordes of tourists, but it also meant that we did not have to deal with large amounts of dust while riding. It is very dry and barren and with very little rainfall in this part of the country the dust can be a pain. The country side was stunning, even when there is nothing around for miles on the endless dry plains. The contrast from the land to the sea to the wildlife was stunning and it was so great to be away from the highly populated cities further north.

We did get to see many various wildlife but we missed two very big draw cards to this area. Southern right whales who come here between May and December. By the time we had arrived sadly these guys had moved on. We also missed the Orcas. We did hear some people had seen them a few days prior but the chances seeing them are slim. You really need to be around to see them on high tides only and because of the tide times, we were not around at the right time to take advantage of this. So feeling a little bummed not being able to see them we hit the road for the final leg for the ride back to the campsite. At least we did get to see more wildlife with many Guanacos (a type of lama) in the fields. Very timid though and we struggled to even get a photo of them. Every time we stopped they would just take off in the opposite direction with all the family in tow, sometimes with numbers into the high twenties.

Back at camp we sat back with a cold beer to take in the day. We all agreed that it was a great decision to come here and for Sanne and I we could not wait to see more of what Patagonia had to offer. As for Shandy, well we said our goodbyes the following day and with the hope to see each other somewhere over on the western side of Argentina in the future.
For now Patagonia was already looking at being a great place to travel.

No, this is not a gypsy lady we ran into on the road, it's simply Shandy Man wearing his signature look

Sierra de La Ventana

That's a big onion!

Entering Patagonia

These signs are everywhere in Argentina

And in case you need a reminder...

Free camp by the river in Carmen de Patagones

Where are we going again?

Roller blades, the must have accessory when travelling by motorbike

 Peninsula Valdes

Patagonia has some stunning sunsets

Lots of seals and sea lions!

They may not look it but they are alive, just recharging their batteries in the sun

Two male sea lions settling a little disagreement

Sea lion resting on a rock

And then diving in for a dip

Emotions are running high, fights between male sea lions were breaking out left, right and centre

A little lizard in the sand dunes

A Magellanic penguin enjoying a bit of afternoon sunshine

These two were enjoying something else...

And here's some penguin porn for the ones who are that way inclined...

Very much the gentleman giving his partner a little soft touch after their love making session

La Chica en La Moto

Armadillos were running around all over the place