Friday, February 20, 2009

Argentine Adventures, Part 4

There has got to be an easier way to do pictures for this blog. I upload 5 at a time, which doesn't take long but then I spend forever rearranging the pictures because I have to move each one individually. Plus, with the format of our blog, I have to resize the horizontal pictures or they get cut off. Anyone in the know, please let me know!!

OK, so the Valdes Peninsula. We reserved our cabin at Puerto Piramides for 3 nights, back in January and they were booked solid every night we were there and afterwards also, so we needed to see everything we wanted to see in those 2 days. The cabin was pretty cute, though we didn't think as highly of them once we woke up and found that Kirsi was covered in bites and I had a couple too. The next morning, Kirsi had even more and now Aidan had them. And of course, the third morning, the kids had some more bites on them. We're assuming they were bed bugs but who knows because Der didn't get bit up at all. Maybe they were just bugs that came in to the cabin at night; I don't know but our poor babies looked awful!

The Valdes Peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of all the wildlife that lives here. All year long there are elephant seals, sea lions, fur seals, penguins, Dusky dolphins, mara (Patagonia hare), guanacos (a type of camelid) and nandus (a type of bird, like an emu). For a lot of the year, Southern right whales come to the Golfo Nuevo and the Golfo San Jose to mate and then give birth. Unfortunately, we weren't there at the right time of year to see them, which was a shame because they apparently come right up to the coast or to your boat. Orcas are also there for a few months of the year. They were there when we were but the weather was not cooperating so they didn't come close to the shore. When it's windy and rainy like it was, they stay further out at sea. So, we didn't get to see the whales but we saw plenty of other animals.

We set off pretty early our first morning because we wanted to drive around the peninsula and see as much of the wildlife as we possibly could. We went to Punta Delgada first of all. It's on the south-eastern tip of the peninsula and it's where a colony of elephant seals lives. To give you an idea of distances, it took us about an hour and a half to get there (yet on the map, it really doesn't look that far). The road was gravel but is was pretty good; at least it was wide so you didn't have to stop for oncoming traffic or anything. We had been warned that there are many fatalities on this road so to be careful. I've come to the conclusion that it's because the Argentines love to drive fast. It's crazy how fast they drive, on any type of road surface. Any of the people who were going fast, we just slowed down and let them fly past us. We were busy enjoying the scenery and all the wildlife we saw.

Sheep estancias occupy most of the peninsula's interior. Here's one shot of the many sheep (we decided to get shots of all animals we saw):

Here are some shots of the Valdes Peninsula as we were driving:

Punta Delgada:

It was at Punta Delgada where we saw the first group of elephant seals. It was so cool to see so many of them lying on the beach and some swimming in the water to cool off. Here is some info that we found on the elephant seals on the Valdes Peninsula:

* each year about 9600 young are born
* during calving season, more than 20 000 elephant seals are found on the coasts of the Valdes
* an alpha male has a harem; harems consist of a few females to over 100. The biggest recorded harem for one male was 130.
* when the females nurse their young, they lose 9 kg daily while the young gain 5 kg daily
* Males can weigh up to 4 tonnes, females up to 800 kg and the babies 40 kg.
* Colour: can vary from grey to dull brown during the moulting season
* Deepest recorded dive: 1430 m
* Length of time they can hold their breath underwater: up to 120 minutes

We drove north along the coast and saw some other wildlife. We saw a couple maras, or Patagonian hares. They are really big - bigger than I had imagined. And we saw what we thought were nandus but apparently they're called choiques. They're a type of bird, similar to emus.



At Punta Norte, we saw a ton of sea lions on the beach. We got some amazing pictures of them - it was so neat. Unfortunately, the weather had turned and it was so nasty. We didn't stay as long as we would have in nice weather because it was so windy (getting up to 40 knots!) and rainy. That also meant that we didn't get to see the orcas. :( We were sad about that because we were really looking forward to seeing them near the coast. They're only there for 3 months so we thought we would have luck seeing them. I did discover something about orcas that I didn't know before: they are the largest member of the dolphin family and aren't whales at all. It makes sense now that I know that but I hadn't realized it before.

Here are some differences between sea lions and elephant seals:
SL use all four fins to move around; they don't drag their abdomens
ES wiggle along the ground on their abdomens and don't use their fins
SL have small pointed outer ears that are in their fur behind their eyes
ES don't have outer ears.
SL can scratch the back part of their bodies with their fins and the males have a big mane.
ES can scratch the front part of their bodies with their fins and the males do not have a mane.

Hairy Armadillo (he was so cute!):

Just south of the Caleta...... we stopped off at the penguin nesting grounds on the peninsula. There were hundreds of Magellanic penguins nesting on the hill going down to the beach. It was a great place for nesting because it was protected by a piece of land maybe 1 km off the shore. So the penguins could learn to swim without worrying about being hurt in the water between the shore and this other piece of land.

The next day we drove to Punta Tombo, which is about 3 hours (or more) south of Puerto Piramides. There lives a colony of 500 000 Magellanic penguins. It was so amazing to walk through the nesting grounds and see the penguins and the babies, who were moulting their baby fluff and getting their adult feathers. We had to stay on the path but the penguins were roaming everywhere, crossing the path, coming right up to us. So, so neat.

We also saw a herd of guanacos at Punta Tombo and these were the best pictures we got of them:

Here are the queen and king of the carseats. Kirsi and Aidan did so well travelling, it really was incredible. We did lots and lots of driving and they managed so well.

I have one more blog to do about our trip to Argentina - our return to Bariloche.
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