We head out on this beautiful morning to Puerto Pirámides and Estancia San Lorenzo, both on Península Valdés. We’re getting an early start to get ahead of the winds, which are so characteristic of this part of the world. They tend to pick up throughout the day and we don’t want to jeopardize our planned navigation with southern right whales.
The buses head out of Puerto Madryn for the isthmus of the famous peninsula, which looks like Thor’s hammer from space. To the north lies the San José Gulf and to the south, Nuevo Gulf, which we entered yesterday.
After an hour, we arrive at Puerto Pirámides, don life jackets, and climb onto our boats, which are then driven out on their cradles by a tractor into the beautiful clam waters and head off in search of whales. Soon enough our whale spotters announce they have sighted one of the giants, a female with its accompanying calf. Over the next hour we are left in awe as we witness tail lobbying, distant breaching, animals turning upside down, pectoral fins slapping the waters, and many close views of giant heads covered in callosities rising to the surface to breathe. On one occasion a boisterous calf nudges and bumps one of the boats. The warm sunshine lights up the whole scene perfectly.
Nobody wants to return but return we must, and along the way we pass a small rock cormorant colony perched on a cliff, and then several south American sea lion hang outs. Many giant males are surrounded by their females, who are closely bunched around him. Suddenly another male tries to get on to the rocky slabs, but he is quickly dissuaded by the dominant male who grunts and heads off the possible aggressor.
Once back onshore we board the buses and head north for our lunch venue. Along the way we witness much wildlife: maras quietly grazing along with the Merino sheep, elegant crested tinamous, the occasional Darwin’s rhea, and many herds of guanaco, the largest of the South American camelids. These creatures all inhabit this arid treeless region, with abundant low bushes and grasses that are bright green with recent rainfall.
After an hour and a half we arrive at the Estancia San Lorenzo, where we are treated to a traditional lamb asado (BBQ), accompanied by wine and fresh salad. For dessert we eat traditional homemade flan with dulce de leche.
After a wander around the estancia we head off for our afternoon program. A short ride leaves us with commanding views of the San Matías Gulf and everywhere around us Magellanic penguins are walking to and from their burrows. An 800-meter circuit takes us past hundreds of these delightful birds, almost all of them on their eggs. What puzzled some of us were the number of birds who were off of their eggs. The reason for this was subject of discussion among the staff. Along the way we also caught sight of some guanaco, an elephant seal, and a few South American sea lions along the shoreline.
The return to the ship was uneventful and included a stop at an interpretation center at the entrance to the Valdés Peninsula reserve.
Certainly it has been a long day, but what a day! Cocktails tonight tasted especially delicious!