Patagonian Wildlife Safari!

December 19th, 2010, 06:23

Into the wild we venture.  In the car once again, the roadside is alive with ostriches, rabbits, guanacos (which resemble reddish llamas), horses, sheep, and maras (like mixtures between deer and rabbits).  The sky is full of dark, stormy clouds, looming dark blue and purple, yet a patch of sunlight illuminates the landscape bright gold.  It’s a beautiful morning.

We awoke Saturday in a tiny brick cabin, packed tightly with an assortment of bunk beds and other wooden furniture.  I tugged the curtains open and peered outside.  Barren rolling hills blazed golden in the morning sun, at the base of which lay the small town of Puerto Piramides – so small, in fact, it seemed to only have one main road.  The town supermarket was not even large enough to go inside, but must have had a deceivingly adequate variety of food, for when we told the shopkeeper what we were looking for he returned with everything we needed for a large breakfast.

Amazingly, one of the CouchSurfers I hosted in Switzerland last year, Romina, is a whale-watching guide in Puerto Piramides, and we had arranged to meet up once again!  As we were finishing breakfast she came to our door, making sure we were awake.   We walked to her office, about 50 meters away from where we were staying, and were promptly joining her on a whale-watching tour with a group of Patagonian elementary school children.  It was incredible!  The whole bay was full of southern right wales and their calves, surfacing and diving all around us.  The driver would start yelling whenever a whale prepared to dive deep, showing its full tail, and the photographic opportunities were therefore unparalleled.

We went on a second boat trip with Romina’s brother, and encountered even more playful and curious whales that followed our boat and lay upside down at the surface, flapping their fins and twirling around.  They are so unbelievably gigantic!  I’ve had a slight phobia of whales in the past, but after this experience all I wanted to do was jump in the water.  Unfortunately, it’s not allowed anymore after a few tourists have gotten their bones crushed to smithereens from getting too close.  Figures.

That afternoon, we drove to Punto Delgada, an old lighthouse on a seaside cliff in the middle of nowhere, Patagonia, known for its large population of elephant seals.  As soon as we arrived, we joined four Italians (the only other guests at the lighthouse) to walk down the steps to the beach.  There, we crouched single-file, inching our way slowly towards a group of elephant seals basking in the evening sun.  We sat for over an hour, ignoring the pain of the blowing sand sticking to our contact lenses, observing the seals only a few feet away.

Never have I seen such hilarious animals.  Unlike sea lions, which swagger up the beach on all fours like bears, elephant seals have almost no skills on land.  Like huge blobs of fat with adorable faces, they make their way from the sea to the shore in short bursts of wriggling, bouncing, worm-like movements. It must he hard, though – after only a few seconds, they collapse face-down in the sand, lay perfectly motionless for a few minutes to regain their strength, and then continue.  To make matters even more entertaining, when they’ve finally reached their destination, they lay around in huge piles and sneeze repeatedly to rid their noses of salt.  Every sneeze causes their entire bodies to tense up suddenly, then send a huge ripple across their skin.  Needless to say, the video footage is hilarious, and will be posted as soon as I can find some suitable music to accompany it.

The sun set on Punta Delgada.  We were exactly where we, as Alaskans, like to be the most:  in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from anything that could be called a city, in a vast expanse of untouched nature, and surrounded by huge populations of wildlife.  Mission accomplished.

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