The Valdez Peninsula sticks out into the cold Atlantic and is the breeding grounds for sea lions, elephant seals and megellanic penguins, the scrub covered plains are home to lots of guanacos (wild members of the llama family). Southern right whales also breeds and calves here but later in the year.
A lot was going on in the sea lion colonies, the mothers were giving birth and we saw many tiny newborn pups with the gulls squabbling over their still attached placentas. The males were pretty active too, as just 3 days after giving birth the mothers mate ready for the following year. There was lots of posturing, growling and teeth barring but surprisingly little physical contact between the males. We could see why they got the “lion” part of their name, with the male’s thick manes. In a few weeks time the tiny pups will have fattened up on their mother’s rich milk and be ready to learn swim. This is when something very usual and unique happens in the northern Valdez Peninsula, orca (killer whales) intentionally beach themselves on the pebbly shore to snatch the sea lion pups from the shallows. We’d seen it on TV and it is so impressive with the 8 ton orcas then trashing wildly to get back into the sea with its prey. However, we were just a few weeks too early to see it.
Elephant seals are the world’s biggest seals and even the few small females we saw lounging amongst the sea lions, showed the difference. Their pups were born earlier in the summer and were now very big. The megellanic penguin chicks were still dependant on their parents for food, as they were still half covered in non-waterproof, grey, fluffy feathers.
We were really happy to see an armadillo running around, we have seen them all over South America but so far we have only as “road-kill”.
We wild camped for two nights in the park where the Rangers said we were permitted to. It was surprisingly busy with families and fishermen considering it was pretty but desolate with no facilities. We’ve seen far more local camper vans, often converted old buses, over the last few weeks. Argentinians also love to get away for the holidays to the coast.
Heading south, we skirted along Argentina’s eastern coast on Ruta 3. It was mostly scrubby desert all the way down. It was a long days drive to the beachside resort of Rada Tilly just south of Comodoro Rivadavia. We spent the following day on another fruitless search for new tyres. The preceding day, a stone had hit the windscreen and chipped it badly, it looked liked we needed a new windscreen but as they don’t sell MAN trucks in Argentina, it looked like another impossible task. However things started looking up then the sceptical guy at the windscreen repair place managed to fill the large hole with the special resin. We also heard from Brett, Steve’s brilliant brother in law, that he knew someone who worked for Michelin in the UK who might be able to help us find some tyres. Emails whizzed back and forth and hopefully Michelin will be able to help us find some replacement non-standard (in South America) sized tyres.
After a day of trying to get things done we thought we would treat ourselves to a night out for dinner. The only problem was finding somewhere open that served dinner early enough. Eventually after walking miles along the beach we found a trendy restaurant right on the beach that started serving dinner at 8.30pm, the only other two restaurants in town started an hour later. It was a swanky place and reminded me of some of the restaurants we used to eat in, in our old life.A couple of days earlier we’d heard from a travel agent in Ushuaia that they had a last minute deal on a trip to Antartica. We quickly responded to the email and reserved it, we were still dancing round the truck with glee a couple of hours later when we got the email that they wouldn’t take anyone under 8. We were gutted, especially Lucy, she was the one who was most keen and at 6, she was too young. Two days later we heard from Ushuaia again, they’d found a trip that would take us all. I wanted to ramp up the girl’s homeschooling to prepare them. They had already done a lot about the wildlife they might see but now they wanted to know about the continent. We found with the Galapagos that if we sparked their interest and they learnt about what they might see, they got a lot more out of it. The guide in the Galapagos was amazed about what they knew and the questions they asked. So as part of their studies to become more familiar with the continent they made a gingerbread map of Antartica complete with different types of ice, South Pole, Transantarctic mountain range, desert valleys, Scott and Andmuensen’s route…yum! We camped up the following night just off a pretty coastal drive on a pebbly beach under some cliffs. There were amazing marine fossils at different layers in the cliffs above and the rocks below. I love the fact that almost everywhere we go the girls get to see real examples of what they have learnt about. They studied geology and fossils way back when we were in the USA but still remember so much because of what we’ve seen on the way.Still not tired of penguins and sea lions, we stopped for a couple of nights in Parque Nacional Monte Leon. A few kilometres walk brought us to a large colony of megellanic penguins. We were fascinated by how close the nests were, at this time of year both parents are frequently at sea to fish for their almost fully grown chicks. In a couple of months, the chicks will have completely lost their fully grey feathers and be able to take to the sea. One of the penguins was just as interested in us as we were in it. The picturesque camp spot had a resident female fox and two large cubs, it was lovely watching them interact with each other. Nearby was a large island colony of seabirds and sea lions which made for a good walk with great views along the coastline. Mind you it wasn’t all lounging around watching the wildlife, the afternoon called for a couple of hours of toilet fixing for Steve and I. Amazingly, we actually managed to fix the problem. Such is the glamour of overlanding life!