Penguins & Sea Lions

Penguins & Sea Lions

January 29, 2015


Narrated Audio Blog

Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

Puerto Deseado is a little coastal town located 125km off the main highway south, Ruta 3, on the east coast of Argentina. It has a latitude of 47˚ South so gets quite cold and of coarse windy like most of Argentina. The town itself is situated on the north bank of the Ria Deseado at the mouth of the river. The rivers name is interesting in Spanish in that its called a "Ria" and not a "Rio", in other words, it is a female river. To be completely accurate its not even a river but a tidal estuary taking the form of a river. Long ago it once was a river with water flowing down from the Andes on the other side of the continent but this flow has long since ceased. Now the riverbed is below sea level and the inlet ebbs and floods with the tides quite dramatically; around 6m we were told at certain times of the year.

While the geography of Ria Deseado is extremely interesting, the reason we visited the town of Puerto Deseado was to see the marine life. Abundant but seasonal penguin and sea lion colonies lie nearby off the coast and our friends  Lucas and Florencia highly recommended the detour to visit the little town so on the ride there we discussed staying for two nights with one full day for a tour out to the islands.

Our first stop when we arrived in town was the tourist information office. Most towns that we have visited in Argentina have at least one office and they are always extremely helpful with information on accommodation, sites and tour packages. This office had a spreadsheet with all available accommodation with corresponding costs so we checked into a very reasonably priced hotel. Being a little off the main route made Puerto Deseado much more affordable than most of the tourist cities we'd seen so far in Argentina. For 300 Pesos (around $30) we had a 2-story apartment with bedroom and en suite upstairs, and kitchen and lounge room downstairs. We had a nice view out the window and heating to keep the apartment toasty warm while outside we needed to wrap up.

Settled in, unpacked and connected to WiFi we had a look at the tours available. Before booking anything our Argentine friends encouraged us to always check Wind Guru ; it's a great website for determining winds in specific locations with additional climate information. The next day was looking great for a boat trip but the following day was looking nasty so we booked an additional night in the hotel to wait for better riding weather and in the meantime, enjoy the cosy apartment.

Our day trip was fantastic. The tour was with Darwin Expeditions and cost 900 Pesos per person (around $90). It took about an hour to get out to the islands after a little delay getting the boat started. We looked a bit dorky wearing our matching wet weather riding gear but it kept us dry and our layers underneath kept us warm. We saw two sea lion colonies, the first from our boat but very much up close. Here was the one dominant alpha male was surrounded by all his females. The guide explained that the male would defend his position aggressively, but no contest was witnessed during our sighting. The other sighting was on land and was a stage colony where all the other males lived in hope, taking their aggression out on each other at random intervals. We had to creep up to this colony so as not to disturb them. The smell and sounds that came out of the group of males was interesting but not pleasant, probably not too dissimilar to human males when no women are around to impress.

Between the sea lion viewings we went walking through the enormous colonies of penguins, both the Rockhopper and Humbolt varieties. The Rockhopper has yellow feathers on its head. When we arrived on the Island the guide took us through some housekeeping and rules including no touching the penguins. We were able to go right up to them for photo's and sit and watch as they played around in the rock pools and jumped in and out of the surf with ease,  well in most cases, as there were a couple that looked like they were showing off and topsy-turvied during their fancy acrobatics.

After a late lunch and more time for photos we boarded our boat, all really satisfied with what we'd seen so far. The guide explained that we would go for a spin on the water looking for dolphins next on the return trip. Awesome! We spent about 20 minutes speeding around in search of the particular dolphin that frequented these parts and just as we all thought we'd missed out, along came the first black and white figure jumping over the water and into our view. Dolphins are very playful animals that love riding the bow wave of boats and ships so are easy to attract to your location provided they are around. Before long there were around 20 dolphins crisscrossing through the water under and around our boat. We remembered to bring our GoPro with the waterproof cover so it got a good workout as we recorded them above and below the water line. For us it was this experience that really made the day, even though the penguin and sea lions were amazing, it was so much surpassed by these amazing little dolphins only 1.5m long.

The next day was as predicted, raining and windy, so we got some time on the internet in the apartment and got a head start on packing for riding the following day which was also as predicted, blue skies but windy. Our next destination San Julian and camping.



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