After recovering from BA on the loooong journey south to Puerto Madryn in Patagonia we struck gold by finding a cool little hostel run by a great Argentinian guy called Gaston. This guy was the hostess with the mostest and really couldn´t do enough for us.
After helping us book a tour for the following day, he cooked up the best barbeque ever and also did a wine-tasting session, whereby he took us through a range of fine argentinian reds. Neither Liam nor I are usually partial to a glass of red, but this was not like the vinegary rubbish that we had tried in the past. The BBQ´s or Parillas as they are called here in Argentina are fantastic, with delicious, perfectly-seasoned soft meat which just melts in the mouth (mmm, I´m drooling all over the keyboard just thinking about it) and the wines are fantastic too. No deep-fried shapes for tea in this neck of the woods.
The following morning Liam, Neil and I were collected by our tour guide and taken on a long and drawn-out journey to see the elephant seals, which come up onto the beach at this time of year to mate. Each male seal is surrounded by upto 6 adoring females, like an aquatic Puff Daddy video.
After being shown sheep and rabbits (can we just get to the seals, we´ve got millions of sheep at home thank-you-very-much) for a few hours on the journey, we finally arrived at the Peninsula Valdez. The seals were an amazing sight, hundreds of them on the beach blubbering about and calling to each other. The males were literally huge, and were scratching and making belching noises just like their human counterparts do!
After getting as close to them as we were allowed we had lunch then it was back on the sweltering bus to continue to the whale-watching part of the tour.
We were all a little tired and drained by the time we arrived, but as soon as we boarded the boat and the brisk wind slapped our faces we were awake and raring to see the Southern Right whales.
And they didn´t disappoint...within minutes of getting out onto the ocean we were surrounded by a "copulating group", a rare treat whereby upto 7 males work together to surround a female in order to mate with her. There is no competition involved, just a romping frenzy! The females can be 18m long, whilst the males are only 12m so I guess it makes sense for them to help each other out. The female plays hard to get, however, and spins upside down so that they have to work at turning her over in order to mate.
We got to watch this amazing spectacle from only a few feet away, as our boat lurched and swayed from the force of the water being churned by the whales. We clung to the boat as we snapped away, getting some cool footage of the whales cavorting and splashing around. At one point one whale even spurted water from his blowhole right over everyone on the boat.
It was truly humbling to watch, and the sheer size of these creatures makes you realize your tiny insignificance in the universe.
After a few hours it was time to return to the hostel, and fired-up from the excitement of the day we enthusiastically relayed our experience to Gaston. After a few minutes we realised he wasn´t quite as excited as us , and the horrible truth emerged that we´d made a mistake with our booking and had to leave the hostel there and then. It was gone 10pm, and we thought we´d booked for 3 nights, but once again the Spanglish had let us down and we were homeless.
It took a second for it to sink in, so Gaston somberly marched us into his office, where all our worldy goods had been rammed into plastic bags by a member of his staff. As it was bank holiday weekend, everywhere was fully-booked and the only place we could stay was the local 4-star hotel.
Not such a hardship, you may think, yet we´d already smashed the budget and I was not up for blowing a fortune on a hotel room. After throwing my flip-flops around for a bit I gave in and we taxied it across to the hotel where we would share a cosy room, all 3 of us, Liam, Neil and I...romantic.
We went out on the town to a bar and a cheesy club, only to be turfed out of our room a few hours after we´d got to bed.
Tariq arrived the next day and the boys had a lads´night whilst I stayed in watching movies on Neils ipod.
After a recovery period it was time for more sight-seeing so the 4 of us hired a car for the day and went to Trelew to see the huge penguin colony, where over 500,000 penguins can be seen during peak season.
Weirdly, one of the main languages in Puerto Madryn and Trelew is Welsh, as Welsh settlers staked a claim on this part of Argentina a few hundred years ago. You can even go for a Welsh afternoon tea...very strange when you are in South America!
After messing around amongst the penguins for a while we took another boat tour to see the dolphins. Again, right on cue, the black-and-white dolphins swam around the boat and we even got to see another whale, eyeballing us in close proximity. This boat was considerably smaller, and we were so close to the sealife that you could almost reach out and touch them.
After a fun day it was time for Liam and I to say goodbye and catch the bus back to BA, in order to go back to the airport to catch our flight to Lima.
Just a few days of healthy-living and hydration before some serious trekking. The Inca Trail awaits...