After about 10 days of walking, eating beef and hugging a cat, we leave Buenos Aires. Our next stop is Puerto Madryn, a small town near the Valdés peninsula. The landscape of the peninsula is not particularly interesting, but there is something that attracts a lot of tourists here – marine animals. Depending on the season, you can see here whales, orcas, dolphins, sea lions, sea elephants or penguins.
On the way
To the south of Buenos Aires, we are hitchhiking very well, changing cars and trucks without major problems. After all, it takes us 2 days instead of 3 to cover 1300 km, as initially planned. We are helped by Michał’s shirt of the Club Atlético Boca Juniors, a very popular football club in Argentina. In the first car, which stopped for us on the outbound from Buenos, we meet Brian, a die-hard supporter of La Boca. When he learned about our trip, he offered Michał to exchange shirts with a wish that Michał would take a picture of himself in a La Boca T-shirt in front of the Perito Moreno glacier. Of course, Michał agrees to exchange, giving Brian a T-shirt from Woodstock. All the drivers who later stopped for us were La Boca supporters, so probably this T-shirt has helped us a lot in hitchhiking in Argentina.
See the animals
We reach Puerto Madryn at the end of April. Unfortunately, this is not the best time to watch animals. The penguins season is over, and most of them swam towards the coast of Brazil to spend the winter in a warmer place. Similarly with orcas: the season ends, but the whale season is only slowly beginning. Well, unfortunately, in such a long journey it’s impossible to perfectly match time in all places.
We still have animals that can be found all year long. Unfortunately, admission to Peninsula Valdés is cruelly expensive. In addition, you need to ensure transport on site, because the colonies of animals are located in different places. You can buy a trip at a local tourist agency or rent a car and explore the peninsula on your own, which is also not cheap. We try to organize some company to share the costs of the car, but we can’t find anyone. As the season is not favourable for us, on the advice of Macarena and her mother Liliana, our Couchsurfing hosts, we decide to let go of the peninsula. We rent bikes and go to Punta Loma – an observation point of sea lions, 15 km from Puerto Madryn. Along the way, we have the opportunity to observe a fun fact. Well, in Argentina the most important for a girl is her 15th birthday. It’s customary for her to dress in a “princess” dress, hairstyle and make-up of course, and obligatory photo session. On the way to Punta Loma we passed one such princess during her birthday session, in the middle (fortunately) of not very busy road. Something like “my sweet 16” in the States, except that Argentina decided not to wait until the sixteenth, and arrange the party a year earlier.
We have incredible luck. The weather is good, sunny and windless, and when we arrive at Punta Loma, it turns out that some time ago the collection of fees has been abandoned – we can watch the sea lions completely free. We arrive at the place at the tide hour – then the beach where the sea lions are lying is the smallest, so the chances of seeing them are not too big. Apparently they like to swim out at this time to catch a dinner. But for us it’s a really good day. There are some 100 sea lions on the beach, they make hilarious noises, and in addition for a few hours we are completely alone and have a perfect view of the animals.
Listen to that!
On the way back we stop for a moment on the Parana beach. Observing fishermen, we rest for a moment, when suddenly some movement at the edge attracts our eyes. Yes! A penguin swam almost to the very shore and splash in the water. Moments later, another 2 arrived. We are lucky that we could have seen them.
Unfortunately, the penguins that we are so happy to see, probably won’t survive the winter. Healthy ones have already swam north, in the south stayed only old or sick individuals who are unable to travel so far. The whole area of the Valdés peninsula and the surrounding area is a natural reserve. This means that employees protect these areas from the bad influence of humans, but also don’t disturb the natural rhythm – that is, they don’t help such stray penguins.
Ukrainian thread in Argentina
As I already mentioned, Macarena and her mother Liliana were our Couchsurfing hosts. It turns out that the family has a Ukrainian origin. Liliana’s family, with her then four-year-old father Piotr, emigrated to Argentina in 1929. At that time, Ukraine didn’t appear on official maps. Part of its present territory belonged to the USSR, and some to the Polish lands. Therefore, when the family wrote Ukrainian nationality when filling in the migration documents, officials answered “There is no such country“. Thus, they became officially Poles, because the village of Łopuszno in the Krzemienieckie region (today again Ukrainian) was located within the borders of Poland. After years, the whole family, apart from Piotr who had already settled down in Argentina and started a family, returned to Ukraine. “Ukrainian was spoken at home, it was the first language I learned, only later, when we went to school with my sister, we started to speak Spanish. After some time, we started to speak Spanish at home as it was easier to speak about the same things in the same language as with our peers. Our parents also started talking to us in Spanish, and slowly, slowly, we began to forget the Ukrainian language” says Liliana. Today, she can’t remember the language, only single phrases. She remembers the sauerkraut and cucumbers her mother made, our Slavic sour cream, which can’t be bought in South America, or the vareniki, the Ukrainian version of dumplings Liliana does up to now. There aren’t too many Ukrainian documents left after Liliana’s dad. She only has a photocopy from an old book, not even knowing what it really is. She shows us the documents. When we tell her that they are written in two languages - in Polish and Ukrainian, she turns extremely happy. “You know what it is, can you translate it for me?” she asks excited. We are happy to sit down and decipher the old photocopied extracts from the metrical books of the Łopuszańska parish. It is only after the document is translated that we are able to find out, where the Liliana family comes from. Earlier, when searching for Łopuszno, Google displayed them a city in Poland that was never Ukrainian. Only after specifying that it’s the Krzemieniecki region, Liliana gets to know the location of the village where her dad came from. Thanks to the translation of the document, she also learns the date of his baptism and the names and surnames of the godparents. After digging a bit more data, Macarena intends to go to the immigration museum in Buenos Aires to learn more about her ancestors. Great that we could help.
The next day we are going to the Oceanographic Museum in Puerto Madryn, which is free and has an interesting exhibition. However, many exhibits from the museum we have already seen in the home collection of Liliana. Her husband collected whale bones found on the beach, stones and teeth of animals from which Indians made weapons or tools, and her garden is decorated with huge, whale vertebras.
Although we arrived in Puerto Madryn in a not the best season to watch the animals, the stay is very successful. We saw sea lions and penguins, with Macarena and Liliana we felt at home, and in addition we had the opportunity to repay for great hospitality, at least a little, translating old documents. For a souvenir we got a whalebone found on the beach 🙂 Next target? South of Patagonia. We’re going to get a little cold!