Peninsula Valdés: Rain, More Rain, and Whales!
The rain hammered against the window of our hostel as we sat and ate an odd yet nice breakfast of various cakes, but it would take more than rain to dampen my spirits that day. My boyfriend, Adam, had finally arrived in Argentina, and today we were going to Peninsula Valdés. The evening before, after booking the rental car, we had strolled up the pier in Puerto Madryn, and had been lucky enough to spot some whales in the distance, little black specks popping up and spraying water in the air. And today we were going to see so much more; sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, dolphins, even orcas, if we were very lucky. Dusting off the last bit of dulce de leche-topped cake, we wrapped ourselves up against the cold and rain, and went to pick up the car.
We were joined by Nicola and Rachel, two Scottish sisters we had met at the hostel, and the four of us headed out of the town and along the coast to the peninsula. The rain had become an incessant drizzle against the windshield, and all we could see was grey fog in all directions. We shrugged it off, after all, we were there for the whales, not the weather. We reached the ticket office for our entry to the peninsula, where the clerk greeted us and told us the last thing any of us wanted to hear. All the roads around the peninsula were now flooded, and getting to the beaches was impossible. My heart sank. I’d been looking forward to this for so long that to be told it wasn’t going to happen was devastating. We glumly paid our entrance fee and went to the only place on the peninsula still available to us, the town of Puerto Piramides. By now the rain had cleared, and we could spot a couple of whales far from the shore. Nicola and Rachel opted for an expensive boat trip, while Adam and I decided to walk along the beach and see if our zoom lenses could capture anything. We strolled around the uninteresting town, stopping for a hot chocolate and the picnic we’d brought with us, then climbed a small hill for a view of the town and beach. It was a poor consolation prize in place of strolling amongst penguins and elephant seals, watching whales and dolphins swim by the shore, and the possibility of seeing orcas leaping right up onto the beach, like we’d read about.
The girls returned from their boat trip, cold but happy to have seen some whales up close, and we decided to stop by the tourist office to see if by some miracle the road to Doradillo, which was meant to be our last stop of the day, had reopened. When we were told that it was open, I had to repeat the question out of sheer disbelief, convinced that I had somehow mixed up the words “sí” and “no”. Giddy with excitement, we piled into the car and raced along the dirt road to Doradillo, a string of beaches where, we had been told, the whales swim right up to the shore. At the first beach, we stopped the car and looked to the sea in shock- surely that black mound in the water, a stone’s throw from the sand couldn’t be a whale? As we raced, cameras in hand, to the water’s edge, another raised his head above the waves, then another, and another. I gazed in absolute amazement at these giant beasts, floating lazily in the water and rolling onto their backs with their fins in the air. I could have stayed for hours, watching them bob about and striving for the iconic photo of a forked tail in the air. When we finally decided to move on, we only made it as far as the next beach before stopping again, as now the whales were even closer to the shore. One was lying on his back just 20 feet from us, so close I had to resist the urge to wade out and touch him. I contented myself with watching him slowly floating along, with his white belly on display and his fins up in the air. He was joined by others, raising their monstrous heads, so close we could make out the barnacles on their faces, and the permanent grumpy expressions that their downward-curving mouths lent them. A smaller calf lifted his head out of the water next to our lazy upside-down friend, indicting she may have been a worn-out new mother. Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more in awe of these incredible beasts, we were treated to the sight of whales jumping in the distance, almost completely leaving the water before arching back down. We stayed until the sun went down, and I marvelled at how the day had looked set to be a disappointing letdown, but turned into one of the best experiences of my life.