Punta Tombó: Land of a Million Penguins
I groaned as I woke up to the sound of rain, certain that it would mean the road to Punta Tombó, the penguin beach, would be closed. With our fingers crossed, we drove from Puerto Madryn to the city of Trelew, where we were told the road was open, but in bad shape. We hurried along the road to the junction, then crawled agonisingly slowly along the slippery mud track, arriving at the entrance to the beach almost three hours after we had left our hostel. Eager to make up for lost time, I jogged along the path, stopping only when I heard Adam say the word “penguin”. And there it was, the first of many penguins, waddling along beside us, not at all bothered by the crowds of visitors.
The walkway was long, and took us through dry scrubland towards the beach. I’d read there were almost a million Magellanic penguins here, and expected to see them huddled together on the sand, but the reality was bizarre. The little creatures were spread out over the land, dotted among the hills in the distance and flopped on their bellies in the holes they had dug under bushes. They strolled across our path, completely unruffled by us and our cameras, as we frantically snapped hundreds of pictures. The beach was deserted, save for a few brave penguins who chose to brave the cold. Most of them chose to stay in their holes, adorably cuddled up together, or to wander along with their wings spread, squawking loudly.
After a couple of hours, and wishing we had longer to spend, we tore ourselves away and returned to Trelew, then turned out of the city towards the Welsh village of Gaiman. The journey there was quite pretty, it was there first time since heading south that I had seen actual trees, planted in artificial lines along the roadside. Gaiman itself was remarkably unimpressive, a forgettable village with a couple of tea rooms and pictures of dragons to show its Welsh heritage. Our lack of interest turned our to be a good thing, as we were running out of time before we had to catch our bus that night, so after a quick drive around, we headed back to drop off the car and start on the long route south to El Calafate.