Tuesday, September 27, 2011

El frío patagónico

On the first official day of spring, I found myself in the dead of winter in the south of Argentina.  Getting off the bus in Puerto Piramides, the cold ran through me as if I were in upstate New York in the middle of January.  I thought Maria was going to cry.

Getting to that point was a challenge.  Tuesday night we missed our first bus and had to leave an hour later than planned, pushing our arrival time in Madryn closer to 4:00 pm, at which time the shuttle leaves to Piramides out on the Peninsula.  We actually arrived at exactly 4:00, hopping off our bus with just enough time to buy tickets and hop on the other.  Unfortunately what we didn't have time to do was buy our tickets for Saturday to get back to Buenos Aires, which would later become a problem.  But before it did, we proceeded to have an absolutely incredible week.

We got to Piramides and sprinted up to the hostel-- not far since Piramides has basically 2 streets and they aren't very long-- with two French girls who had gotten off the same bus.  Diva, the fantastic old woman who we had pestered with questions and estimates and help planning our trip, greeted us.

Look at her.  She's awesome.

We were a little nervous that night when they told us that the sea had been rough and we might not be able to do the water-based excursions (whale watch, snorkeling) that we had planned on.  With some free time, we got a bit of studying done and then went and had an excellent seafood dinner at a really cool little restaurant called La Estacion.  And we slept well that night, thanks to a bounty of heavy blankets and beds more comfortable than the ones we have here at the Resi.

The next day we woke up early for breakfast, which each morning was personally served to us, instead of there being a self-serve buffet like most hostels.  Diva sets a place for each of her guests and makes sure they have everything they need.  A little before noon we went down to the Bottazzi excursions office for our whale watch.
It went well.

Whales are HUGE...and awesome.
The guide (who we later came to know as Miguel Bottazzi) kept saying what luck we were having on this watch, because we saw a whole lot of whales.  There were several mothers with their babies, since it was the start of spring.  They came up close to the boat, rolling around in the water, bobbing their heads up and waving their tails at us.  Despite the cold wind and the constant need to kneel, then stand up, then kneel, every time a whale appeared on one side of the boat or the other (so that everyone could see), it was an absolutely fantastic experience.

When we got back to shore, we stopped at the little market and bought some bread, cheese, wine, sauce, and pizza crusts, having decided to cook for ourselves in the hostel.  We made a really excellent pizza and enjoyed the wine.  Staying at this hostel was sort of like being at someone's house, most likely a grandmother.  It was cozy and relaxed and homey.  I loved it.

The next day, while sitting outside Bottazzi, waiting to head out on our land excursion across the Peninsula, Miguel, the guide from the whale watch, saw us and came over to chat.  He asked us if we were on the whale watch the previous day, and we said yes.  He asked if we were staying in Piramides, and we said yes.  Then he invited us to an asado that night, to which we undoubtedly said yes.  This was just after we had been invited out for drinks by the adorable kiosco boy across the street.  We ended up missing that opportunity, but it didn't matter, because the asado was one of the best nights I've had since I've been here.  We arrived and realized we were the only outsiders there.  Everyone else was either a Bottazzi employee or a local business owner.  It was like we had been invited to hang out with the cool kids.  I'm not sure why we were the only tourists welcomed into this inner circle, but I'm glad we were.  We were with the core of the Piramides social scene.  These people were the life of the party.  After we finished a delicious meal, we went across the way to a little bar where we sat and drank and chatted well into the night.  They didn't let us pay for a thing.  I think my favorite character-- because these people were really characters; I think a movie should be made about this town-- was the ship captain, a wizened old guy who got really drunk and started whispering life's secrets to Maria, then later told me I was an angel with soft hands.  They all seemed to be calling him Nene, which is an affectionate term that means little boy.  He was hilarious.  They all were so much fun; I hated to see that night end.
The bar we went to
The next day, our final day in Piramides, we did the most exciting and expensive excursion yet.  We donned wetsuits, hopped on a little boat, and went out to snorkel with the sea lions.  I don't know if I can put into words how excited I was or how incredible the experience was.  We went out on a private excursion, with Juan, who has thirty years of experience doing this.  Although most of the sea lions weren't really interested in us, four or five hopped in and swam around us.  The image that sticks in my head is the sea lion (lobo marino in Spanish) lying on the floor of the gulf, staring up at me curiously.  None of them wanted to play with us; they just wanted to check us out (and their apparent disinterest knocked fifty pesos off the price), but I was not disappointed by the experience at all.

Let's roooooll

A sea lion wandering the beach at Punta Norte

After the snorkeling expedition, we paid, changed, said goodbye to Diva and, at 6:00pm, got on the colectivo back to Puerto Madryn.  We had been calling the bus services for nearly two straight days with no answer, so we were hoping to be able to buy tickets to Buenos Aires for that same night, once we got there.  That did not happen.  All of the guys at the ticket windows looked at us in disbelief when we asked for a bus that night.  They didn't have to check their computers; they knew there was no way we were getting out of town that night.  In disbelief, we literally asked every different company and they all said the same thing.  Without really grasping our situation, we bought tickets for the 2:00pm bus the next day and found ourselves a hostel for that night.  We both had the blues, thinking that if we were going to be stuck down here for another night, we'd have liked to at least still be in Piramides, instead of stupid Puerto Madryn.  (It's not a bad town, really, we were just bummed and in shock).  At the hostel that night, a drunk guy offered us free dinner and gave us a bottle of Fernet.  We drank, we ate, we finally got on the computer-- since Diva's hostel hadn't had reliable WiFi-- and we went to sleep.  The next day we got on the bus, and twenty hours later arrived back in this beautiful city, where it had to have been nearly eighty degrees.  It felt like a homecoming, which I guess it sort of was.  Though this is obviously not home (I'm noticing more lately the absence of the little comforts of home that I'll go without for six more weeks), it's a home base for the time I'm here.  And I love it.

Here are some things we saw on our land excursions...

The beach in Piramides

A mother elephant seal and her pup

Magellanic penguins

Male elephant seal

The view on the 5km walk to see some sea lions

Punta Norte and the elephant seals

Punta Norte

So, in sum:

  • Days away from Bs As: 5
  • Nights in hostels: 4
  • Nights on buses: 2
  • Hostels stayed in: 2
  • Mind-blowing meals: 3
  • Nights where we got free food and alcohol: 2
  • Nature excursions: 3

This week begins the part of the semester where I actually have to do work.  But next weekend is Mar del Plata, the weekend after is Eric Clapton, and who knows what I'll be up to in the last two weeks of October. I'll be sure to write about it.  Chau!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Sarah... I am rendered speechless. Speechless by your zest for truly living, speechless by your actual adventures, speechless by your absolutely gorgeous, rich and most evocative writing.

    That's a lot of words to say speechless!

    I am ever moved by your journey, thanks for sharing it so generously.

    Fran (in my work google id!)