By Ricky Skelton
November 13, 2007

Mother Nature likes to hoard her most valuable treasures and keep them hidden together in different parts of the world, like a pirate burying troves around the globe. Two of her finest bounties are in Brazil – the Amazon and Pantanal. A third is on the Atlantic coast of Patagonia, half way between Buenos Aires and the End of the World.

Peninsula Valdes and the surrounding coastline have some of the finest and most varied marine life that can be seen on terra firma. Being a part of Patagonia, the wildlife watching in Peninsula Valdes is a relaxing, dreamy past-time that takes place under a clear azure sky and on top of a deep marine sea. The area is renowned for whale-watching, but there is so much more than that, including foxes, guanacos and wonderfully obedient armadillos on the land. Just watching the Southern Right Whales that breed in the area would be enough reason for me to return though. Arriving in Puerto Madryn and seeing whales for the first time, playing in the waters just off the beach, is a fine start. The next morning’s high tide at Playa Dorillado was one of the times when I have been almost too excited at seeing wildlife. The steep beaches and calm waters of Golfo Nuevo are the playground of these gentle creatures (that is, gentle as long as you aren’t plankton – in which case, it’s a daily massacre) that come to the area between September and November to give birth to 5m calves that grow to around 18m long. Floating upside down with their huge hands in the air, they look like they’ve just flopped backwards into a cool sea on a hot Bahian day. Rolling around and patting the water with their fins, they duck and dive, breach the surface and land with a boom of spray, and blow air so hard that you can feel it from the beach. But then, it is only about 20m away.

This is the beauty of whale-watching at Peninsula Valdes. Nowhere else on earth can you observe such huge creatures in their own environment so closely and in such a relaxed manner. They are curious too, often coming to sniff around the tourist boats in the bay. One woman even got to touch the tail of a whale, a rare treat when just seeing the classic tail dripping sea water in the sunlight happens only occasionally. The largest whales are female and, being Latinas, they know how to tease, so every sight of the photogenic fins brings gasps from the watching humans. The highlight for me was seeing a whale calf or two lying across the mother as she gently rose above the surface, lifting baby and tail almost clear of the water before sliding slowly back into the blue. It looks like fun being a whale. I can’t see any other reason for this behavior. A whale of a time.

I could have watched all day, every day had they stayed, but there were seals, sea-lions and elephant seals to see by the sea. The Atlantic side of the peninsula is where my favourite nature footage ever was filmed. April and May bring the best chance to see a drama that even the Masai Mara can’t match. The orcas also appear amongst the seal colonies at other times and can also pick up a penguin or two for a snack.

Punta Tombo has half a million Magellan Penguins, the largest accessible colony in the world. So accessible is it that you can wander through the scrubby dunes up to a kilometer inland and see penguins sleeping under bushes, standing above eggs and waddling to and from the ocean. Penguins are one of those species (along with monkeys and ducks) that are funny just by being penguins. Seeing thousands standing in a field with their wings out, drying in the sun has to be on of my favourite surreal sights in nature. Again, the proximity to vast amounts of wildlife is a large part of the attraction in Punta Tombo. Penguins casually wander around your feet as you try to photograph them, but don’t pick a breeding pair as I did. I’ve had a few close encounters with wild animals that might have turned nasty – African elephants, Asian rhinos, crocodiles and caimans, but to have been attacked by a penguin would have been embarrassing. I ran away.

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Previous articles by Ricky:

Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

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