Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Punto Tombo

So as it turns out, Punto Tombo is not a 2.5 hour drive from Puerto Madryn...it´s a 3.5 hour drive. The long part of the drive down Routa 3 took about 2 hours, but the last 40 Km or so was ¨ripio.¨ Aura and I were told what ripio was, it´s basically a dirt and gravel road, but we didn´t understand what it meant until it took us 1.5 hours to drive 40 Km.

On the road, the tour buses flew by us at about 90 Km an hour and I kept thinking that we would see one of them flipped over on the side of the road. Thankfully, that didn´t happen, and we arrived safely at Punto Tombo along with all the tour buses. We´d slathered on as much sunscreen as we could and headed down the trail toward the penguinos when a park ranger told us we had to buy tickets. He was talking to a guy who had bought tickets for his entire family for 35 pesos. When it was are turn to pay the ranger asked us ¨¿De donde sos?¨ Thinking he was just being friendly, we told him were were from the states. His reply was to inflate the price of our tickets by a factor of 4. Now, we know that people will sometimes give us inflated prices because were from the states and the figure we can afford it, but in Argentina it is appearently a state sponsered activity. The ranger gave us two tickets at 40 pesos each (as opposed to the 10 peso tickes for residents) that were marked as tickets for forgieners. This didn´t suprise me too much, since it had happened at Iguazú about a week before hand, but it was quite amusing. I figure that´s just the way it is down here, but back home the government would never put up a price chart that says ¨Oh wait, you´re a forgiener...well then, were going to screw you.¨

Once we had our tickets, we were free to roam around the park and look at the penguinos. The path along the park had been paved with gravel and was marked on each side by large, white rocks about 10 feet apart. If you got so brave as to roam a little off the path, one of the park rangers would blow their little, plastic whistle at you and run you down so they could give you a talking to. So from then on out it was self explainitory: roam around and enjoy the company of the penguins.

And the little penguins know how to put on a show! When we arrived, there wasn´t too much activity because it was midday and really, really hot. The penguinos were huddled in there burrows trying to stay cool. Mom and pop were usually quite, but the two chicks would chirp quite a bit because they were hot or hungry. So we spent the first part of the walk trying to get a good glimpse of the penguins through bushes and down in the burrows.

The penguinos have seen enough humans to know that the humans aren´t going to try to eat them, so they pretty much ignore you. You can stick your face right up to a burrow and be nose to nose with a penguin and they don´t look nervous. Not even a little bit. Occasionally we´d come be a penguin that wanted to streach its wings in the breaze and cool off, but they were pretty much napping for the afternoon. The whole first part of the walk there was a hill just before the ocean. We couldn´t quite see over it, but I just knew that right over that hill there was a whole flock of penguins playing in the sea.

Well, the second half of the walk proved me right, as there was a land bridge that took you over to a look out over the ocean. When I say land bridge you might be confused. It was basically a pedestrian overpass so the people wouldn´t disturb the penguino highway that appeared to be a major passage way down to the sea. At this point, the penguinos really took it up a knotch. There was a crowd of about 50 penguins that were relaxing in the shade under the bridge and a good 25 walk to the sea and about an equal number walking back. They were so cute, and when you stood on the overpass it was pretty much penguinos as far as the eye could see.

On the other other side of the bridge it was a little cooler, so all the penguinos were out and about. There was a lot more activity and we got to see a lot more of the chicks. Mom and pop would nestle with eachother and the chicks would lay on there bellies in the shade. The were still chirping quite a bit, but not as much. It was really neat to be able to take a knee right next to a wild animal and not feel like it was about ready to take off. After a while, you start to feel like one of the penguino lost in the crowd. The only real difference is the rangers would haul you off kicking and screaming if you left the path to take a quick swim in the ocean.

After we spent our time taking in the penguin families we went around the bend to the ocean look out. By gollie, I was right! There were a couple thousand penguinos lining the shore and taking to the ocean for a quick swim. The made the transition some sort of odd, walking bowling pin on land to what looked like a black an white duck on the ocean! We didn´t get to see it, but appearently, the parents take turns hunting for food in the sea and then make their way back to the nests were the puck up dinner for the twins.

By this point, we were really starting to burn, so Aura was wearing a sweater and I had a windbraker tucked under my hat so my neck wouldn´t get any more sun. We decided that it was going to take a while to make it back over the ripio, so we hightailed it back through the crowd of penguins and chirping chicks back to the car. I do have to say, those pinquinos were really neat and it was worth the 7 hours in the car to feel at home in a crowd on penguinos! Although, I think it nearly killed Aura not to be able to touch them!

Love you all,


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