after 1am you have to buzz the night service button. the pharmacist comes out with what you need after you tell her through the intercom. there's a tiny window that she can pass the item through. the pharmacist must've been sleeping because she came out kinda grouchy and seemed annoyed when we left without buying anything.
anyway, we go to jorge newbery airport, which looks new and modern. it was still dark out but as we drove by the airport there were little foodstands open along the road. it looked like they were cooking meat and there were some people waiting in line already.
the check-in area at the airport was a little chaotic (argentines don't seem to care much for lines) but the waiting area in the terminal is very nice. we ate our breakfast (medialunas and juice we bought the night before at a little bakery) and then i totally conked out before the plane even left the ground. i woke up just as we landed in trelew.
the drive to puerto madryn was on a two-lane highway through vast deserty low hills. the scenery reminded us of driving through some of california's deserts. the city itself is much larger than we expected and the residential outskirts reminded Y of mexico.
our hotel, the bahia nueva, is on the main street (av. julio a. roca) along the beach of golfo nuevo. we did a little exploring along this stretch and got our first glimpse of the whales in the gulf from the shore.
because we'd been traveling since so early in the day we were quite hungry, but it was still around 11am, waaaaay too early for an argentine lunch. but, thankfully, the lizard cafe was open. this is where i begin to notice that argentines like their ham + cheese sandwiches! in my opinion, the sandwich we had here was a bit better because it had chopped hard boiled egg in it.
our driver (from ryans travel, our local tour agency) told us there were optional tours in the afternoon, so we made our way back to the hotel after lunch. we quickly peeked into the local mall (where i later bought a hat because it's colder (i.e., windier) than expected) and got a map at the tourist office.
our two optional tours were to punta loma and el doradillo beach. luckily there were no other tourists booked and we got a private tour.
punta loma is south of the city, and most of the way you have to drive on an unpaved sandy/gravely road. it's a nature reserve (admission is 20 pesos ) where you can see the sea lions year-round. i had the impression that we could get pretty close to the colony but the viewing deck is actually on top of a cliff and you look down on them in the cove. we also saw a large flock of cormorants on the cliffs and one lone penguin in the water (it was still too early to see the thousands of penguins that descend on this area in september). maybe because we were so far away these sea lions weren't as loud as the ones at san francisco bay.
we also saw wild flamingos on the beach on the way back towards town.
el doradillo beach is north of town just as the road heads toward península valdés. it was truly an amazing experience watching the whales swimming right off the beach. the southern right whales are in this area from june to december.
you don't need a boat or even binoculars to see them. they come so close to the beach that you're tempted to wade out and touch them; the closest ones aren't even 50 feet away from where you're standing! and it's not just one or two whales, but like ten in your immediate vicinity.
the ones close to shore show their fins while rolling over in the water (these fins are often mistaken for orca dorsal fins), and spout water and air out of their blowholes (loudly!).
the ones farther out show their tails for long periods of time, sometimes staying really still and other times sort of swaying back and forth as if they were waving.
we went to several different spots along this stretch of beach and everywhere we went the whales were doing something worthy of 100 pictures :: moms and calves were frolicking and nuzzling; a playful young whale breached multiple times; and lone whales would roll and swim in circles. i know my pictures won't do the experience justice, but i couldn't stop pushing the shutter.
there's an observation platform (and shack) up on the cliff near the northern end where biologists observe and count the whales. from here you can see the long stretch of beach and the many whales in the water (and human observers standing on the sand). when we were there a biologist was listening for the whales via an underwater microphone.
i'm not really much of a nature person but this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. i was in a state of excitement the whole time we were watching the whales. i just wanted to sit there all day and marvel at them.
in the evening we were starving but (once again) disappointed to find out that restaurants don't open for dinner until 8pm. i wanted to try local seafood but the only restaurant really open (besides the cafes) was the hamburger joint at the mall. so, my first fast food experience here was a chicken sandwich at "mostaza."
the sunset we saw from the pier was really tranquil and it was kinda odd to see the sun set into the hills, rather than into the ocean.