the tour bus picked us up at 8.30am (with a bunch of other spanish-speaking tourists), and we drove quite a long distance to puerto pirámides at the end of the isthmus right before the actual peninsula. it's a very cute village known for whale-watching and diving. there are only six authorized whale-watching boat operatores and they are only allowed to have one of their boats out at a time. this helps to protect the whales and it's never crowded out in the water.
our one-hour whale-watching boar ride was another thrilling experience. the boat itself is not very large and sits fairly low in the water, so when the whales come up to the boat -- and they come really close -- you could almost reach out and touch them (but you're not allowed to).
like yesterday we saw lots of moms and calves, sometimes a couple of sets together. carina, our guide, had told us they were very curious, and sure enough, if we stopped the boat for awhile they whales would come up to us. once again i couldn't stop taking pictures. and i think the whales like getting their picture taken.
they would show us their wide tails, glide by the boat over and over, stick out their heads high, and swim under the boat.
the water is fairly clear so you could see the white of their bellies and their tails underwater as they swam next to us. i was amazed by their size and gentleness the entire time.
after we left puerto pirámides it was another long ride to punta delgada at the southeastern point of península valdés, where the elephant seals and our hotel are. Y and i were glad our tour included a night's stay here because everyone else on our bus was returning to puerto madryn that day. península valdés is larger and farther than we had expected; because of the road conditions it's a good two-hour drive back to the city.
we first had lnch at the hotel. the lamb i ordered was really good; we saw it being grilled over an open fire right in the restaurant. we ordered a side of mashed potatoes but we probably should've orderd a salad since we were not eating a lot of veggies on this trip.
afterwards we trekked down the cliff for the main attraction :: the elephant seals. the males were just arriving on shore to wait for the females, but it wasn't high season yet so we were able to walk near them. needless to say, they are gigantic! we saw some females and they are considerably smaller than the males.
you can only get so close to these huge animals; the rule is to stay at least 20 meters away. most of the time the males are quite still to preserve energy, so they don't pose a huge threat to us. but you could kind of see that they were weary of our presence. (when a larger tour group came down they were getting really close to one of the males and he moved away into the water.)
some of the large males cried out really loudly; it almost sounded like a lion roaring. the ones in the water would also blow bubbles with their large noses. although these males were just lying there you could see they had bloody scratch marks from fighting.
the elephant seals weren't the only animals we saw. some sea lions were sunbathing on a rock nearby. according to roxana, our guide from the hotel, elephant seals and sea lions coexist quite peacefully. (we saw this later at a different beach where the two were swimming side by side.) sadly, we also saw a beached whale and a couple of dead penguins.
during high season the beach is covered with elephant seals and the males are much more aggressive because they are trying to mate. had we come then we wouldn't have been able to walk so close to them.
our hotel is the faro punta delgada, an old navy building and still-used lighthouse. it turns out we are the only guests staying at the hotel that night! we have the whole place to ourselves, which is almost a very odd feeling. roxana also said that they've only had a handful of americans stay here since she started working here. the guest registry showed that most guests are from europe. that was very weird to us because this is such a tranquil place and there is so much nature to admire. instead of rushing through on a day trip i'm really glad we have extra time to explore and relax.
roxana took us on a drive to the edge of the property at sundown (after Y and i saw the top of the lighthouse). the employees and people from nearby estancias were happy beachse they had just caught and killed a feral dog that had been terrorizing sheep. carina had mentioned this dog on our drive over, saying it had killed 60 sheep just for the sake of killing. roxana said that number had gone up to 100.
the owner and some employees were on horseback when we happened upon them on our drive. they were the ones who had found and captured the dog. the horse the owner was riding was a beautiful reddish brown; its build was stockier and thicker than other horses i'd seen before. we're supposed to go horseback riding in the morning so we'll have to see if we can ride the patagonian way.
dinner wasn't going to be served until 8pm so we stuck around the main building to wait. after browsing the gift shop, alejandra, an employee, showed us the pub, which is also the game room. we played pool and alejandra and martin, another employee, asked if they could join us. with so few guests they probably didn't have a lot to do. it was really fun playing with the locals and becoming friendly with them.
dinner was also strange because there was only one table set ... just for us. the rest of the dining room was empty. they even built a fire in the wood burning stove behind us.
i had a risoto de mariscos with local seafood and Y had spinach ravioli. the homemade flan i had afterwards was also really good. as we walked to our room we could see the night sky filled with stars we can't see in the northern hemisphere.