Sunday, April 11, 2010

Peninsula de Valdez

My main motivation to go to Argentina early this year was to visit the Peninsula de Valdez in the province of Chubut. The best way to get there is to fly to Trelew and then drive to the park. There is a fancy gate and building at the entrance to the park, and once you go thru the registration and fee processing, the next stop is Puerto Piramides; the only place where limited accommodations and food are available. This is a center for whale watching tours and summer resort for the locals. There is a nice beach and great shore scenery for sunset photos.

The peninsula is a desolate steppe with gravel roads that lead to Punta Norte by a main central road or the coastal route plus secondary ones connecting these through the length of the peninsula. From a photographic destination, it was not what I expected. The marine fauna, such as the sea lions and other shore animals, were not accessible since the park prohibits access to the beaches that are not easily reachable. For this purpose, there are other places down the coast that are more photography friendly.

One event that occurs in March is the arrival of the orcas and their peculiar behavior of swimming into the beaches trying to capture sea lions. This event is strictly regulated for photographers wishing to record the event. It is extremely bureaucratic and costly to foreigners boarding into extortion. Not only are daily fees of $300 (US dollars) per photographer but additional fees for the accompanying game warden and one must turn over all the images to the park; they will claim 50 % of the royalties that the earned from the images. In top of that, one must provided a detailed narrative of the photographing operations. Peninsula de Valdez is one of those places that is nice to visit once.

One day while at the Parador Elvira, I went down to the walkway paralleling the beach and I saw what looked as a dark storm fast approaching from the south with strong winds. I took a few photos and proceeded to run towards the restaurant. While going up the hill, I got caught by the storm and could hardly breathe. It was a dust storm. It reminded me of the sand storm that I experienced in Mongolia in 2008. While inside the restaurant, the dust came thru the small openings in the doors and windows and visibility was reduced to no more than 50 feet.

If given a choice, I rather be in a dust storm. Sand storms are more aggressive due to the grains hitting the skin and eyes and making breathing impossible unless there is some protection. When I encountered the sand storm in Mongolia, I happened to be inside in an SUV, we had to stop because there wass basically “zero” visibility. When the storm was over, parts of the vehicle’s paint and windows appeared to be as they were sandblasted.

While in Punta Norte I had my first encounter with a Pichi, a small armadillo not shy and easily approachable or…rather it approaches you. It really looks like a giant cucaracha and spends the time digging for grubs and other edibles.

There were also other birds new to me as the Yal negro below, also scientifically known as Phrygilus fruticeti according to the Profe, a wildlife expert from the Comodoro Rivadalia University.
Near the Isla de los Pajaros, is the Museo Fuerte San Jose; all that is left there is a reconstructed church that was originally constructed by the first Spaniards that arrived there in the early 1500. The church is small and of a peculiar configuration but attractive. The other structure of interest is the lighthouse at Punta Delgada but at the time I was there, the road was closed and I was not able to photograph it.