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Peninsula Valdez and Doradilla Preserve near Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Continuing our travels in Argentina: March 2023. We are on the Argentinan Atlantic Coast again. This time we are traveling North towards Buenos Aires from Camarones. Our family has been on the road in our campers since receiving them out of port December, 23, 2022. In January, we traveled South from Buenos Aires central to Necochea and then cut across the center of Argentina to the fantastic lakes of Siete Lagos, then South to Rio Gallegos.

Mike on the beach

Now, we are returning chased by wind and cold out of Southern Patagonia; we did not venture to Ushuaia because of bad weather. Here near Punta Norte, the Northern most point of the National Parque Valdez, we are enjoying light winds, some rain, some sun, highs in the 20’s Celsius. We came during March specifically to see Orcas. The Orcas that feed on Sea Lion young in nurseries on the beaches in the National Parque Valdez.

Niles Homeschooling

Through a sweet introduction from a Argentinan fellow traveller, named Miquel, to a local tour guide, named Cesar, we got very good direction regarding how to time our visit to the park. We were invited to Cesar’s house in Puerto Madryn to have tea and plan our days near the park and maximize our luck in seeing some Orcas. He gave us a 25% chance for success because the Orcas have a 600 kilometer range.

Well, the next day, we got a gruesome show. We decided to go straight to Punta Norte hours before high tide as is recommended. High tide was just after 1700 on 3/16/2023. Along with about 100 other tourists from around the globe, we waited. Just as a storm was starting to threaten our resolve, a black dorsal fin came in and out of view to the South of the Mirador (lookout) area.

Cesar had shown us a film of Orca’s attacking a Right Whale through exhausting it and then biting and holding. During our tea, he had said that the Right Whales wouldn’t be around because it’s not their season. Not until May. We were slow to believe what we were seeing at Punta Norte because there are not “supposed” to be Right whales here in March at Peninsula Valdez.

An Orca chasing one or two or more Right Whales (ballena francia australs) a mother and calf along the coast toward open sea, perhaps to the rest of his pod. The Right Whales located by sight of their breaches and blow spouts were swimming close to one another. The Orca’s dorsal fin crested for each of their breathes just behind and alongside when they were being herded towards the point.

How many whales do you see? The Orca is the pointy dorsal fin going up and down.

At times they broke direction but it seemed that the Orca then organized them towards the point again. At first, it seemed that there was just one Right Whale and then as the show seemed more directed towards the point and open sea, there seemed to be blow holes going double time with one black dorsal fin in chase.

Another tourist observer told me she had seen a pod of Orcas, 6 strong, patrolling the coast at Punta Norte the day before. She didn’t see them feed on Sea Lions. The German woman and I imagined that the Orca was driving the Right Whales to his pod waiting at the point but this is pure speculation. We also wondered if the pod had seen the whales the day before and planned this drive out of Golfo Nueva toward the Punta Norte. Also, just pure speculation. We were both wanting to know more about what we had seen. It sure wasn’t the “stranding” hunting method Orcas use to kill baby Sea Lions. Somehow, what we saw was more disturbing.

Here is an ID guide to the known Orcas of Peninsula Valdez as of 2022. We were too far away to ID our Orca sighting but I suspect it was one of the bigger ones. Cesar says their dorsal fins are two meters tall. Terrifying. Also, I found a research article regarding the Orca’s interaction data from 1975 to about 2000. I’ve attached a link to download the information. Now my Google feed is exploding with Orca articles killing large whales but still, the greatest killer of balleen whales are high speed cargo ships.



We camped in a windbreak of dunes along the Doradilla Nature Preserve area of the Argentinan Atlantic Coast. On the beach, we found live and dead juvenile penguins, dead and live sea lions, and two dead whales an adult and calf. One around 45 feet long, one about 12 feet. Both had a rusted baile weight wire twisted through to form a loop through a puncture on the right side of their tail, like an earing.   Cesar has told us the metal loop was likely used by biologists who would have taken necropsy samples as all whale deaths are studied here.

Adult Right Whale on Golipe Beach, Argentina

We met two Americans who have been traveling for 4 years. They shared their inspirational lifestyle with us but because weather and the Guardaparques both were not friendly to kite boarding on the gulf they moved on. I hope to meet up with them further North. I enjoyed walking the beach with them comparing stories and theories about what we have been learning by traveling the coast of Argentina.

Kristen had been told, for instance, that the penguins can recover from traumatic injuries if conditions for rest are available. This made us hopeful for a juvenile Magellanic Penguin who seemed to be convalescing on the beach with what seemed to be linear scarring across its abdomen. Now, 3 days into our stay on this beach, Mike and I walked down to check on him. He is still there but looks a little more perky, and is molting around the linear marks as well as his whole body. This let us see that there isn’t fishing line wrapped around him which has been occupying my thoughts at night. It’s the only thing we could possibly do anything about.

Here are photos from a scientific article showing the molting process of a juvenile Magellanic penguin. Ours is in the gray sullen looking phase, middle photo.

Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia 26(3): 202–206.
September 2018
Magellanic Penguins

Now my Google feed is exploding with Orca articles killing large whales but still, the greatest killer of balleen whales are ships. Visit this website for ways you can direct your shipping and cruising dollars to companies that observe voluntary speed reductions in areas of whale sighting (only west coast of US at this time).


Well, if you made it to the end of this post, you have a good attention span. I sure love putting these experiences and thoughts down. As always, I send out my love to family and friends who we are missing. And I encourage you to do less buying and more experiencing!

The Skunk and the Owl

This story comes from our travels in Argentina:

We climbed to the top of the tallest rock formation jutting up from river rock covered valley. The uniquely high and squared angles of the towers could be seen far down the road. The blocks appeared neatly stacked in the distance but when on them, we needed to climb many smaller rocks crumpled around the base. The goal was the arch near the top made of three angular rocks; we could see from the road.

The arch faced the valley and was the shelter from the full sun. I smelled skunk as we approached it. It seemed wrong to smell skunk so high and far from the road. Why would a skunk be up here? I’ve not smelled skunk when it didn’t come near a road, dog or my bike.

In the arch, was a Sancturario with offerings of bottled water, candles and a framed painting shattered and faded, maybe of a woman. The offerings sat in a triangular structure 2 feet high, made of wood and protected by metal sheeting. Extra wood lay around it, maybe of previous structures.

To support myself entering the arch, I has to use certain key holds to balance. We noticed the hand hold rocks were smoothed from touch in the exact places we put our hands for support. This space has been a destination for people a long, long time.

The worn rocks hand holds would takes thousands of hand touches to smooth like this. How many hundreds of years had people been climbing this place to look out, offer and wonder? It’s the place from which you can hunt, plan and see the weather. I thought of a presentation in Bogota, Colombia about how indigenous sacred places were co-opted during Spanish colonization to make conversation to Catholicism seem less foreign. Was this one of those places?

We climbed above the arch and sat on the top. There were bird droppings on the pointed rocks with views. Mike had found stones worked into sharp edges down below. Our dog Gypsy climbed up all the way except for the top rocks. We took photos of all of us there, silhouetted against an intensely blue and cloudless sky. Nothing above us on the horizon.

We climbed down, noting the smooth handholds on the dark hard rock. How many hands,  how many years. It’s a human need to climb a rock placed like this in the land.

As we came again through the arch, again the skunk smell. This time we noticed one more offering near the structure. An owl pellet! A large, gray oval with one small mammal bone coming out one end. How long does a skunk’s spray last?

The smell was on the rocks. We imagined a battle here. The owl brought the skunk from below? The skunk was released briefly in the Sancturario, ran but had no escape. He sprayed and fought. The owl won. The owl offered the pellet.

Or, it could have been a longer event. There are many hiding spaces in the arch. The skunk may have spent quite a bit of time fending off the owl. Can an owl eat a whole skunk? Where is the rest? Isn’t that bone too small to be a skunk’s? Maybe, he got away.

In and out of Chile from Argentina in Patagonia.

Cold on cold.

In an attempt to travel South to Ushuaia, Argentina, we prepared our campers and dog paperwork for the Argentina-Chile-Argentina passage in the city Rio Gallegos, Argentina. Wind and cold rain predictions made us change our minds about travel further South. It was likely that the ferry would be delayed for four days which would block the crossing to Ushuaia. That would mean waiting for 4 days in the wind in beautiful camps with little wind protection or gas station parking lots between semis for wind protection. We already did a night between the semis in Rio Gallegos. The thought of repeating made us all grumpy. Instead, we did the land crossing to Chile at Paso Dorotea, Argentina and made our way to Puerto Natalas, Chile near Torres de Paine.

In Puerto Natalas, we investigated the idea of taking the ferry from Puerto Natalas to  Puerto Yungay (a distance of over 600 miles), but the ferry was booked for vehicles until March 23rd. They would however accept dog passengers (for free no less), which made me lose a bet with Niles for dinner dishes. None of this was mood lifting. Although, like in Butte, hot water on your hands is a perk of doing dishes in cold weather.

Gypsy finding diversion on the rainy days

The total cost to put our vehicles and 4 passengers on came to $922, including (very basic) meals for the 41 hour trip. If there had been a waiting list (and the weather had been better) we would have dedicated more time in Chile to attempt the ferry. Instead, we headed to the border of Torres de Paine National Park.

And the wind and rain continued. We didn’t enter the park officially for three reasons. (1) It’s expensive, (2) the mountains were covered with clouds and (3) dogs weren’t allowed. We also just didn’t feel it was right to forge emotional support dog paperwork, as recommended by other dog-toting travellers, and even the staff at Chilean customs. While we did not enter, the scenery outside the park from our camp,driving the country roads, and taking in the majesty of the shrouded mountains gave us a good feel of the place.

Mural outside our favorite library

Back in Puerto Natalas on an errand day, we found that the Chilean government funds a wonderful chain of public libraries, complete with fast WiFi, bathrooms, and quiet table spaces where Niles could catch up on some school. The restaurants also had great WiFi, but with lunch at $60, we made the library two days in a row between laundry, grocery, gas and propane errands in Puerto Natalas.

Camp outside Torres de Paine, Chile

We camped our first two (and only two) nights in Chile on the edge of the mountain range of Torres de Piene, with views of the peaks emerging sporadically through the cold rain and wind. A raging waterfall at the edge of this camp crept into my dreams and woke me as it’s flow adjusted with the storm.  The peaks around us are solid bare granite, black-gray with fresh snow. It’s definitely an early winter feel here at the 50th South latitude in late February.

Lago Amarga, Chile: the water was so salty the beach was lined with salt crystals, and a strange spongy coral growing in it.

The mountain snow comes from the storms we have been camped out in, the rain continued through the night and morning. The Chilean portion of Patagonia that we can see is ultra green, wet and cold.  Despite the beauty, nothing about it is gentle to me. The land itself has been folded by tectonic plates colliding on the Pacific Ocean side of Chile, with rock layers bent at 90 degree turns; trees are short, gnarled, and twisted; and the locals look hardy and no-nonsense.

Mammals of Patagonia’s past, the only one still surviving is the Guanaco 🦙

There are caves and references to the mammals now extinct, like the Miradòn (giant ground sloth) in site names. We see flamingos in the lakes, ostriches in the fields, herds of Guanacos with lots of young, and many large jackrabbits, which run from the dog, trucks, and as us as we hike along.

I want to make our time here in Chile brief. Being exposed to subarctic conditions while campong is on the edge of comfort for me. I’m super impressed by the bike tourists we’ve seen in the area, they look much less happy than the ones we saw up north in better conditions. I’m jealous of the tourists in town, freshly showered and warmly rested, looking into their hiking tours in Puerto Natalas.

This area is better for travelers looking into short exposure to the weather with guaranteed return to hot drinks and showers in the evening. Tourism outfits make it known up front that trips are subject to weather and are not responsible for your sniveling needs.

Viv and I laughed because we could both identify with the Monte Python scene in the Holy Grail, where the knights yell their battle strategy: “Run away!” Our family agreed, it’s time to head North to the warm and less windy areas.

As conditions have deteriorated, we have been relating our family to the Croods. Especially the scenes involving Grug directing his cave-man family through the new lands allowing them a step then holding up his hand, “Stop!” Looking around, “Ok, go. Stop!”.

Border crossings, budgeting in different currencies and economies, variation in distances of gas stations and availability of internet have been falling heavily in Mike’s lap.  The part of travel that is halting, uncomfortable, involves risk and scarcity all increase when the wind and rain rage. I completely understand how mutinies happen.

All of us have had plenty of time to do self-reflection. Viv is on the applying to colleges more vigorously. Niles is completing more school assignments. Mike and I are starting to talk about our return to Butte and what we want that to be like. All of these things seemed so far away just two weeks ago.

The northward turn of the trip is a natural point to assess oneself. We are 6 months into this family voyage. We are studying Spanish, listening to Sapiens, Chronicles of Egg, the Silmerilian, and having long music listening sessions while watching miles of vast valleys, lakes and mountains pass by.

The wind protection behind the gas station in El Calafate

Now driving towards El Calafate, Argentina, we are still in wind but the sun is shining bright. We are headed towards showers! It’s been 2 weeks….