my favorite…

my decision to come here to Puerto Madryn wasn´t completely haphazard. there actually was a point to coming here. I came here because I was hoping to see my favorite animal (well, technically bird) the penguin. there is this area a little south of here called Punta Tombo where the penguins come ashore to breed, and there are supposed to be tons of them. it’s funny, I’ve actually really been psyched on penguins ever since I was a little kid. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’ve just always thought they were really cool. when I was at day camp, one of the camp counselors taught me how to draw a penguin, and from then on penguins were the only animal in my meager (and god awful looking) drawing repertoire. I could draw a stick figure person, a stick figure house, a stick figure tree, and also a penguin. for some reason, the penguin would often be drawn with a cape, a kind of super penguin, possibly to help the poor little flightless bird to get from place to place.

the bus ride to get here was 18 hours long. normally, that would be a total pain, but the buses here are *nice*. no, I mean REALLY nice. you know how when you board an airplane, and glare w/ envy at the plush luxurious seats in the first class section as you walk back to your crummy shoebox sized seats in the back? well, the seats on the bus were like the plush airline seats… but *better*. the seats were spread really far apart, so they could lean wayyyyy back. there was a diagonal, lazyboy type footrest that comes out of the bottom so your legs comfortably lay on it. the whole thing is super cushy. I usually have huge problems sleeping on buses, but not this time.

it doesn’t stop there. they brought us food, just like on an airplane. there were in-flight, errr I mean in-drive, movies. we got unlimited wine w/ dinner. seriously, this was the best bus ride ever! of course, all of this wasn’t exactly cheap. 45$. but when you consider that you get a 18 bus ride, a free place to sleep for the night, two meals, and entertainment for that price, all of a sudden 45$ seems cheap!

after sleeping comfortably throughout the night, we still had 5 more hours to go after I woke up. I stared out the window at the scenery passing by. the lower third of Argentina, Patagonia, is a huge expanse of space and is very scarcely populated. according to the guide, there is more than 1km of space per 1 person here! looking out the window, I could easily see how this is true. huge expanses of nothingness were everywhere. as far as the eye could see there were only shrubs. gray shrubs, green shrubs, brown shrubs. it was like an impressionist painting where the artists did nothing but make gray, green, or brown splotches with his brush. on an on and on, splotch, splotch splotch, under a pale blue sky.

near the end of the ride, they passed out bingo cards for people to play bingo. struggled as hard as I could to listen to the numbers as they were called out. numbers are practically the only thing I know in Spanish, and even then I have to listen carefully and have the other person speak slowly. a few days ago, caryn and I bought a “learn Spanish in a few short weeks!” book. I’m determined to learn the language as it’s probably the only foreign language that’s really useful back home. we’ve done a few of the lessons, and I know a handful of words now: to be, to have, my name is, stepmother, tenderloin steak… you know, the basics.

it never ceases to amaze me how crucial language is. language is everything. they say knowledge is power, but there is no knowledge without the language to express it. no matter how smart you are, even if you are a genius rocket scientist, if you’re thrown into a place where no one understands you and you don’t understand anyone, you’re basically reduced to a 4 year old level. it’s hard traveling places where I don’t know the language. I feel so stupid sometimes. people ask me the most basic questions, and all I can do is shrug. in Japan, I struggled for almost 15 minutes trying to get a coffee maker to give up its contents… it’s not that I’m a dumbass who cant use a coffee maker, I just couldn’t read the labels on the buttons. not knowing the language keeps you ordering things off the menu that you didn’t want, buying the wrong bus tickets, and walking into the wrong gendered bathroom. and I’ve found that the more advanced a country is, the less English they speak. in places like Kenya or Thailand, everybody speaks English, while in Japan or Argentina, few people do. if you live in a country that is doing well, you don’t have to play by Americas rules and learn their language… you’re fine w/ your own.

after I lost at bingo, we soon arrive in Puerto Madryn. I grabbed my stuff an braced myself for the onslaught. I’m used to being attacked when I get off a bus. I’m used to touts yelling, crowds forming, and people literally grabbing my backpack off my shoulders to pull into their cab/rickshaw/hotel. if you’re not prepared when you get off a bus, you’re dead meat. but I got off the bus… nothing! emptiness. wow… Argentina really is so different! I cant say enough how much this feels like Europe.

I think that the key to meeting people on the road is to stay in hostels. if you’re shy like me, and are afraid of approaching strangers, nothing helps like being forced to share a room with them. the first step of meeting people is done for you. so I went to the nearest hostel and checked in. sadly enough, it was a ghost town. I don’t know if there are any other guests but me. funnily enough, later that night when I stopped by another hostel to book a tour, I saw this other place had a huge common room, FULL of people hanging out. dammit!

Puerto Madryn is on the coast, so I went down to the beach to have some food. it’s a nice town here. it kind of looks like small town USA in a way… clean, quiet, nice homes. I had a great steak with mashed potatoes for just 6$. looking out towards the ocean while I ate, I saw… whales! several of them! this town is famous for its whale watching, and amazingly enough, you can actually see whales right from shore!! I couldn’t believe it! sure, they were still a distance away, and who knows if I could have even seen them if I hadn’t had my glasses, but still it was cool. they would pop out of the water, lifting their flippers into the air, or lifting their whole bodies out of the water and splashing down. quite a sight!

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what to do about tours. I was hoping to go whale watching the next day, but it turns out that Monday is the only day of the week that the bus doesn’t run, and I’d have to take a tour that costs 70$! seeing as my budget is only 30$ per day, that was kind of out of the question. then, booking the penguins was a dilemma too. one person I talked to said it wasn’t really season yet and there was only 100 penguins in so far. another said it was 600. another said 1,500. oh well, I decided to go fort it anyway. it sucks, later on in the year, there are apparently about 500,000 penguins in Punta Tombo!!

penguins and whales aren’t the only wildlife here. there are interesting animals to see on land as well. weird looking ostriches, armadillos, sea lions, elephant seals, and something called a Guanaco. I’m not sure what this guanaco is, but the pamphlet I got at the hostel had this cryptic description: “they are seen in groups along the road. identify them and let it know. they are scary but at a distance you can watch them run and stop.” I haven’t a clue what that could mean, but if I see something “run and stop”, I’ll have to assume it’s a Guanaco!


30 thoughts on “my favorite…”

  1. gua·na·co ( P ) Pronunciation Key (gw-näk)
    n. pl. gua·na·cos or guanaco
    A reddish-brown South American ruminant mammal (Lama guanicoe) related to and resembling the domesticated llama.

    Yup. looks like a Llama to me.


  2. Here is a very useful phrase to learn:

    “Donde esta la zapatorea?”
    “Where is the shoe store?”

    Actually “Donde esta” is good to know… it means “where is… ?” It’s pronounced “dahndeh ehstah”. This weekend we had a huge garage sale and most of our customers were Mexican. I had to do a lot of translating since my mom kept trying to talk to the women who obviously didn’t speak English. But once they knew I spoke Spanish they started rattling off questions. The look on my face must have been hilarious.

    By the way, you’re going in a very similar route I was intending for the second half of my trip. I’m excited that you’re testing everything out for me. Next year I’ll be asking a lot of questions.

  3. hey ryan.. i think your email thinks anything coming from my address is spam? i´ve sent you several emails over the last months, and i dont think any of them ave gotten though? and then caryn emailed you to ask if my emails were getting through, but you didnt respond to that either!!

  4. If you get all the way down south, on the Chilean side, there’s a great place to see penguins called Isla Magdalena, just a cheap boat ride from Punta Arenas. The island is CRAWLING with them–there are ropes to mark the little paths, but the penguins ignore them and will practically walk right up to you. Here’s my photos from there: A lot of people I met didn’t think much of Punta Arenas, but I really liked it. Ushuaia is neat too, although my tour of the Beagle Channel was a little disappointing.

  5. Wow, your descriptions of the country so far make me really want to go to Argentina! Looking forward to reading about your adventures in the next few weeks.

  6. run and stop eh? If you add in the middle of the road, I would definitely say that a guanaco is a squirrel.

    Oh, and I think you owe it to the general public that views your website to draw a super penguin and scan it in.

  7. You should *totally* draw a Super Penguin and scan it in! That’d be dope! 🙂

  8. actually, “donde esta” is another of the very few words i know. i{m actually getting by fairly well given how little i know. it{s all about knowing the numbers really. it seems like the main thing i would be asking about is prices usually, and as long as i know numbers and “quantas costas” i can barely get by a bit.

    heh, and totally feel free to ask away with any questions… maybe i´ll even write you a 6 page report like you did for me about myanmar 😉

  9. actually, i ended up seieng tons of penguins in punta tomobo. it was so cool!

  10. Dude, totally! Haven’t you ever noticed all the penguin stuff in Chris’ and my apartment?

  11. I’ll sign my posts “Chris H.” from now on….ooh or maybe I could think of some super cool online nickname….I’ll have to get back to you, but for now, “Chris H.”.

  12. cool! that helps.. each time i get a comment from “chris” i always wonder. i assumed it wasn´t catherine´s chris, bt then i thought maybe it was catherine´s other chris?? so many people named chris!!

  13. actually, i havent. so weird, cause although i can be *extremely* unobservant you´d think i´d definitely notice penguins. is this a recent thing? maybe they hadn´t arrived when i was last there?

  14. ¿Dónde están los pingüinos? 😀 I love penguins too Vlad. My daughter and I have collections of all kinds of penguin stuff.

  15. Vlad, I have a confession: My real name isn’t Jamie; it’s Chris. I changed my name from Chris to Jamie when I was a child, just to avoid all this confusion. 😉

  16. There’s this framed picture of two penguins holding flippers – TOO cute! – that Chris gave me a couple Valentine’s Days ago. And Chris and I got a couple of wooden penguins while we were on Crete – so random! Those were all out and about last time you were at our place, as far as I know. We also have a couple glass penguins, but I’m unsure whether we had them when you were last visiting. 🙂

  17. wow, if i took a survey on people´s favorite animals, it seems like penguins just might be near the top!

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