Saturday the 22nd of March 2003- Day 32.
Left Buenos Aires at 12.45. Massive Retiro bus station. Got there by metro (0.70p). Very hard to find the right loading bay. There are about 80 bays here stretching over 3/4 of a mile. Thought I missed it, but it arrived late. 20 hour bus jouney in sem-camba bus. Not as nice as the falls to BA bus. Price was 81 P with Eistralla Condor. Stopped 3 times, once for dinner which was included in price. No blankets or whiskey before bed. Was comfortable enough. Very little traffic, and no houses or towns as such. Very few people live in this area. For 1/2 the journey lots of open countryside, blue sky, cattle and horses but the second half was like desert. They showed Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. Seeing as the US is at war, which is the plot in the film, in order to cover up domestic difficulties i.e the economy, it was very interesting they referred to the first Gulf War on many occasions during the film. Recommended.
Sunday the 23rd of March 2003- Day 33.
Arrived to Puerto Madryn (pop 50,000) at 10.00am. Tourist Office in the station and walked to my Hotel Vaskonia (20 P) a night. Puerto Madryn is a port on the Golfo Nuevo and was the site of the first Welsh landing in 1865 by 153 Welsh immigrants. Welsh is the primary language of some of the towns around her, especially Trelew.
This city is a part of the coast corridor formed also by the cities of Trelew, Gaiman, Rawson and West San Antonio. The entire region is characterized by the long beaches and its big marine fauna. People come here for the whales, sea elephants and penguins.It is very windy and cold here. Used my jacket for the first time. Its like Yougal on a cold November. Deserted Street, no tourists, and a cold wind from the sea. Very, very different from Buenos Aires. Locals just walked around and window shopped. Found myself doing the same. The city of Puerto Madryn is located on the northeastern side of the province of Chubut, on the shores of the New Gulf and standing at the foot of the cliffs of a plateau reaching 120 metres above sea-level.
The mean annual temperature is 14 degrees Celsius with a maximum temperature for summer of 35 degrees Celsius, and a minimum in winter below 5 degrees Centigrade.
So time on my hands…. Therefore, can afford to update the blog. I will try and redit many of the past posts from the past number of weeks to spell check and add history and flesh out details. I have not been doing this up until now.
Booked my nature tour for tomorrow with Factor Patagonia for 50P. The Penguins can wait until Tuesday and more than likely I will depart Wednesday.Maybe I should have taken a 300P flight from BA to Ushuaia.
Met four people from the bus that I arrived into town with for Dinner. Two Scots and two from Holland. Went to a Parrilla, big steaks, chips, two beers, and a starter of sausages came to 23P (7.20 EURO) including tip. Place was called Estela (Pena 27). Place was full with Welsh posters, memorabilia. Great table service from the waiters. Highly recommended.
Monday the 24th of March 2003- Day 34.
Collected in my hotel (Vaskonia – 25 de Mayo 43) at 8.00am. Only one only guy called Asha – moody untalkative American, on the tour to Península Valdés. Península Valdés in Patagonia is a site of global significance for the conservation of marine mammals. It is home to an important breeding population of the endangered southern right whale as well as important breeding populations of southern elephant seals and southern sea lions. The orcas in this area have developed a unique hunting strategy to adapt to local coastal conditions. In high tide, they beach themselves to grab cubs. Anyway long drive to Park 1 hour, and 2 hours to drive into the park. Saw hares, grey foxes, sea lions, sea lions, elephant seals, ostriches, llamas etc, but unfortunately no Orcas.
The first main spot (see map) was Punta Note where we saw the sea lions. The second main spot was Punta Delagas in the south where we saw the elephant seals. Arrived back in Puerto Madryn at 5.00pm and tired. Some pics below.
DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
Península Valdés was designated as an Integral Objective Touristic Nature Reserve by Provincial Law No. 2161 of 1983. This reserve includes the following conservation units: Punta Norte and Isla de los Pájaros Touristic Nature Reserves, which were established by Provincial Law 697/67; Golfo San José Marine Park, which was created by Provincial Law 1238/74; Punta Pirámide Touristic Nature Reserve, which was established by Resolution 9 of 1974; and Caleta Valdés and Punta Delgada Touristic Nature Reserves, which were established in 1977. In 1995, an intangible zone extending from Punta Arco to Punta Pardelas in Golfo Nuevo, was created by Provincial Law 4098. In 1985, the southern right whale was declared as Natural Monument by the National Congress. Inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1999.
ALTITUDE From 100m to – 35m at Salinas Grandes, which is the lowest point in mainland South America.
Península Valdés is a 4,000km2 hilly promontory protruding 100km out into the Atlantic Ocean, with a series of gulfs, rocky cliffs, shallow bays with extensive intertidal mudflats and sandy beaches, and islands. The Ameghino Isthmus of 25km of length connects the Península to the mainland and separates the San José Gulf, to the north from the Nuevo Gulf, to the south. The San José Gulf is a closed bay linked to the San Matías Gulf only by a small passage on its north. The Nuevo Gulf is a bay nearly completely enclosed by the Península itself and the coast of the Chubut province. The shoreline of the Península extends for 400km and represents 34% of the total coast of the Chubut Province. On its eastern end is the Caleta Valdés, a cove 35km in length with some islets on its northern inner point. The Isla de los Pájaros is a small island (18ha) located 800m off the Península in the San Jorge Gulf, and connected to the mainland during the low tides. This island is very important for several species of coastal and marine birds, which form breeding colonies on it. The interior of the Península presents a generally flat relief with shallow lakes, as well as areas of salt pans, such as Salinas Grandes and Salina Chica. There are no permanent rivers or streams in the Península and fresh water is in short supply. Soils are generally very shallow.
Península Valdés has a semi-arid climare characterised by an annual rainfall of 240mm with significant fluctuations between years. During winter there are from 12 to 20 days of frost. Annual temperature amplitude is 10,6°C (from 15°C to 35°C in summer and from 0°C to 15°C in winter), being February the hottest month.
While the predominant vegetation is Patagonian desert steppe, 18 different communities can be found, representing a high diversity in such a small area. The number of communities represented in the area demonstrate its importance from the phyto-geographic point of view, considering that in the whole Patagonian region 28 communities have been described. Some 130 plant species from 41 families have been reported, with 38 species endemic to Argentina. Principle communities include tussock grasslands of Stipa spp. and xerophytic cushion grasses of Poa spp. interspersed with bushes of Schinus magellanicus and Condalia microphilia, among other species.
Península Valdés is an outstanding sanctuary of fauna with numerous marine birds and mammals going there to reproduce, often in large numbers. These species find shelter and abundant food in the warm and productive waters of the Península and surroundings, and places to breed and build their nests on its coasts.
A population of southern right whale Eubalaena australis (CD) uses the clear and protected waters of the Nuevo and San José gulfs as mating and calving areas. Individual whales start to arrive in the Península by late autumn and the beginning of winter (from April to June). The results from recent surveys indicate that 1,200 whales were visiting the Península in 1990 (Payne et al., 1990), and suggest that this population has been growing at an estimated annual rate of 7.1%. Should this rate had been maintained, then the current population may count around 2,700 individuals. In 1984, the species was declared as a Natural Monument by the Argentine National Congress.
The southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina forms a mating and calving colony on Punta Norte from late August to early November, reaching peak numbers during the first week in October (Campagna et al., 1993). This is the most northern colony of the species and is the only continental one established on Argentine shores, as all other colonies are located on insular Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic areas. It is also the only one in the world that is said to be on the increase (Campagna and Lewis, 1992). The nominated site is also very important as a breeding point for the southern sea lion Otaria flavescens (Tagliorette and Losano, 1996).
Several other species of marine mammals are found in the area including a stable group of orca Orcinus orca. Orcas are highly predatory with a basic diet of fish and squid, although they have been seen preying on both young and adult sea lions, elephant seals and adult right whales in Península Valdés and elsewhere in Patagonia. These orcas use a particular approch for hunting; they rush into the shallow surf, strand itself on the beach near the prey and grab it in their jaws (Campagna and Lopez, 1997). Other species of small whales and dolphins present are the dusky dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus (DD), Peale’s dolphin L. australis (DD), Commerson’s dolphin Cephalorhynchus commersonii (DD) and long-finned pilot whale Globycephala melas.
Terrestrial mammals are abundant with large herds of guanaco Lama guanicoe existing almost everywhere in the Península. Other species present include the mara Dolichotis patagonum, Argentine grey fox Dusicyon griseus, culpeo fox D. culpaeus and Geoffroy’s cat Felis geoffroyi.
Península Valdés has a high diversity of birds. There are 181 species of birds, of which 66 are migratory species. Seven species of marine and coastal birds form nesting colonies on 12 distinct sites scattered throughout the Península. The Magellanic penguin Spheniscus magellanicus is the most numerous breeder with almost 40,000 active nests distributed amongst five different colonies (Carribero et al., 1995). Second to the penguin is the kelp gull Larus dominicanus with 6,000 active nests (Bertelotti et al., 1995). Other colonial birds are the Neotropic cormorant Phalacrocorax olivaceus, black-necked cormorant Phalacrocorax magellanicus, great egret Casmerodius albus, black-crowned night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax and common tern Sterna hirundo. The site with the largest diversity of breeding birds is Isla de los Pájaros.
The intertidal mudflats and coastal lagoons are important staging sites for migratory shorebirds, including red knot Calidris canutus, white-rumped sandpiper C. fuscicollis and Hudsonian godwit Limosa haemastica (Blanco and Canevari, 1995).
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION
There are 220 permanent residents at Península Valdés, half of whom live in the small coastal village of Puerto Pirámide. A total 56 sheep farms holding almost 80,000 heads exist throughout the Península. Wool is the main product.
Up to the middle of this century concessions were granted by the Government for the killing and commerce of sea lions, mainly for the leather and oil of the grease coat. Large-scale exploitation of sea lions took place until 1953, year of the last record. Nevertheless, the killing continued in the zone until 1960, and even on a clandestine way up to the ’70s. Latter legislation for the conservation of the marine mammals prevented further commercial killings.
Throughout the Península, water supply is a problem, with fresh water transported to the various facilities from Puerto Madryn. Recently, a desalinisation plant was installed in Puerto Pirámide with a capacity of 200,000 litres per day. This is estimated to be sufficient to cover the demand of up to 2,000 people, although the level of use varies with temperature and type of accommodation.
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
Tourism is a very important activity in Península Valdés and is not limited to any particular season, although the number of visitors peaks during late winter and early spring. In 1992, more than 85,000 tourists visited the site, and in 1997 the number of visitors rose up to nearly 140,000, of which almost 80% were nationals (Tagliorette and Losano, 1996). Whale-watching is the activity, which attract most of the visitors to the Península; between 1993 and 1995, almost 40,000 people or 40% of the total visitation for that period, performed this activity. It has been estimated that whale-watching generates an income of about US$10 million per year (Rivarola et al., 1996). Facilities for visitors exist both in the Península and nearby cities such as Puerto Madryn and Trelew. The town of Puerto Pirámide, located in the southern coast of the Península, is the tourist centre for the off-shore whale-watching. There is also a hotel at Punta Delgada. However, most visitors spend the night in Puerto Madryn. The road network, which connect the Península main attraction points with neighbouring cities is well-developed; an estimated 83% of the visitors travel by car and remain in the area for periods of three days or more (Tagliorette and Losano, 1996). Three visitor centres exist in the Península and they are now undergoing renewal.
Península Valdés has an outstanding value as a sanctuary for wildlife and is of particular importance for some species of conservation concern. It has been estimated that around 50% of the world’s extant population of southern right-whale visit its waters each year. The area is also important for other species of marine mammals and birds, which are decreasing elsewhere, such as the southern elephant seal. All these species attract a large number of visitors and represents a large source of income for the region.