On a full belly of divine beef and sausages we board the overnight bus from Bariloche to Puerto Madryn, this Latin odyssey is fast nearing a farewell we’re not yet ready to make. It might be the uplifted mentality from the hiking or it might be that we’re enjoying the dabble back into the food that Argentina does well but either way this meat is divine. Strangely enough the meat is both a little overcooked and at the same time delicious and tender, the seemingly incompatible factors don’t seem to rate a thought when it’s this delicious. And a cheeky bottle of wine doesn’t go down too badly either, this is the big lunch phenomenon at its best; we won’t eat much at all for dinner as we’ll be in a bus seat on our way to the penultimate stop in Argentina for us so it’s with bursting top buttons that we leave the restaurant.
Lights out, lights on, we’re in Puerto Madryn. That was easy largely due to the expensive seats we bought, it’s our 13th out of 14 overnight buses and we’re simply over struggling through these things, the better seats are usually $10-$15 more and worth every peso. We’d heard that Puerto Madryn wasn’t that much chop and on the first look that estimation seems about right; not horrific but just another town with little aesthetic appeal. Thankfully Puerto Madryn is at the base of a very large bay so it’s out to the peninsula for us which is where it all happens.
So what exactly does happen out here? Wildlife is the short answer, the bays and peninsula coastline play host to all manner of large aquatic life with whales, orcas, seals, walrus and penguins all common residents. From the heights of the Andes it’s into the depths of the ocean for us in just a couple of days, this is Argentinian diversity in all its glory with attractions abound at every turn. Puerto Pyramides, where we’re staying out on the peninsula and within the National Park, is also close to the site of the famous orca beach hunting where the huge mammals temporarily beach themselves to snatch seals from the sand. It’s a massive long shot, we have no high hopes of seeing this yet it lingers as a testament to the wild and crazy things that happen in this place. Natural appreciation is a drink best sipped without expectation, all we can do is place ourselves in these environments to hope for the best while we appreciate the worst which is usually still great.
A small walk on the beach brings back to us a burst of appreciation for the coast, a rare feeling for these alpine romanticists. Through the little one street town that it Puerto Pyramides we amble in a slow stroll that beachside towns seem to engender past more whale bones than we care to count, we assume that they have just washed up on the beach and have not been hunted. The beach is long and flat with loose sandy headlands dividing the water from a more or less desert like landscape. For us it’s all out there in the deep blue, we stare out just imaging all that is going on in those deep waters. Soon we’ll see.
Of course we can’t stay out of the water for long, it’s into a dive boat to go see for ourselves. The whales have passed to colder waters and the orcas aren’t in the bay thankfully, what we’re hoping for today are seals – friendly and inquisitive which we’ve only ever seen from a boat, never in the water. A short boat ride off from the coast we see a few seals on the bank and we pull up the boat and launch hurriedly into the water. They’re awesome animals and we’re swimming pretty close to them as they jitter about on the rock a little and slide into the water more elegantly than their bodies should be able to.
This is pretty exciting as we see a few sightings pretty close on the surface, the seals extending their large sleek necks high out of the water seemingly scouting out where we are. Checking under water occasionally we catch sight of a fin or shadowy shape twisting and turning in the water that is offering us precious little visibility. Even in this obscurity the excitement is unavoidable, this murky water means they are a mere metre or two away. We venture into slightly deeper water to clearer visibility and away from the other couple we share the water with. They seem to charge at the seals at the first inclination and basically chase them away much to the contradiction of the dive masters suggestions and our patience.
Soon enough we see a couple of seals bobbing their heads above water nearby and we cautiously make our way over. The passive approach works, funnily enough just like the dive master said which really should not be that surprising. In no time at all we have fairly clear visibility and two seals twisting like ribbons of a rhythmic gymnast right in front of us, we’re glued to the spot, this is captivating. Staying completely still they seem emboldened, coming closer with each pass. We have a visual feast in front of us and we take in as much appreciation as possible while they show off their aquatic dexterity in playful dance, we’re suitors observing the performance in awe. It appears Charlie is more attractive to a seal than I am, the smaller of the pair hovers right in front of his face while I watch on dumbfounded. I was dumbfounded at first then I stopped having the words for it, the seal gave a charlie a little kiss, gently bumping it’s whiskered face on his forehead before swirling and darting away. I never thought I’d be jealous of a seal.
We’ve taken a first dip into the water and Charlie basically pashed a seal, it’s exactly what you hope for from wild places. We ventured into a deeper dive soon after and although it was a nice dive it was all about the seals and as they say in the movies, ‘that kiss’. So many times we launch ourselves into the natural world where not much is a guarantee with the highlights only hoped for rather than a contrivance. It’s with this seat edged sense of anticipation that the greatest heights of appreciation and wonder can be realised. We could pay for a zoo or a sanctuary and be guaranteed of an up close look at seals and much more but would it be the same, certainly not. So we’ll keep coming, keep rolling the dice into the wild and ever be happy with the most mundane of outcomes, still usually grand to the appreciative. But sometimes, just sometimes we will be granted an uncontrived high as the wild world blesses us, sometimes the wild will give us just a little kiss.