The Voyage Pt. 15 – Argentina – Puerto Madryn – sheep and sea-lions

Travel and Photography


We left Ushuaia behind in our wake as we wended our way through the islands back out into the Pacific and headed north towards the Antarctic, towards the real end of South America – the horn of South America. The sea was rough with huge swells of six metres as the two oceans clashed in their endless battle. Hornos island came into sight and we pitched, yawed and rolled forward. It was incredible to think of those old wooden schooners heading into this gale and high seas. They were either brave or foolhardy. To think of those huge waves crashing over ships so that sailors actually tied themselves to masts to prevent them being washed overboard. This was summer, there was a storm brewing but I dread to think what it might have been like in winter.

We sailed away from Hornos Island and back north towards the calm of Argentina – next stop Puerto Madryn. The small town on the Patagonian plains was an interesting stop. Set up by a small Welsh community, and having a very Welsh town called Gaiman, where they still speak Welsh, it was quite an idiosyncratic destination.


We drove off to a typical sheep ranch. The Patagonian plain was interesting and different. The whole area was a dry desert of yellow flowered shrubs. It was so dry that the vegetation and soil was specialised to deal with the aridity. There were birds, lizards and armadillos but most of them were nocturnal and burrowed deeply to escape the heat. Large animals included the large flightless rheas, llama-like guanacos, and even the odd puma.


We saw a pet guanaco and plenty of sheep. The sheep ran wild in the Patagonian plain managing, with the help of a little assistance from imported water, to scrounge a living from the leathery vegetation.


We watched a display of sheep-shearing carried out by a pseudo-gaucho. There were a pair of burrowing owls in the rafters who viewed us with suspicion while the guanaco looked very tame and went round attempting to beg morsels of food.


Amazingly, in this land of desiccation, where there is never the slightest precipitation, it was raining.


We headed off back to the coast to sea-lion cove. Unfortunately we’d come at the wrong time of year for the whale breeding in the bay. The place was famous for the brilliant southern right whale and orcas. Unfortunately that was between June and December and this was February. They’d all buggered off to the Antarctic to feed.

However the Emperor cormorants and sea-lions were still up for a bit of breeding. The cove was a very pretty rock formation with underlying caves.


The large emperor cormorants precariously clung to the rock ledges. It was hard to believe that they could lay eggs and bring up their young on such narrow ledges. If someone had put me in charge of an egg in such a dangerous place I know it would have ended up on the rocks below in a matter of minutes. Cormorants are obviously a lot more adept than I would be. How do they control their errant offspring?


Below in the caves was the land of the sea-lions. The huge male beachmasters patrolled their patch of beach and kept an eye on their harems while the cute little baby sea-lions frolicked in the waves. Those giant males, with their huge orange fur ruffs looked just like lions and when they raised themselves up on all fours it was easy to see how they had gained their name. Every now or then one of the males would encroach and there would be a noisy crashing of heads and blubber. They were fearsome creatures and incredibly wonderful. It seemed such a tragedy the way they were slaughtered in their thousands by those early sailors. They were majestic animals.


Back in town we walked around the shops and found tourist tat and mate. There was a very neglected central square with a very grimy and rather shabby church. It looked as if it was once the original mission. We stood in the drizzle and imagined the scene from a hundred years ago when tourists were unheard of, the mission was alone, and not surrounded by tacky twentieth century slums, and the square was green and a focus of human activity. It must have looked and felt vibrant. How times change – and rarely for the better.


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