Sometimes when I look at landscape or seascape painting, I’m reminded how big the sky really is. From our terrestrial viewpoint, eyes fixed ahead or downcast, busy with our everyday lives, we rarely look heaven wards. Only during the time in my life where I lived on a hill overlooking the sea and enjoyed regular walks on a deserted beach did I appreciate that much of what surrounds us is sky.
Patagonia is a vast area in South America, territory now amicably shared by Argentina and Chile. Our destination today was the Valdes peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site reached by an isthmus of land from Puerto Madryn, where our cruise ship had docked. This settlement was, in fact, established by 150 colonists from Wales, in 1865, who arrived seeking escape from religious persecution. The town is really rather nondescript, industrial and dreary, relying economically on a sprawling and unsightly aluminium works. We were at least met with a nice sunrise.
It was a long trip by coach today, to the national park area where we hoped to view seals, sea lions and penguins. As we set out, it was immediately noticeable how flat and featureless the land is – only at the coast does the appearance of rugged cliffs and valleys break the pattern. Occasional saltwater lakes provide brief inland relief too. There are no trees; perhaps this is why I noticed the ‘big skies’, which seem to hang like a cerulean ceiling, painted with a moving patina of cloud formations and colours. Coupled with the rocking movement of the bus on unpaved roads the whole experience was strangely hypnotic.
Initially I was looking out for animal and bird life and quickly was rewarded with sightings of the llama-like guanacos which roam widely here. There are a number of sheep farms in the reserve and a few of the flock can be spotted amongst the shrub. Apart from that, we paused briefly for distant views of a pair of owls and a small flock of vultures, presumably intent of making use of some carrion; beyond that, our journey went by rather slowly.
Our first stop was a welcome relief, a cliff top vantage to view some sea lions on the beaches below.
From there, another short drive took us to the main attraction, the chance to view a rookery of Magellanic penguins. We were rather distant from them but having remembered my binoculars I was able to get a good view as they huddled together on the pebbly shore.
Finally, we stopped nearby to view a lovely stretch of beach on which reposed a number of elephant seals.
It’s here, as we’re about to board the coach for our final leg, that we saw our favourite character of the day, a delightful, somewhat comical armadillo who ambled over as if in greeting before examining us in a distinctly equivocal manner and turning tail for home. It’s our cue to do likewise.