A week of it

I have been in Puerto Madryn for a week now. This marks the longest I have stayed in one place for this trip. Tonight I will be taking an 18 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires, and will be staying there for a week, matching my lag here.

Sometimes you get a bit bored staying in one place for a while, but in other ways it’s interesting. You get to know quite a bit more about a place, you don’t need a map, you know how the buses work, where to eat, which Internet cafes are reasonable, etc. It helps if you’re staying in a reasonable place, and El Gualicho has been pretty good. Staying in a 4-bed dorm, but half the time I was the only one in there. Plenty of other people around though.

You also see the normal activity of a town, its ebbs and flows. You see many, many police walking about Argentina, but they are a scruffy lot, often with little to mark them as a policeman. If you put on a plain blue shirt and trousers, with no markings, then as long as you have a baseball cap with “Policia” on it, no-one thinks anything of you walking around with a gun strapped to your hip. Sometimes they wear fluoro vests, sometimes T-shirts. I suspect maybe they all buy their own uniforms from wherever they like, with the bribe monies they extract from the locals. Anyway, it was still somewhat disturbing to see one of them running down the street, loosely holding a pump-action shotgun. Not sure exactly what was going on, but I saw them apprehending someone on a bicycle. A large number of officers and firearms seemed a bit of an overwhelming show of force to arrest a middle-aged man on a bike. Not sure what he did, probably riding on the footpath or something.

There’s been plenty of time to do the various tourist things about town, including a trip out to Peninsula Valdes to look at sea lions. We had to stand behind a fence, some way back off the beach. But yesterday, I had a chance to get a lot closer.

Dive operators here offer trips to go diving with sea lions, and I’d signed up for one. We’d put the trip off for a couple of days, because the wind was not being very helpful, and was was stirring up the weed in the bay, dramatically reducing visibility. But we could only put it off for so long, as I have to leave here sooner or later. So on a windless day, at high tide, I went out with Scuba Duba. Carolina driving the boat, Emilia as Divemaster, and just the two customers, myself and Julia, an Open Water diver from Toronto.

Glassy seas, but a bit of groundswell, as we bumped over to Punta Loma, about 30 minutes away. It’s not possible to do anything in Argentina without maté, so of course we had to have some of that on the way over. I should write about it more another time, but for now just understand the Argentines seem to go everywhere clutching their maté cup and Thermos of hot water.

As soon as we moored, we had small sea lions nosing up against the boat. We geared up, and dropped in. Even at the top of a very high tide, it’s only around 6-7m where we were, 50m out from the shore. We’re not allowed any closer, and we can’t go and annoy the animals, but if we just kneel in one place, they soon come around to check you out.

Obviously the big bulls are happy to sit on the shore sleeping, but the young ones are very keeen to come and check you out. Visibility was very poor – for my Auckland readers, it was similar to Lake Pupuke on a good day – but suddenly this large shape looms up and nibbles your hand. Although they have four limbs, and can walk on all of them (one of the differentiating features between seals and sea lions), they don’t really have hands. As such, they use their mouths to investigate things. If you hold out your hand, they will come and gently nibble it, not hurting you. You feel a tug behind you, and think perhaps it’s another diver, before realising it’s a sea lion investigating your hoses. One took a real shine to Julia’s hood, coming back again and again, in spite of being pushed off. For the other divers it is amusing, but it can be a bit disconcerting when you can’t see what it is that keeps bumping your head about.

They will swim up and look, move away, come back closer, then away, then come closer still. And then they get bored with you and disappear. So you tug on one of the ropes holding a marker buoy, and they come back to investigate. Good fun. Different sort of dive too, just sitting more or less in one place the whole time. Would have been amazing if the visibility was better – it is normally more like 7m, getting up to 20m – but it was still a good dive. Due to the poor visibility, we didn’t take any pictures, but this link should give you an idea of what it was like.

Being geared up, we took the opportunity for another dive, on one of the wrecks in the bay. Visibility was better, but still only 2m, so it was a bit hard to work out what was actually going on with the wreck. It tended to loom up at you rather suddenly.

I think that I may have become a little used to excellent dive briefings from the crew at Global Dive, as I was underwhelmed with the briefing from Scuba Duba. Possibly due to English not being the DM’s first language, I don’t know. But I shouldn’t have to prompt them to do a signal review when you have an Open Water diver on the dive, who has only done 8 dives, and 6 months ago at that. Oh and I think that all Americans should be forced to learn the metric system, so I don’t get gauges with PSI. Takes me too long to do the 15 timestable in my head underwater.

So I’m on the overnight bus this evening, just another 18 hours. But I’m travelling cama, the closest to business travel I’ll ever get. It’s the “express” service too, with only a handful of stops, so I should get a fair bit of sleep. Since I’ve got a week in Buenos Aires, I’ve rented an apartment, as the prices are quite reasonable. Hopefully that all works out wellm and by this time tomorrow, I’m happily ensconced.