After staying for 4 nights around Península Valdés, Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn and Trelew we drove to Rio Gallegos where it was expected to do a car check up before continuing this trip. It was a surprising coast, probably because we were not expecting to see many things. But we saw several awesome places that everyone should see if passing by.
The first place was a beach just by the R3 and a only a few km after Caleta Olivia town. No idea if there's a name for this beach because we didn't see any sign or information about it. I saw something swimming on the sea and we stopped the car. And we couldn't believe what we were seeing... It was a quite "normal" beach but full of elephant seals! It was not a natural park neither an ecological reserve. Just that, dozens of these giant sea animals laying on the beach and swimming on the sea. Close to them we saw some fisherman. For them it seemed the typical day fishing on the beach (but of course, full of elephant seals just 100m of distance!).
The best part of this discovery was that we could walk around the beach and see them closer and take pictures. If it was in a natural park we would only see them from distance. But in this beach they were less than 50 m away from us and it was amazing!
After a while a penguin also joined the "party" arriving into the beach alone. It was fun to see a penguin with less than 5 kg so close to elephant seals that usually weight around 3,000 kg!
We also did a stop at Puerto San Julian, a small coastal town where Fernão de Magalhães arrived in 1520 thinking this was the strait that would take him to the Pacific (the famous "Estreito de Magalhães"). When he discovered that this was just an harbour and since the winter was coming we decided to spend that months there. It was him that ordered to celebrate the first mass ever in Argentina (something that people from San Julian are really proud of). There's a thematic museum in the town, a replica of one of the Spanish ships that arrived in the Magalhães expedition. We did the guided tour (15$ARG/person) and it was interesting to better understand the History of Magalhães, his crew and the daily routine while navigating.
In the city center it's also possible to see a monument honoring the Air Force pilots who died during the Falklands War ("Guerra das Malvinas") in the 80s. San Julian was used by the Argentine Air Force since it is one of the nearest points to the islands.
We were surprised again only 150 km south Puerto San Julian. We decided to visit Monte León National Park, a spectacular protected area in Santa Cruz Province, south Argentina. The park runs along 36 km and consists of high sandstone cliffs, weird rock formations, small islands, beautiful bays and wild beaches.
Our first stop at the national park was at the visitor center where an helpful and kind forest guard told us a little bit about the park, the stops we should do and the trails. And just when we were leaving the center to drive for around 20 km in unpaved roads, two young guys asked us for a ride until the camping part of the park. Our car was pretty full of stuff (bags, coats, food, water, books... yeah we've been accumulating a lot of things!) but we managed to get them and its two big backpacks inside the car.
We drove for at least 30 minutes inside the natural park seeing several guanacos on the way. Their camping was close to the beach where we were going so we left them in the camping zone and we immediately saw two red foxes ("zorro colorado"). After walking around the beach where we ate a few sandwiches for lunch we decided to do the small trail (20 minutes walk) to see the sea lions. They were there but it was almost high tide so they were a bit far away from the observation point.
We also decided to do the longest trail (around 2 hours) to see the penguins. We were not expecting a lot from this since penguins start to migrate in March and we saw hundreds of them at Punta Tombo a few days before. But surprise surprise! There were even more penguins than at Punta Tombo! And we were completely alone! Not even a person doing this trail and we could stay a while chilling with these amazing and nice creatures. It's difficult to describe the sensation of spending several hours just us with other animals and the surrounding nature. No other noises. No other humans. Gorgeous and not touristic at all (which is something we appreciate each day more!).
Next stop: Ushuaia (Argentina)!