Sun 9th Sep
I wake before my alarm and contemplate 3 times cancelling the tour I have booked. I’m tired, in a private room I don’t want to leave and more than that – I’m scared of snorkelling, worse in Patagonian winter waters, which is today’s planned activity.
In the end, I resolve to going, knowing I’ll regret it if I don’t and that if I really don’t want to, I can always stay in the boat or get back in asap.
I’m the first at the Abramar Buceo offices which is great as I can talk over my fears with Victoria – one of the guides who will be in the water with us. She assures me all will be fine and I’ll love it. It’s also more peaceful getting ready as by the time everyone else arrives, I’m done and there’s 9 people trying to adorn their wetsuits.
Once everyone is ready, we walk out into the water to get into our boat. I’m actually surprised how even though the water seeps through, it isn’t cold. Yes – this is the first time I’ve worn one of these too.
All aboard, we start the 20 to 30 minute ride to Punta Loma. Instructions are given in Spanish and English but other info just in Spanish. I can’t work out if it’s because I speak Spanish that they don’t bother with English version or just don’t bother in general. I wonder how if non Spanish speaking people were here, how they would manage if they were on most of the tours I’ve done recently.
Punta Loma is a cliff and pebble based shore and a nature reserve that is home to hundreds if not thousands of Southern (real name Patagonian) sea lions (leon marion) or even sea wolf (lobo marino). Real name Otaria flavescens. There are guards watching and only allow a maximum of three dive groups in at a time with each group allocated 45 minutes.
The smell of fish hits me before the sight of anything and I wonder how the hell I’m going to cope with this – I struggle walking past the fish counter in Tesco! It soon passes though and then the sound of barking grabs grabs my attention. As I look out to the cliffs, I can see hundreds of sea lions and they sound somewhat ferocious leading me to think I definitely ain’t getting in the water with these! Despite the noise, it is quite a sight to see and they look amazing on the rocks – I’m just not sure I want to get in the water with them…
Despite the noise, they do look ever so cute. Males are dark brown in colour with a paler coloured underside and they have a full mane. Females are pale brown with some pale markings around their head. They mate between August and December, and the pups are born between December and February. Males arrive first to establish and defend territories, but then switch to defending females when they arrive. A male aggressively herds females in his territory and defends both from neighbors and intruders. The earlier a male arrives at the site, the longer his tenure will be and the more copulations he will achieve. Males are usually able to keep around three females in their harems, but some have as many as 18.
The overall population of sea lions is considered stable and in this region estimates say there are about 265,000 animals. They are increasing in Argentina Patagonia, but are declining in Chile and Uruguay. Many sea lions of the Peruvian population died in the 1997/1998 El Niño. They still are killed due to their habits of stealing fish and damaging fishing nets. Sea lions in the port of Mar del Plata have been found with toxic chemicals and heavy metals in their systems.
Class order & family – mammalia, carnivora, otariidae
Life span – up to 20-29 years
Size – males 2.5m, females 1.5-2m
Weight – males 250-400kg, females 120-150kg
Diet – piscivore
Suddenly I’m flippered and masked up and I’m in the water with the rest of my group. Arggghhh what am I doing! I can’t seem to put my feet down for the life of me…these bloody flippers are a pain in the arse! I stick to the lifebouy for a few minutes, braving sticking my head under until panic sets in when my nose bit fills with water. How the fuck did that happen…I stop trying to breath through my nose and stop trying to talk through the mouth piece when under water! When I do all this calmness comes and I soon start to enjoy myself. Until I’m surrounded by 10 or more sea lions then I start to crap myself.
Again, this subsided and within 10-15 minutes, my confidence has gone through the roof and I’m swimming and snorkelling about hunting out these active little creatures. They’re cute on top of the water but seeing them dive, twirl and roll about under it is one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen in my life.
They are like little puppies, anxious to meet and play with people and even peck at things like puppies – including the guides flipper and my butt!
Our guides were awesome (and one in particular quite hot)! They showed us where to go, how to attract them and reigned us back in if we went too far. Better than that thou – they had Go Pros to capture these magical moments for us.
As other boats arrived, we move out slightly and the number of sea lions around us did start to dwindle. Luckily for us thou we were the second boat there. Sadly, our 45 minutes were very quickly up…by god they went fast.
I get back on the boat and am literally grinning from ear to ear. If I thought yesterday was fantastic, this has just trumped it 10 fold. I cannot put into words how amazing this was.
All seated we’re treated to a hot drink and of course the Argentine sweet treat of choice, alfajores. Hot water is poured over ur feet too if you’re cold.
The guides have a quick turnaround to take another group out diving so it’s rushed thank you and goodbye and I and they’re off.
Back at the hostel and another room change! I’m back in my original dorm but at the moment it’s empty. I take advantage of this and enjoy a leisurely shower, a long phone call to Becky, sort a few things then go in search of some lunch.
I’ve walked passed a very nice restaurant called Malón several times and it has always called out to me. Being my last day here I decide to bugger it and treat myself. The food did not disappoint and I have a lovely glass of red with an enormous steak for about £10!
Steak back home will never compete with this so I’m just enjoying it whilst I can. Full as an egg I go for a stroll along the promenade, catch up with my Mum and just chill. After a hectic few days and weeks, taking an hour’s downtime is just the ticket until I need to head back out to choose the photos or videos I want from this morning.
They are awesome and it’s difficult to choose as they only allow you to choose 2 photos for free and anymore you have to buy. The option is just over £7 for everything. The company were great and it was an awesome experience but I do think that having paid over £50 for this tour, the photos and videos should be included in the price. I did manage to wangle 3 for free instead thou.