"We turned the corner and behind us, we heard this hollow breathing sound."
by Bella Richter de Medeiros
As most of the people who know me know; I don’t like nature. I am the exact opposite of an outdoorsy, hiker, explorer person. So I originally was not excited at the prospect of going to the national park Peninsula Valdes. My mom and Heather proposed the idea after seeing a very small blurb promising penguins in their Lonely Planet: Argentina book, and they were like, “Oh my God, we have to go there.” They organized a two-week roadtrip throughout Argentina, ending with four days in the Peninsula Valdes.
We arrived at the Peninsula after a very long car ride, which we were all used to by now, since it was towards the end of the roadtrip. We stopped at the little entry building, which contained lots of information about the different flora and fauna and a whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling, as well as a tourist shop and a lookout. After another hour of driving within the national park, we arrived at our adorable, teeny little population 150 town called Puerto Piramides. Our rented room was super cute and very clean; each of the rooms were named after colors, and we stayed in Amarillo.
On the first day, we went whale watching. Upon donning fluorescent orange life jackets, we and the 30+ other varying tourists and travelers trekked down the paved hill to the beach to get in the boat. It was amazing; we saw dolphins, and so many mother-calf pairings of Southern Right Whales. We were told later that it was lucky that we went on the day that we did, because for the next few days, it was so cloudy and windy that no whale-watching boats went out on the water.
The next day, after a breakfast of sandwiches, coffee, and pastries at a super cute little cafe up one of two streets in the town, we planned on driving out to go see the penguins. I was expecting to see maybe a few penguins from very far away; I was mistaken. The penguins were hanging out right next to the little fence. They were everywhere; on the beach down below, in their burrows, chilling on the hill. I got to take a multitude of penguin selfies, which was great.
And finally, my favorite part of the whole trip so far: kayaking with the sea lions.
I woke up at 6am, delirious from a dream that I had where everyone got eaten by orcas. I frantically told my parents that I didn’t want to go kayaking, and I didn’t want anyone to go kayaking because of the orcas. Orcas are way smarter than humans, and they really don’t want to eat us and they can tell when it is us, but let’s be real; sea lions are orca snacks, and if we’re in the way when the orcas beach themselves to capture the sea lions, then we also become orca snacks. I voiced my concerns and was laughed at and reassured that it wasn’t orca season and that even an orca sighting was lucky, so i grudgingly went with them to kayak.
The guides were awesome; when it came time to pair up who was going with who in which kayak, we insisted that my mom go with the guide (due to our odd number of people) because she’s the one that really cares about all the information and will then relay that information to us later. Marco and Heather went in one kayak, and my dad and I went in the other. This was our first mistake.
I’m not sure if you know my father, but if you do, you know that he gets really distracted sometimes, and will compromise his safety and all logic and reason in order to get a really good shot. I, on the other hand, am a total drama queen, I enjoy telling people what to do, and will get frustrated if they don’t do what I say, especially if what they’re doing is putting us in potential danger. The first fifteen minutes of kayaking involved my dad and I lagging several meters behind the pack, yelling at each other and telling each other what to do. Actually, me telling him the correct thing to do and him whining that he wanted to be filming, and me reminding him that I have weak spaghetti arms and cannot be the only one paddling right now.
All arguing aside, we paddled along the coastline, with beautiful rocks and caves on one side of us, and a vast clear-blue ocean on the other side; it was breathtaking. There wasn’t much fauna aside from a few birds and one straggler penguin, but we continued paddling. After scraping the bottom of the kayak on some shallow-water rock beds and continuing to be waaay behind everyone else, we turned the corner and behind us, we heard this hollow breathing sound.
Now, remember the orca dream. I shrieked and swore and started paddling frantically and my dad was just sitting there laughing at me with his GoPro stuck under the water to get the shot. It turns out that it wasn’t an orca; it was the most adorable curious little sea lion I’d ever seen in my life. Its eyes were big and brown and playful; it and its lil sea lion buddies were just trying to see what was going on, and they were swimming and swirling under the water away from their giant sea lion lair rock.
Said Sea Lion Lair Rock was a giant rock, covered in sea lions almost like a carpet. They were barking and grunting and flopping around on the land, but when they slipped and fell into the water or threw themselves off the rock, they became incredibly graceful. Under the mainland rock in a sort of cave were even more sea lions, and the male lion with the giant mane.
The younger sea lions were the ones who were just curious, and loved swimming around and investigating these weird creatures (us). They were absolutely adorable, swimming underwater, popping up behind or next to the boats, then ducking back down again and swimming under the boat to their next destination.
We stayed watching them for a good half hour until it was time to head back. If paddling wasn’t hard enough, we were now heading against the current. My arms were absolutely dying, and my dad was insisting that he needed to film, so a lot of the paddling I did by myself.
It was totally worth it, and we didn’t get eaten by orcas. I definitely would love to visit again.