Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over and the new decade has begun. To experience Christmas and New Year on the other side of the world was a very special experience for me. Besides, we did not spend this time at home, but traveled to different places in my province and in the province of Chubut. During the two weeks of traveling we visited Puerto Madryn, Esquel, Junín de los Andes and Barrancas.
Puerto Madryn is a coastal town in the province of Chubut, which is especially known for its wildlife. Depending on the season, you can see for example whales (more precisely southern right whales), penguins, elephant seals and sea lions.
Actually, the best time to visit Puerto Madryn is October, but even in December you could still see some animals. We visited the Valdés peninsula (Península Valdés), a nature reserve. We explored the peninsula by car, as it is extremely large and interesting places are very far apart.
During our trips we saw guanacos (a kind of llama) and Darwin nandus. There is also a bird island where we could watch flamingos from a distance.
Furthermore, we were at a colony of Magellanic Penguins and saw sea lions and elephant seals taking a siesta.
This was a special experience for me. I had very much hoped to see penguins during my year abroad and this wish has now come true.
Magellanic penguins are smaller than emperor penguins, for example. The penguin colony was located on a rock and the penguins were lying in small caves or on the rock and enjoyed the sun.
For me it was also very impressive how close you could get to these animals living in the wild. The penguins could have been touched theoretically (which of course you are not allowed to do), and some guanacos were standing in the middle of the paths.
We also took a walk on the beach in Puerto Madryn, but it was too cold for swimming in the Atlantic Ocean because of the wind. Unfortunately, we didn’t really see any whales, with the exception of one that swam in the sea, but we only saw it from the coast and at a great distance.
We spent the Christmas holidays in Esquel, a town in the Andes, which is mainly known for its ski resorts.
Christmas Eve I built a gingerbread house (but made of butter cookies) with my two host sisters. First we stuck the butter cookies together with icing sugar, but then we took the typical Argentinean caramel cream Dulce de Leche, which tastes just as good and works better.
My parents had sent me a package of German Christmas sweets like Stollen and Lebkuchen and also butter cookies before Christmas. In Argentina people eat dinner together on Christmas Eve and wait until midnight. Then everyone unpacks their presents.
We also went to Los Alerces National Park, a national park for the protection of the Patagonian cypress.
During several short hikes there we saw the Irigoyen waterfall, many lakes and rivers, “Arrayanes” (a deciduous tree species that stands out for its special color and, according to legend, gives energy when you touch it) and the glacier Torrecillas.
Junín de los Andes
Junín de los Andes was only a stopover for us to split the car journey. There we saw Araucaria or Pehuén trees, a conifer native to the Andes. This tree is especially important for the Mapuche (the natives of Patagonia), because they can live almost exclusively from the seeds (“Piñones”).
We were lucky that a Mapuche woman told us more about the use and importance of the Araucaria and that we could taste Alfajores (cookies) made of Piñones flour.
We also walked the “Via Christi”, a footpath where the different stages of Jesus Christ’s life from birth to crucifixion are represented in the form of statues.
Barrancas is a tiny village in Neuquén on the border with the province of Mendoza. My host family lived there before, so we visited friends there over New Year’s Eve who are like family to my host family. This was a special experience for me, as the families there are very large and we were always surrounded by an incredible number of people, both adults and children.
Our time there was very relaxed, one afternoon we went to a lookout point from where you could see the border with Mendoza and drank Mate (an Argentinean tea drink which is specially prepared, more about this in another blog post).
New Year’s Eve was similar to Germany, but in some parts of Argentina fireworks are forbidden, which wasn’t too bad for me. Instead, we toasted everybody at midnight and then took a walk through the village.
After New Year we went home again. I really liked this trip, because we saw a lot in a short time. However, we also spent quite a lot of time in the car (the distances between the different places were between 500 and 700 km) and the road conditions in Argentina are not at all comparable to those in Germany. Though we were almost continuously on the Ruta Nacional 40, the most important road of the country, there were in-between stretches which were not even asphalted. Motorways as we have them in Germany are very rare here.