Hitch-Hiking Confessions, A Puppy and the Beautiful Valdes Peninsula

Ok, so it’s been a little while since I have posted here but I do plan to get all our photos up and this blog up to date! I will be posting stories of our journey from last year along with posting our current adventures! I’ll be sure to note the date of when we were in each place in South America so no one gets confused.

The next stop on our South American journey took us to Puerto Madryn, on the east coast of Argentina. Puerto Madryn is considered the upper limit of Patagonia, more or less. We were there at the end of Feb/early March of 2014.

Before we get to the epic patagonian nature pics, I have a confession to make. Since we’ve made it through Patagonia safe and sound and I don’t have guilt about my parents worrying anymore, I feel I can finally admit that Jordan and I hitch hiked through most of Argentinian Patagonia. We hadn’t planned on traveling that way but were inspired by several other successfully hitching travelers and given confidence when a few local Argentinian retired couples explained that ‘everybody does it.’ In all honesty, hitch hiking was one of the best parts of our Patagonian adventure. We met the most amazing people, mostly older couples who had children our age. We heard stories from retired heli-ski instructors who fought border protection battles in the wilds of patagonia, we discovered some great new music (Generis anyone?), got to cuddle with several puppies (not even kidding), and ended up in some strange and unexpected places. There was the couple who picked us up in El Chalten who drove 3 hours out of their way on an unfinished dirt (mostly rocks) road to bring us to Luis Piedra Buena, a place they thought was safe and would ensure us further passage to our final goal of getting north. Sure, we ended up going in the opposite direction of where we had wanted to go (turns out our Spanish wasn’t quite as air tight as we thought), but how nice was that! It’s all part of the adventure anyway. See the end of the blog post for a few things we learned about hitch-hiking.

One incredibly generous gentleman picked us up on the outskirts of Puerto Madryn. What had originally been arranged as a ride into the center of town turned into us picking up his wife and daughter at kindergarten and staying in his spare cabaña near the beach for free for the next 4 days. I know…no such thing as a free lunch, right? Well it’s true, the nice man did ask a favor of us. He asked us to puppy sit a 4-week old Black Lab/German Shepard mix for a day and a half before he surprised his daughter with it. The traveling life can be quite hard sometimes….


After a few days in Puerto Madryn, soaking up some sun on the beach and watching the crowds of wind surfers cut through the surf, we headed on towards the Valdes Peninsula. Valdes is a large nature reserve containing one small town, Puerto Pirámides. The main sights we were hoping to see on the peninsula were elephant seals and an adult Orca skimming the surf to snatch baby sea lions. You can either hire a car for the day from Puerto Madryn or hire a car for the day from Pirámides, which is about the same price once all in. There is no public transportation on the peninsula. We decided to get to the Peninsula and then make arrangements there.

Logistically things worked out well for us. We met two independent Italian travelers (an art restorationist from Rome who worked on the Sistine chapel and a poet/painter who was also an internationally ranked, competitive para-glider) and decided to all go in on hiring a driver for the day to take us to see the wildlife. We saw elephant seals, but sadly did not see any Orca. There is a camp ground in Pirámides, but it was closed when we arrived for some inexplicable reason. We decided to just wander off into the sand dunes on the outskirts of town and guerilla camp. The sunsets and views were incredible and we fell asleep to the alternating howls of the whipping wind and a pack of wild dogs in the distance.


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What we learned about Hitch-hiking:

  • Acknowledge that this can be dangerous so always trust your gut and never take a ride if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Don’t go by yourself! Although it is harder to get a ride as your group gets larger, I would not have done it if I wasn’t with Jordan.
  • Buy a road map so you always know where you are, where you are dropped off and which road you should start hitching on to get out of town.
  • Don’t start hitching from the center of town because most of the traffic will be staying local. Try heading out towards the city limit preferably on the road that leads out of town.
  • Start early in the day, its not fun arriving somewhere at night.
  • In patagonia, and most of Argentina, everyone drinks mate. It is nice to travel with a hot thermos and a bag of mate to offer your driver. We found we had a lot of luck while waving our bag of mate and a giant chocolate bar to the cars as they passed us.
  • You don’t need a sign. They can be hard for the driver to read and a thumb or a waving chocolate bar works just as well.
  • to hitch-hike in spanish is ‘hacer dedo’

Luis Piedra Buena – An Unexpected Visit Along Patagonian Route 3

If, like us, you unexpectedly find yourself traveling north from Patagonia on the eastern Route 3 instead of the scenic, quaint, loved by everyone, filled with puppies, rainbows and marble caves Caretera Austral that you had dreamed of traveling for months, don’t fear! You will be pleased to know that there are a few places of interest along the way for you to continue your patagonian adventuring. One example of this is a town called Luis Piedra Buena.

When we initially stopped in Piedra Buena we were not impressed right away. Regular town, nothing special. Needing to spend the night there we were happy to have met a few motorcycle travelers who recommended a comfortable city camping location. What was meant to be a one day stop turned into a week long stay filled with epic sunsets, penguins and lots of Swiss people.

Despite what its name might imply, Vial Camping was an excellent homestead. For 40 pesos ($4) per person per night we were one of the only guests at this quiet, riverside, grassy campsite (with hot showers and wifi!). In typical Argentinian fashion the campsite had enough parillas (BBQs) to grill a small herd of cows. As the sun went down that first night, Piedra Buena got its first hooks into us with the most incredible sunset. The unending patagonian steppe surrounding the town gives the sky an ominous perspective that is both vast and surreal. The cloud cover felt like a low ceiling but the vastness of the terrain meant there was always sunny sky in sight. The intensity of the colors in the sunset were staggering.

Just down the street is a small island (Isla Pavona) in the river where you can also camp, picnic, hike around and enjoy the epic sunsets. We found it so relaxing that we stayed a week since we didn’t want to be on the move for Jordan’s birthday. Stopping in Piedra Buena helped us realize that as long term travelers we don’t always need to be on the move in search of the next high octane adventure. We are enjoying life and sometimes it is nice to slow down in a small town to simply enjoy the pleasures of beautiful cheap accommodation and sunsets.

We spent the first few days with a retired Swiss man who enjoyed taking dips in the river and letting the current drag him around for a while. Once he left, another Swiss family arrived. Two professors on sabbatical with their sons. After chatting over dinner the family generously offered to squish us in their car the next day to explore Parque de Monte León. This coastal dessert park is home to all sorts of animals including sea lions, penguins and cormorants (whose droppings used to be quite in demand for their fertilizer magic apparently). Standing surrounded by penguins about 3 inches from my feet was quite a special experience and made Jordan and I want to reneg on our previous post in which we implied that penguin watching as an activity isn’t that cool.

We eventually left Piedra Buena, but will never forget our week long excursion at Vial Camping, and the nature surrounding it. We wouldn’t recommend that you plan to stay there for as long as we did, but if you are making your way on Route 3 and need a stop, consider Piedra Buena!


Exploring Chiloé: Penguins of Puñihuil

On a free day during our month wwoofing on Chiloé, an island in northern Chilean patagonia, we accepted a ride with some German and Italian tourists staying at the farm to go see the penguins. The drive to Puñihuil was less than half an hour along some beautiful roads. We were lucky to get a ride, though other backpackers we met were able to easily hitch hike their way there and back in a half day. Hitch hiking is quite common on the island, by those old and young!


We arrived at the beach, signed up for the next boat launch (~$10 pp), donned our obligatory life vests and boarded. The boat ride itself is only about 30 minutes. It takes you on a short route around two small islands just off the coast. While not the most high octane type of wildlife/boating experience, I appreciated the calmer waters compared with the boat ride we took in and out of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica! The boat got us super close to the rocky cliffs where hundreds of penguins stood bathing in the sun, or waddling about. It was fun to see penguins in their natural habitat, as opposed to in an aquarium. We even saw a sea lion too! We were very glad to have taken the boat ride and gotten up close to the little guys, but we realized the experience wasn’t as life changing as we thought and thus we would probably be skipping future penguin excursions as we travelled south into Patagonia.


The tourists we traveled with then decided to take a short drive around the area to take in some other views from a nearby Mirador (vista/lookout point). We stopped at a stunning spot, right on the coast where a restaurant and campsite provides access to a short hike down to the water. If Jordan and I hadn’t been staying at the farm, we most definitely would have wanted to camp there because the view was breathtaking. The place is called Fogon Ballena Azul and camping there costs 3500 pesos (~$7 pp). The view became even more stunning when our German companions spotted blue whales off the coast in the distance. We were grateful that they shared their binoculars with us. They decided to arrange a whale watching tour that afternoon and had no trouble booking it the day of. For around $100 per person they had a three hour tour with multiple whale sightings. Though it was out of our price range, they told us it was a great experience and worth it.

Has anyone else had any incredible penguin experiences? We would love to hear about it!

the yellow building is the restaurant, Fogon Ballena Azul!

the yellow building is the restaurant, Fogon Ballena Azul!