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’

Milking Cows (aka: the life-giving gauntlet of scabby poop explosions)

I think it was visions of Gina Davis milking cows in ‘A League of Their Own’ that put the romanticism of milking cows in my head. What could be better than milking a cow, then eating the cheese a few days later? The answer to that question is just eating the cheese and being no where near the milk extraction process.

With no good pictures of the milk cows, I present you with a picture of a bull. You get the idea though...

With no good pictures of the milk cows, I present you with a picture of a bull. You get the idea though…

During the first week of wwoofing on the island of Chiloé, I eagerly volunteered Jordan and I to help with the daily milking. Turns out that the cows are up in the summer pasture, so we hiked up to the highest hill to collect the cows with the family patriarch. I tried to pretend that my instinctive ‘flight’ reaction to a cow stepping out of line wasn’t me running away scared, but instead a happy frolic in the meadow. This was off to a tenuous start.

When the cows come down from pasture, the calfs who spent the night away from their milk bearing mothers are each given turns to drink, which also helps get the udders ‘warmed up’ if you will. Once we pried the milk crazed calfs from the udders and secured them behind a fence, we got to work tying the cows’ back legs together so that they would not be able to kick us in the head while we were milking them. It’s tricky though because in order to tie their legs together, you have to put your head right behind them to get the rope around. When I wrote earlier that ‘we’ had to tie the legs together, you can be sure that I just watched as the seasoned farmed did all the work. Once the legs (and consequently the tail) are all tied up, you are ready to grab your short bench and bucket and start milking.

First, we use a little fresh water to rinse the layer of calf saliva from the udders, noting the scabby areas of flesh caused by some over eager baby cows. No one likes calf saliva in their cheese, am I right??! Then, remembering to keep the udder lubricated with the milk you are extracting, you grab hold and try to figure out a pressure/pull combo which makes the milk come out. This can be difficult especially with an endless stream of ‘that’s what she said’ scenarios popping into your head.

Ten minutes later, when I first started to get milk out of my udder and the patriarch had already finished milking two cows, I started to notice the cow leaning. A cow that leans probably doesn’t seem like a event worthy of note, but when you are crouching beneath a behemoth heifer, whose back legs are tied up, you start to realize, ‘wow, if this cow falls over on me, I’ll most certainly die.’ So anyway, I was just coming to terms with the whole leaning thing, when we noticed the beginning of a leg shuffle. Listen to me when I say this, never ignore the leg shuffle of a cow getting milked. In a series of slow motion events, Jordan and I dove out of the way barely in time to avoid a successive eruption of feces, chaotically trying to explode from a knotted tail/leg tie up, followed by a tidal wave of urine that might have been tinged with revenge for the amateur milking job we were doing on this poor cow. We left the muddy milk pen, buckets virtually empty, forearms burning, feeling unclean, emotionally even more so than physically, hoping to forget about the scabby udders threatening to haunt our morning yogurt for the rest of our days.

All jokes aside, what I once thought would be an easy, new thing to learn, turns out to be a difficult job, requiring much strength and skill. It was amazing watching the farm patriarch handle the cows expertly from pasture to milking. If you wondered why most farmers have such strong handshakes, its because they have been milking cows for decades! I was glad to have been given the chance to try milking a cow with expert teachers, and even more grateful for the people out there who do it on a regular basis so I can enjoy the cheese, yogurt and butter that I love so much!

Has anyone else out there ever tried milking cows? How was your experience? We’d love to hear about it.