Near the gift shop, was what appeared to be a water heater, painted red with a logo. I discovered that this was a 'matè' station where the locals could fill their thermos with water that is exactly 80 degrees C or 177 degrees F...just below the boiling point so as not to burn the tea leaves.
We arrived at the point where the sea lions lived, near the ocean, on a rocky outcropping of land. They made a loud hoarse braying sound, almost constantly. Thankfully, we were not up close, because they stink! We observed them from a high cliff as they basked in the sun. A few males, who had the typical 'mane' had their heads and necks raised to the sky. Occasionally, we would see two of them fighting. Not long after we arrived, Marta pointed out an area on the rock with a red stain. We were thrilled to discover a female who had just given birth to a baby. The placenta was still attached, but, because of the distance, could not take a close up. What a privilege it was to witness this event!
Did you know that the animal we see in the circus playing with a ball and clapping its hands is NOT a seal but a sea lion? An elephant seal is a true seal, because it's body undulates as it moves forward. A sea lion uses its flippers like hands to move forward. Interesting...
We then drove to Estancia La Elvira (think: Ranch) near Caleta Valdés where there was a reserve and nature path. We walked along the shore, where we read numerous signs about the flora and fauna. Plants with prickly leaves, well-suited for the environment were found in abundance, along with the occasional tiny lizard which crossed our path. One fascinating but macabre insect was a large wasp with a 3 inch black body, 5 inch wingspan, and striking reddish-orange wings. It's habit is to sting and paralyze a tarantula, drag it to its underground habitat, lay an egg in the abdomen of the the tarantula, where the larva feeds when it hatches. Remember that the sting only paralyzed the tarantula, and not kills it, so the young wasp has plenty of 'fresh' food to eat. So, the larva literally eats the body of the tarantula as it dies a slow death. Marta agreed that even though she and I hate spiders, they don't deserve this fate!
The meal was first rate...we figured Maria attended cooking school, and we were right! We soon settled down for an hours rest, before Augustin arrived with his jeep to take us down to the beach (still his property) to get a closeup look at the elephant seals. It took a good 20 minutes to drive to the location where we would get out and walk. Augustin opened and closed three gates on the way there. On foot, we walked for a good 30 minutes down to the beach where six or seven elephant seals lay in the sun to molt. Two were seen bobbing in the water. The seals do not eat while here, only molt. Their home is farther afield, in the ocean where they find shrimp to eat.
We were tickled to be only a few yards from them at one point. Augustin warned us to 'lay low' so the seals did not feel threatened. Four were laying in a pile on top of each other, evidently to rub off their old layer of skin. I was able to get some amazing shots of the creatures. At certain angles, they were actually cute! Sideways, one could see the males ugly elephant nose.
Returning to the car, Augustin gave us more info about his Estancia. He and Maria own 14,000 acres of land, divided into 10 pastures, or areas, each holding a different age bracket of sheep. One held one year olds, another, two year olds, a third, adolescents, another, males, and still another, ewes with their young. They raise Merino sheep for wool, and the going rate for the wool depends on the market year in Australia, which is the standard.
The dinner of chicken, squash and potatoes was scrumptious, and when the meal was over (Argentines eat late), it was time to turn in to the cosy bed prepared for us. What a blessing this 20 hour stay has been for us. A bit of Paradise discovered on the Patagonian steppe!