We go south today, to the sea. To the salt and wind of the Patagonian coast and the Atlantic teeming with wildlife, packed with penguins and whales .We`ve journeyed there before, fifteen years ago. Memories fade with time but the recollection of Puerto Madryn remains. I can picture Rocio, in her blue hat with yellow flower, cycling to see penguins. I remember her wonderfully welcoming family and of course, I recall our disappointment that the whales weren`t there. We have unfinished business in Patagonia.
For six months, Nan and I rambled, by the seat of our pants, on local buses from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. We landed in Argentina on a scorching January morning. Not the ideal time. The weather was hot, the whales absent and the country in the midst of a financial meltdown. The government attempted to calm the financial storm by equating the peso to the dollar, a hugely unrealistic rate which overnight made everything really expensive for foreigners and especially for destitute backpackers .Accommodation, food and travel were extremely expensive for us so when we landed in Puerto Madryn and were approached by a man with his daughter on bicycles, offering to rent us one of his bedrooms, we nervously accepting the offer. Roberto threw in the use of his bicycle to seal the deal. But the real deal-maker was his young companion, ten-year Rocio. We were apprehensive as we walked the quiet lanes away from the bus station, but the child’s smiling eyes and endless chatter made us feel safer.
The next day after a sleepless night, still alive despite our fears, Roberto sent us with Rocio to see the penguins. He told us that we had come at the wrong time of the year to see the whales. September, not mid-summer January, was the best month for whales so he encouraged us to visit Peninsula Valdes Nature Park instead, but we couldn’t afford the ticket. Not taking no for an answer, he gave me his bike, borrowed one for Nan and set us off on the ten km spin to a cliff-top overlooking a beach ,where we could view penguins for free. Rocio would be our guide.
The wheels on Rocio`s bike were tiny and she pedalled like a hamster to keep up with us. Her mouth was going at the same rate as she chatted incessantly to Nan, who was under pressure to keep up both on the bike and linguistically.
It was my first time on a bike in thirteen years and I loved it. The movement, the wind on my face and the childlike freedom. I silently vowed to cycle more when I returned to Ireland. In reality, the ride there was the highlight. The penguins were tiny from the lofty cliff top and Rocio tired on the return. Eventually, falling and grazing her knee. The last few kilometers were torture for her young legs but we eventually limped in as sun set.
I remember we left Argentina on Nan`s birthday and Rocio cried. It would be lovely to meet her again and see how her life has turned out. But if not, to at least see a whale or penguin. This time, we have our own child with us, eager to see animals up close. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky. Our timing this year is better.