Wednesday, December 06, 2006

mi cumple

my birthday begins in the tent with my love, waking to the murmur of waves at puerto piramides: a spectacularly magical bay on an arid peninsula jutting out into the south atlantic. Peninsula Valdez is home to sea lions, seals, dolphins, penguins, elephant seals, right whales, and orcas! and right now all but the dolphins are here.

We stroll the beach, hand in hand in the cool breeze, as the strong sun and movement stokes the appetite. After a light breakfast with our neighbors and buddies, rod and jimmy, we lounge in the warm sand like sea lions, content to smell the sea air and lay back, lifting our heads to see whales frolicking in the bay.

We decide, despite the dark horizon, to go on one of the whale watching tours which attracts so many day-trippers in rental cars. The femail right whales (called the "right whales to hunt" because of their massive size - up to 60 feet long and weighing 100 tons!, slow speed, high fat content, and because they float when killed) spend four months here to give birth to and raise their calves in the relatively warm and calm waters.
We boarded the boat just as the sun disappeared and the wind picked up. It was a nearly silent, contemplative ride, bouncing out of this bay and into the next (as the season passes and especially at low tides, most whales are farther out.) I began to have doubts. the weather and lack of whales worried me: did we choose the wrong day to go, the wrong boat? After a week at this beach watching the whales breach from the beach, did we have the misfortune of getting on a poor tour?

20 minutes of calm was punctuated by a sighting of spray and before we knew it, we were literally surrounded by whales! On three sides of the boat we saw them rolling onto their backs, exposing white patterns on dark bodies, and languidly waving side flippers at us. Mothers and their babies rubbed against each other in expressive love. A mother surfaced just 10 feet from our side of the boat, and after spraying us with a massive exhalation of salty whale mucus from her twin blowholes, emitted a sound that was both gutteral and graceful; a deeply resonating groan-song from somewhere deep within her massive body. I could feel it thru my feet on the boat deck. Tamara was moved to tears, and I was sure that she was singing me happy birthday!

We were pulled out of this celebration by a collective gasp of amazement. Looking up to catch a baby whale crashing back into the water after an awkward breach, we realized that there were at least eight more whales near us. They smacked the water with tails and fins and we were treated to the classic view of whales´ tales silhouetted against the horizon. One even held its tail upright for a full 30 seconds. Then began a symphony, a riot, an orgy of whale acrobatics! Diving deep and crashing thru the surface into mid-air, one, two, three young whales launched their 10,000 pounds of sleek blubber nearly completely free of the water!

***even now, writing in my journal sitting in this cave at the edge of low tide, i look up to see a whale on its back, flippers in the air, like some gigantic otter waving at me from 40 feet away!**

And it continued. At one point, baby whales (15 to 20 feet long) were breaching all around us, 50 feet away, at the same time. We literally could not even watch them all at once. It was awesome and intoxicating. Free of the camera, we were able to fully be part of their adolescent joy. For a good 10 to 15 minutes this spectacle continued to astound and giddify us. We were soon able to tell when they would breach by the curve of their back and angle of tail as they submerged. Then, as a crowning crescendo, one of the massive (easily 150,000 lbs) mothers lauched herself fully into the air coming directly at the boat! The boat rocked and with that the youngsters settled down, returned to lolling on their backs with mom and we tried to catch our breath.

But it was far from over. A few minutes later, a momma and her baby approached the boat. Rolling onto their sides to get a better look at us, we could see their patterning even thru the cloud-darkened rough waters. Momma came straight to us, poking her head out of the water like a playful dog. So close! really just 2 feet from the boat! I wanted to pet her, and tamara was once again flushed and in tears after holding eye contact with our new friend.

Returning to land, we took our bliss into a restaraunt for a treat of fries and beer for the boys and a hot chocolate (submarino) for tamara. Quite a treat - our first time indoors the whole week.
Soon it was time to make the decision: would dark skies and talk of rain deter my birthday BBQ? Rod, being of rough and tumble australian stock, balked at any talk of abondoning our plans. 20 minutes later, carrying boxes of beer, wine, veggies, steak, sausages, and snacks, thunder rumbled over the desert. Too late to turn back, we chose the most sheltered of the campgrounds´ BBQ pits and opened our drinks.

Luckily, the fire was burning good and hot when the first rain drops blew in. Lucky also we´d had a few drinks. Even I, so easily sunk into cynical abondonment of fantastical plans, grinned at the rain - invigorated, revelling in mother nature´s celebration of my birthday!

Soon a crew of of folks from argentina to ireland joined us as we worked the fire. Chorizos were followed by steak and wine drunk out of a collective pot. But before the egglplant with garlic was done, a raw rain forced us to shelter in the trees, passing around the pot of wine. Impressively, tamara´s campfire chocolate cake came out rich and we ate it, still steaming, in the rain. After a trip to the local restaraunt/bar (which we were far too animated for - straight from the campground, hair matted, eyes wild...) I stumbled home to the tent with my love...

*yes, the camera was stolen. a tricky pair preyed on tamara while i was checking on the tickets at the buenos aires bus station. bastardos! but we´re still smiling (a mal tiempo, buena cara...). many thanks to jimmy for the foto and hopefully more to come.