TORRES DEL PAINE, BLOG 11

Torres del Paine, Blog 11

As wonderful as yesterday was weather wise this morning is just the opposite. Cold, rainy, and windy and of course, pitch black outside since we are up at four thirty. We dress by the light of our headlamps then go to the restroom where we have to dip a pitcher of water out of a barrel to take with us to flush the toilet. The owners don’t turn the generator on until eight o’clock. I wash my face at a sink outside where a water can with a spigot sits. Brrr, is that cold but I can guarantee you I am wide awake now.

One last photo of “Nancy”

The owners of the campground have breakfast for us around five. We drive away from the campground at five thirty with no change in the weather. When we have left the campground, Pelin informs us that Jose’s father who is the head ranger for the park, witnessed a male cougar try to kill “Nancy “last night. Yes, Pelin calls the young puma Nancy which I find pretty cool. The good news is that Mama puma fought the male off and “Nancy” appeared to be fine. The mother and cub immediately evacuated the area so who knows when the trackers will see them again. Pelin, who is a very passionate young woman, is furious with the male and calls him a coward for going after the young puma. We both agree this is one trait of the cat family that we don’t understand and hate, the fact that the male cat will kill cubs that aren’t his own. I hope my namesake, (if the cub is only called that for the short time we are here it is still fun), survives to adulthood.

Beautiful rainbow despite the crummy weather

Javier drives to the ranger station by the river where we got off the boat yesterday, an hour and a half away.  Jose and Raphael are waiting for us. A sliver of sunlight is peeking through the clouds and a bright rainbow forms over us. The rainbow is so huge that it is hard to get the whole rainbow in my photo. Hopefully, this means the weather is going to improve.

At one point there was a double rainbow

The hope of better weather doesn’t materialize although there are periods where the light rain stops falling. Raphael is scouting the Lake Azul trail but he finds no pumas. Paul, Pelin, and I don’t walk with him this morning; there is no need for all of us to be miserable. By mid-morning Jose suggests we give up looking due to the time of day and the inclement weather.

Pelin and the only photo I have of Jose the puma whisperer :), it is not a good photo of him

Flamingos from afar with snow-capped mountains shrouded in rain

Javier and Pelin

We make a couple of stops on our way back to River Camp to marvel at the amount of water that is rushing through the Paine River waterfall that we had taken photos of while on one of our Eco Camp excursions. We also stop at a lake where Pelin and I take photos of a group of flamingo foraging in a lake along with a pair of Speckled teal who have a single duckling. We don’t linger as the stinging wind is quite cold. We are on the road that takes us by the guanaco carcass so Javier stops the truck so we can take a look although we are certain that Mom and Nancy are gone. What we do find are a pair of White-throated Caracaras halfway up the cliff watching their cousins the Southern Crested Caracaras pecking on the carcass.  Pelin informs us that these Caracaras are rare to see here. That is another thing I really liked about being with Pelin, she seemed to know the birds quite well.

Speckled Teal with lone duckling

White-throated Caracaras’ looking wet and bedraggled, as you can see the weather didn’t allow for very good photos this morning

Javier wheels the truck into River Camp at eleven thirty. Paul decides to take a shower since he didn’t have one last night. I remind him to shut the water off while he lathers up so hopefully, he will have hot water to rinse with. He reported that turning the water off didn’t help and he too had to rinse in ice-cold water. We ate our box lunches in the dining tent then returned to our tent to try to take a nap since we had such a short night.

At two o’clock we leave River Camp in sunshine but as we drive further into the park it is cloudy and spitting rain. After driving for an hour, we see Jose parked on the side of the main road. Jose tells us that the female puma we saw walking along the fence yesterday has been seen again so we drive to the ranger station that sits at the foot of the Fauna Trail. I am completely congested again as I forgot to take a second round of cold medicine. Wonderful.

Jose, Raphael, Pelin, Paul, Javier and me start up the Fauna trail where we face a cold, blustery wind and the spitting rain feels like sleet pellets whenever it hits my face. Jose and Raphael soon leave the four of us in the dust, then as we begin to climb a steeper part of the trail, Paul and Pelin put a lot of space between Javier and me. Since I can’t breathe through my nose, I am forced to mouth breath which I hate and I also am struggling to get up the steep hill. Javier has stayed with me and keeps giving me worried glances, finally asking if I am alright. I tell him between gasps that I always have trouble going uphill but because of my cold I am really being challenged but insist I will be okay.

Javier and I finally catch up to the rest of the group but only because they have come to a stop. It seems that wily feline had disappeared again and no one knows where she is. I forgot to mention that two rangers, one carrying a tripod and a big camera had passed us on the trail at one point. If I understood Pelin correctly, no one, including Jose have been able to get a good photo of this puma.  Jose stands there and appears to be thinking then he turns and starts back down the trail leaving the rest of us standing around hunched up against the cold wind. Raphael is talking with the rangers and I assume they are discussing how the ghost cat managed to get away again.

Raphael’s radio crackles and after speaking briefly to Jose he turns to us and tells us that Jose has found the puma. Unreal, I think that man is part puma himself. We hurry back down the trail which is much easier since the wind is at our back and look for Jose. We don’t see Jose in the area where he told Raphael he was and we mill around not knowing what to do. For some reason I say “I bet he is hiding from us”, and sure enough when we walk a few feet farther we find Jose lying on the ground behind a small bush growing right by the trail. Outside of having a little fun with us I believe his point was to show if a full-grown man can easily hide from us so can a puma.


Jose gets up and tells Pelin where to look for the puma and she relays the info to us. Our ghost cat is across the fence on the private land lying down between a couple of bushes. Oh great. Jose points in the general direction where the puma is and Paul using his binoculars finds the puma, well a patch of puma fur. Paul tries to tell Pelin and I where to look by telling us to sight over a steel post and to look in the bushes just beyond it. Well, every other post is a steel post and there are bushes and brushy patches everywhere. Neither Pelin or I can find the camouflaged cougar and finally I just start scanning all around the area where she is supposed to be. Finally, I too see the tawny patch of fur but it is not at all where I had been looking initially. I was looking over the wrong steel post and looking to high up on the hill. The puma is only fifty yards from the trail and we all walked right by her as we hurried up the trail! I help Pelin find the spot where the cougar is lying low and we sit down beside the trail in hopes that the puma will give us more to look at than that small patch of hide.

There is a patch of puma showing between the spikey brush.

Paul trying to get out of the cold wind

The rangers have sat up their tripod and camera as they also wait hopefully for some activity by the puma. Paul finds a bush to sit behind to shield himself from the relentless cold wind. Pelin and I sit more in the open and I keep tabs on the recumbent patch of fur through my binoculars. Jose, Raphael and Javier are sitting where Jose was hiding from us. Eventually Pelin and I get up in search of a more sheltered spot as we are both cold. Jose stands up and Raphael tells me that he is giving up his place to me. Thank you, Jose. I settle down behind the thick bush which does an amazingly good job of blocking the wind. The puma eventually raises her head a few times which makes all of us happy and stands up once just to readjust her position and then lays right back down.

Aha, the elusive puma raises her head

Partially standing puma

After the puma lays down again, Pelin stands up and starts jogging in place and moving her arms around in order to warm up. What I wasn’t aware of is that behind me everyone else is also standing up. I glance back and catch Paul’s eye who tells me that everyone is ready to go. I am reluctant to leave but Paul asks me if I really think the puma is going to do anything, which I have to admit that she probably won’t. When I stand up it is like a starter’s pistol has gone off as everyone starts walking briskly back towards the ranger station. I linger a bit watching the puma as I stand on the trail in hopes all the activity will rouse her. The smart cat doesn’t move a whisker so I follow the rest of the group back to the ranger station.

Park map at Ranger station

We arrive at River Camp at six p.m. and decide it is to darn cold to shower tonight. We eat dinner at seven and there is a young couple from Houston eating with us tonight. They have just finished hiking the toughest trail called the O trail which circles around the towers. They tell us that one stream they crossed on the last day was flooded but the guides went out and stood in the swift water. The hikers went from one guide to the next in order to get across the stream. Yikes. According to the man, one guide had a rock the size of a small suitcase hit him in the shin while helping his customers navigate the stream. I can’t imagine trying to fjord water that is moving strongly enough to move a rock that size.

As we are eating the young couple is looking at the weather forecast because they were signed up to go kayaking on the flooding river. They know tomorrows kayaking has been canceled but they are hoping that the rain will stop and the rest of the kayak tour will still be on. These kids are true adventurers! They tell us the forecast for tomorrow is 100% rain. Paul and I look at each other and I murmur that I am not real crazy about getting up at four thirty if the weather is going to be like it was this morning. Paul agrees saying he doesn’t see any purpose in going out after what we experienced this morning. We only had the morning scheduled to look for puma anyway as Javier and Pelin are to drive us to Port Natales after lunch. We ask Pelin if she thinks we could cancel our morning puma tracking due to the weather forecast to which she answers yes. Pelin calls Jose to inform him we are wimping out but that we want to meet up with him mid-morning. We don’t want to leave without profusely thanking our puma expert and we also want to tip the trackers for a job well done. So, we will eat breakfast at eight instead of five which suits us and seems to be fine with our driver and guide too. We say goodnight and return to our tent to pack and prepare the tips for Jose and his helpers, Pelin and Javier.

Holy Smokes was it cold last night! Thank heavens for the heavy down quilt but my face got so cold that at times I had to cover my head up to warm my face up. We are up at seven to find that it is not raining but boy is it cold. The mountains that grace our view in camp have a lot more snow on them this morning. After we eat breakfast, we finish packing then load the luggage in the wooden carrier. The owners of River Camp come to say goodbye and we take off on our last drive in Torres del Paine.

Does this look like 100% rain?

We meet Jose and Raphael at the Ranger camp by the Fauna trail, I don’t know where Braulio is. Jose shows us photos of the pregnant puma they just saw not far from the Ranger station, we even drive back up to see if we can find her but she has disappeared. Are you kidding me? To make our decision to cancer even worse they saw a mother puma and three cubs earlier around the lake where we stopped and took photos of the flamingos yesterday. Just how many pumas are in this park anyway? Oh well, we made our decision based on a weather forecast and we can’t change anything now.

Paul and I have Pelin tell Jose how much we appreciated our time with the trackers. That we never dreamed we would really see any puma let alone four of them in one day. Jose asks for our email and promises to send us some photos he took, (which he does), and we shake hands with the two puma trackers and take our leave.

Rhea chick as we encounter as we make our last drive in the park

One last bunch of guanacos

We arrive in Puerto Natales around noon and check into our hostel called The Factory. Pelin gets our flight reservation number and has the hotel clerk print our boarding passes. We then say goodbye to our personable guide and kind driver who helped make the last few days so enjoyable.

Paul outside our hostel

Paul relaxing in the room

Our room is small but cozy and has a great view of the Ocean. The first thing I do is take a long, hot, shower! We have box lunches from River Camp but I only eat a small portion of my sandwich. I am really tired of sandwiches. We check our emails for the first time in over a week. There isn’t much news which is always good but we do find out that Wabaunsee county is getting snow.

Beautiful mural we saw in Port Natales

We are a long ways from home

This was in the front window of a restaurant

Paul and I go out to tour the small town this afternoon. The first thing I notice is that the people are not as friendly here as we found them to be in the other places where we stayed plus most drivers don’t stop to let you cross the street. The one thing that is the same are the roving bands of dogs. We do enjoy a pleasant walk along the ocean where we gaze at snow-topped mountains and have plenty of sea birds to observe.

I thought this photo of Black-necked swans was hilarious.

Here they are a few seconds later. Perhaps they are a synchronised swim team

Tonight, we eat at the restaurant in the hostel and the vegetable pizza we order is delicious though we can’t eat the whole thing. We visit briefly with two Canadians about our age who are staying at a different hotel in town. They are recovering from bad colds too as were most of the people on their bus tour. I believe they have been touring for a month!

Paul and I both slept well last night. We go to have the complimentary breakfast at seven-thirty which is the usual breads, cereal, eggs,plus cookies. We go out for a walk when we have finished eating. It is a clear day with no wind but we are grateful for our warm coats and gloves. The lighting over the mountains is lovely and again there are lots of birds to watch and take photos of. A dog decides to accompany us on much of our walk along the ocean front but the other dogs that are around don’t pay any attention to him thank goodness.

These two youngsters decided to hitch a ride on moms’ back

A close up of a fearless Black-crowned heron

Sculptures accentuated by the beautiful mountains

We reach a rather dilapidated pier where three fellows are fishing but not with regular fishing poles. The men have fish line wrapped around a tin can and somehow cast that line well out from the pier. I don’t think they really care if they catch anything or not as it seems they are too busy visiting to pay much attention if they have anything hooked on their unique fishing gear.

Three friends fishing off the pier

When we return to the room we pack and though I swear our stuff is not going to all go into our luggage it does. We need to eat an early lunch before we go to the airport but our hostel doesn’t open for lunch until one o’clock. We walk downtown only to find that all of the restaurants we look at are closed until one! We finally find an open café that is run by English expats and the small café is quite busy. We also discover when we open the menu that it is strictly vegetarian. I order French toast and Paul orders a vegetarian burrito. The food is very good although the generous portions are more than we can eat.

Imperial cormorants

We return to The Factory where the same helpful clerk calls a taxi cab for us. While we are waiting the man tries to give us back the walking stick that refused to screw down to the length that would fit in our luggage. There is another couple that has just arrived and are on their way to Paine. The man asked if they could have the walking stick as they had not packed any. Paul gladly hands it over to them and I just shook my head at the timing of that whole thing.

Our taxi arrives and delivers us to the small airport within five minutes. The young women that is helping us must be new as she can’t seem to get our boarding passes for our flight out of Santiago printed. The woman next to her tries to help her but is busy with her own customers. This woman probably processes ten people while we are standing there. Finally, the competent woman has us come over to her station and within a few minutes we have the boarding passes in our hand.

Glacier seen from up high

More glaciers

The plane out of Port Natales is full with tourists leaving Torres del Paine. I have a window seat and I spend the first part of the flight peering down on the Andes. I am amazed at all the glaciers I see. Soon we have landed in Santiago where everything goes smoothly. Nine hours later we are in Dallas and then after a few more hours we are landing in Kansas City. It was a long trip home but worth it as we had a great adventure in this beautiful country.  Nancy

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

TORRES DEL PAINE, BLOG 10

Torres del Paine, blog 10

Paul and I are up at a quarter past five this morning. We dress and finish what little packing there is to do then walk out the door of our distinctive dome for the last time into the chilly but clear morning. The boardwalk has a thick coating of frost which makes us tread very carefully on the way up to the communal domes. We set our luggage by the door of the reception room and continue to the dining dome. Wow, it is so slick walking down the slope to the communal domes that we both hang onto the handrail. Once inside we are greeted by Angie and Marcella who tell us that we will be leaving at six thirty instead of six fifteen.

Angie hands us our sack breakfast and Paul gives the friendly woman three envelopes containing tip money for guides, drivers, and the staff. We sit in the empty bar until it is time to leave then cautiously walk back up to the parking lot. Our driver helps us load our luggage in the trunk of his small sedan and after hugging our two guides goodbye, we climb into the back seat. Another young man gets into the front passenger seat and we leave Eco Camp behind. Eco Camp was a unique camp filled with friendly guides and staff and I would recommend it to anyone who is contemplating a visit to Torres del Paine.

We are a few minutes into our drive when the young man in front pokes his finger towards the driver’s window and quietly says, “puma”. Our driver immediately brings the car to a stop. Paul finds the cat first and then I see the ghostly form of the puma in the predawn gloom. Sadly, the young puma is limping badly on a back leg. The crippled feline soon disappears into the bushes and we continue our drive to the river. We congratulate our fellow passenger on spotting the puma in such low light conditions. I would say our puma tracking day is off to an excellent start!

Crossing the flooding river

When we arrive at the swollen river there is another couple already waiting by the river’s edge to board the motor boat which is in the process of trying to maneuver closer to the river bank. We gather our luggage, thank the driver and join the couple in waiting for the boat to dock. The crew finally wrangle the zodiac next to where we are waiting and we pass our luggage to the men who in turn give us life jackets to put on. A group of five backpackers arrive at this time and hand their large rain protected packs to the crew. One man helps the couple that were ahead of us clamber into the boat and then the backpackers rudely cut in front of Paul and I and board the boat. As Paul and I start to climb aboard one of the crew holds up his hand and shakes his head, but I protest that we were here before the backpackers. He looks at the boat then back at us and then allows us to get on. There is plenty of room for all of us but maybe he was concerned about too much weight.

Trees that are now part of the river

The water is moving swiftly but it isn’t the raging river I had envisioned last night thank goodness. The boat has a huge motor which lets the craft move across the river easily. It only takes a few minutes to reach the other side and I am relaxed enough to take a few photos. We disembark, the crew hands the luggage to we passengers and then they reverse course to pick up more stranded people who have arrived while we were crossing the river. The road to the river has been blocked off to keep vehicles from driving down to the water’s edge and the leader of the backpackers offers to help us carry our luggage up the hill. He also wants to make sure that the people who are supposed to be meeting us are here. We accept his offer and this softens my attitude towards their earlier behavior.

Once we have reached the top of the hill where a cluster of buildings sit a young man and woman are standing there and ask if we are the Millers. We acknowledge that we certainly are. We thank the man who helped us as he hands over our luggage and returns to his group. Our guide introduces herself, Pelin, and she looks like all the other women we have been with from Eco Camp. I really do think they are cloning these ladies somewhere. The driver is Javier who is a big, jovial fellow. The duo grabs some of our luggage and lead us to a white, crew cab, pick up where Javier places our suitcases into a wooden box that sits in the pickup bed. After this is taken care of Pelin introduces us to the puma trackers who will work with us for the next two and a half days. Jose is the puma expert and Raphael and Braulio are his assistants. Paul and I are a bit taken aback that we have five people assigned to us.

The towers obscured by clouds as we reach the other side of the river

The towers a few minutes later. This is the actual photo, no computer help!

A few minutes after the red light this beautiful scene. Again no photo manipulation.

Before we leave the parking area the towers, (which have a lot of snow on them this morning), are suddenly bathed in gorgeous early morning light. I hike up a short trail behind the small hotel so I can have an unobstructed view of the stunning display mother nature is putting on. Once I return, Paul and I get into the pickup with Javier and Pelin, while the three puma trackers load into their vehicle. As we drive away the light over the towers has changed colors again and Javier stops the pickup so I can take photos of the awesome sight.

As Javier continues driving, I nibble on the muffin that was included in our breakfast sack. Javier comes to a stop and I look through the windshield to see the trackers vehicle pulled off the road. Raphael and Braulio have exited the car and Pelin announces that we are walking with them on the Fauna Trail. Hmm, Paul and I just assumed that the trackers would try to find a puma and then would summon us if they got lucky and spotted a big cat near a trail. Jose and Javier will proceed to the Ranger station where they will wait for the five of us to arrive.  The trackers have two-way radios so I guess they will contact Jose if they spy a puma and perhaps Jose will be looking for puma on the other side and will return the favor to us if he finds a mountain lion.

Braulio and Raphael the trackers that walked with us

Lone Guanaco

It is a beautiful morning for a hike and I am feeling better so I am ready to enjoy the Fauna Trail for the second time. Our two trackers spend a lot of time checking various places, mainly high rocky outcrops, with their binoculars then easily stride down the trail when “nobody is home”. Paul and I visit with Pelin as we stroll along and learn that she is from Istanbul, Turkey. We tell her how much we enjoyed Istanbul when we visited and I add that I particularly admire the way they treat the feral cats and stray dogs there. Pelin reacts to my statement with a proud smile and then states that she loves cats. I tell her I too love cats prompting her to ask if we have cats. I say yes, we have two house cats then I choke up a bit as I realize that isn’t the case anymore. Pelin informs us that she has two house cats also and asks about our cats. I tell her that we actually lost a cat while on this trip and Pelin genuinely expresses her sorrow at the news about Taz. In the next three days, Pelin and I tell each other cat stories, both sad and funny, while we are riding in the pickup. I even get to see photos of her beautiful cats. The ability to talk and share with another cat lover was just what I needed and I am very grateful that this young woman was our guide.

The light was beautiful this morning

We reach the Ranger station and find Javier but not Jose. Pelin informs us that Jose is just up the road where he has seen a female puma and her cub. No way, truthfully Paul and I had very little expectation that we would actually see puma and when we caught a glimpse of one this morning, we were prepared to be happy with that! The two trackers get into the bed of Javier’s pickup and we drive a mile or so to where Jose is parked along the side of the road. We cross the road and join Jose who points to the top of a rugged cliff and tells us to look for the cougar’s head. Paul sees the ears and top of the head before I do but neither of us see the cub. Jose says we will wait as he believes the pumas will move soon. We all find a place to sit down and Pelin tells us that the female puma made a kill here four days ago which is why the duo are here. Our perky guide points out the picked-clean carcass halfway between the road and the rocky outcrop. Aha, so Jose hoped that the two cats would still be in the vicinity even though it appears that the guanaco carcass is picked clean. Pelin also tells us that this female had three cubs at one time but Jose assumes that the two that disappeared were killed by a male puma.

Our first glimpse of the puma

Southern Crested Caracara at the guanaco carcass

The cub reveals itself

As we sit and stare at the cliff top occasionally the adult puma will raise her head higher and once, we see the leg of her youngster. After we have sat for ten minutes, mother and cub sit up then stand up giving us a lovely silhouetted view. I am grinning from ear to ear as I rapidly push the shutter button on my camera. Jose has a camera mounted on a tripod with a gargantuan lens and Pelin is making use of her nice camera too. Soon the two cougars begin playing and it is like watching two domestic kittens tussle.

Play time

Mom wins

The cub doesn’t give up easily

Preparing to leave the cliff top

Jumping off the rock

Mother and cub eventually move along the ridge pausing to roughhouse now and then. Mom walks off the ridge but the cub leaps from the rocks and then the two begin racing down the hill. Midway down they stop and chase each other in circles. At one point during the duos’ hijinks the cub does something to his mom that causes me to say “you little stinker”, which makes Pelin laugh out loud. The pumas reach the carcass and sniff and lick around on the bony pile then continue walking to a bush that is growing close to the road several hundred yards from where we are. Mama disappears into the green bush and junior lays down in a spot that gives us a clear view of it. The cubs repose only lasts briefly as all the play with mom still hasn’t expended his energy.  The youngster begins to poke around the area like a typical curious kitten. The pumas were fully aware we were watching them as many times during their play or when walking both would stop and glance our way. Now, the cub while exploring often stops and stares right at us with curiosity not fear. Puma in the park are very acclimated to humans our guide tells us and they are particularly used to Jose who spends so much time around them.

racing down the hillside

Scene without using my zoom

Cub at carcass

Cub checking us out while mom hides in the bush

Eventually mom stands up and begins walking in the direction they came from. The little cub tries to entice mom into playing some more and nips at her heels, and Pelin calls the ornery kitten a little rascal making me laugh. Mom does play with her energetic cub a bit but she is intent on getting back to the top of her hideaway in the rocks. We happily watch the duo until they disappear from sight. Javier exclaims “If I die now, I will die happy” and we all laugh and agree with him. We had the good fortune to watch the two pumas for nearly an hour with hardly any other humans around. Two or three vehicles came by and slowed down and one stopped briefly but no one got out of their vehicles. You can’t ask for more than that!

Returning to the rocks

And they disappear

Jose and his helpers drive back to the Ranger station while I am trying to take a photo of a condor flying far above us in the blue sky. When we arrive at the station Raphael and Braulio are standing a few hundred yards up the Fauna Trail beckoning to us. When we reach them, Raphael points to a group of tourists standing a quarter-mile away, all staring in the same direction. He says that the group saw a puma take cover in the bush below them and they are waiting for the big cat to reappear. We join the hikers in their vigil and stare down at the dense foliage where the puma is hiding. Jose arrives shortly, takes a quick look at where the puma is supposed to be lying, consults with his co-trackers and then speaks to Pelin. Jose doesn’t speak any English so Pelin translates telling us that Jose doesn’t think the cougar is in the bush any more. Jose’s’ reason for this deduction is that birds are flying in and out of the large bush which they wouldn’t do if a puma was hiding there.

Condor while looking for the lone puma

Jose, who is very stoic, looks around and then begins walking down the trail away from the other spectators and the six of us follow him. He stops to scan an area with his bare eyes and hikes on. When he halts again, I begin checking the land around us with my binoculars and lo and behold I find the puma walking along the fence that divides private land from the Park. The wily cat is a good half mile from where the group of people saw her go into the brush and ten sets of eyes never saw the large cat leave. Pelin says that is why pumas are called ghost cats and evidently this female is especially furtive. As I am typing this, I now believe it was Pelin who had this same puma walking the Fauna Trail in front of her and not Angie. Oops. Our group follows the secretive cat for a little bit but we are so far behind her that it is a futile effort. Plus, the puma ducks under the fence and is now on private property keeping her out of our reach for sure. She was much to far away for any photo documentation. So, we haven’t even made it to mid-day and Paul and I have seen four pumas. Pinch me, I think I am dreaming!

Fox Paul spotted while we were driving to Laguna Azure

We drive to the Laguna Azure for lunch and after eating Paul and I take a walk down to the Lagoon. We wander back to where we left Pelin and Javier and both have stretched out on the grass and appear to be napping. Paul and I decide that looks like a good idea since we will be here for another hour at least. The trackers assure us no pumas will be moving this time of day and we will wait until late afternoon to start looking for more big cats. I decide to stretch out on the grass too but Paul prefers to try to sleep in the truck. I have a short “cat nap” and when I wake up, I watch two Southern Crested Caracara’s as they walk around the picnic area looking for scraps.

Southern Crested Caracara at picnic area

When the others wake up Javier drives us down to the Ranger station so we can use the restroom. There are a herd of guanaco grazing just below the station and I ask if I can walk down to get closer to them to which Pelin says sure. Shortly after I reach the area where the herd is a young guanaco decides to check out the flock of Upland Geese that are nearby. The curious fellow walks cautiously towards the geese and stretches its neck towards one of the fowls. The goose scurries away which makes the curious guanaco walk bravely towards more geese who promptly retreat from the brazen chulengos, (baby guanaco). The guanaco acts like a puppy and begins to chase after the irritated geese who try to stay out of the silly things way. The playful guanaco finally manages to get a couple of the stodgy geese to take wing and this seems to satisfy the youngster who gallops back to the herd. Hilarious.

Young guanaco invading the upland geese flock

Chasing geese

Hey they fly

As I climb up the small hill to where the others are standing, I ask if they saw the chulengos chasing the geese. I should have known by the grins on their faces that they had witnessed the young guanacos’ shenanigans. As we are returning to the truck, I see something move in the grass a ways down the road so stop to take a look through my binoculars. Paul asks what I am looking at and I say I just saw something move but it has moved behind a bush. Soon the critter comes into view and reveals itself to be a skunk. Paul had high hopes that I had spotted another puma! We get into the truck and drive a quarter-mile to where the skunk is and watch as the fellow sniffs the ground and occasionally digs up a bug I assume and consumes it. We leave the furry fellow behind after a few minutes then go back to Laguna Azure to wake the trackers up as it is time to hunt for more puma.

My big game sight of the skunk

It seems the five of us are going to hike the Laguna Azure trail this afternoon in our search for more puma. As they did this morning, Javier and Jose, will be waiting for us at the end of the trail. Despite the stiff wind the sunshine and warmth still make for a pleasant hike. There is a herd of horses, most lying flat soaking up the sun, on a field of green grass. No, they aren’t the wild horses that live in Paine but some ranchers’ horses that have “escaped” according to Pelin. Our guide informs us that the horses aren’t allowed to run free in the park but evidently it isn’t unusual to find them here.

Horses enjoying the sun

We enjoy the beautiful scenery all over again as our trackers continue to glass the land looking for the beautiful pumas. There is a guanaco lying on a hill not far from the trail, who evidently believes if he keeps his head on the ground, we won’t see him. Once we pass by, I look back and sure enough the fellow has raised his head now that the danger is gone.

Gorgeous view

Hiding in plain sight

Jose and Javier are waiting for us as we finish our hike and Jose says we will go back to see if the mother and cub are still hanging around the devoured carcass. At first, we don’t see any sign of the two pumas but then someone sees the cub poking its head out of a large stand of bushes not far from the guanaco skeleton. The curious puma comes out of the bushes little by little and soon is lying in the open. After fifteen minutes, the cub walks to the pile of bones and begins licking and tugging on some of the hide that is still present. I am concerned because the mother is nowhere to be seen and this leaves the youngster very vulnerable to male pumas when she isn’t around to protect it.

Cub peering out of the bushes

Surely there is something left to eat

As the five of us are enjoying the antics of the cub, Raphael speaks up and says that they haven’t named this cub yet. He then states “what do you think of calling her Nancy?” I am taken aback and don’t know what to say to that. I do tell him that I never had the energy that this little dynamo has! Jose, who must understand some English, speaks to Pelin. Pelin laughs and tells us that Jose said if the cub turns out to be a male, they can change the name to Nanco. Pelin had told us this morning that they think the cub is a female but until it is older, they won’t know for sure. I didn’t know it was so hard to tell the sex of a young puma.

Mom was there all along

Puma leaving the cover of the bushes

Another fifteen minutes go by when suddenly the female pumas head appears above the top of the thicket. I don’t know if she called to her offspring but the little cub walks back into the brush and of course entices mom to play with her. Unlike this morning several people have stopped to enjoy the cougars with us. I have loaned Javier my binoculars since I am busy with my camera. A vehicle with a large family has stopped and come to stand by us and they to take turns looking through my binoculars admiring the golden cats. Another man with a camera and lens that rivals Jose’s has set up his tripod near us. I believe two or three more spectators are here too.

She is quite relaxed

Sometimes we can see the two pumas playing in the thinner part of the brush and at times it is too thick to see them at all. I have lowered my camera at one point when all I can see is some yellow patches of fur. Big mistake as Mama leaps high into the air, well above the top of the bushes. There is a collective gasp from we humans as it is a spectacular display of athleticism. The duo come out into the open for a few minutes and then a group of motorcyclist come roaring up the road, the riders revving their bikes motors, as they slow down to pass by all the parked cars. The cougars lay their ears back and run full-out for the hill-top and the safety of the rocks. So long mama and Nancy!

More play time

Fleeing the motorcycles

That’s the end of the show

I hear someone grumble that they shouldn’t allow those noisy things into the park and I kind of agree with them. The loud machines don’t jive with the beauty of our surroundings and it is obvious that at least pumas are scared to death of the rumbling bikes.

As we prepare to leave, Raphael walks over to Paul and tells him how nice it was to be with such patient people. Paul replies that we understand the necessity of patience when dealing with the unpredictability of wild life.

It is getting late in the day and we have to drive to our new camp, (River Camp), at the southern end of the park. We are staying in tents again which look similar to the domes in Eco Camp. However, they are much smaller as there is just room for the large bed that has two night stands on each side of it and another shelf along one side of the tent to put some of our luggage on. There are no lights and only a small electric heater that only works until midnight as that is when they turn the generator off.

Our tent in the foreground

Our tent is very close to the dining tent but a long way from the community bathroom which is not good news for me! Once we are settled into our tent, I go up to the bath house to shower. All is well until I prepare to rinse the conditioner out of my hair and the water gets icy cold. What! I end up splashing the frigid water on my hair a handful at a time because there is no way I can tolerate standing under the freezing spray of water, and I mean freezing. Yow!

Dinner is served at eight and the food was very tasty. Paul and I retire shortly after dinner as we must get up at four thirty in the morning so we can meet the puma trackers at dawn.

This day was so incredible that it almost feels like somebody scripted it. It truly was an unbelievably wonderful day! Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TORRES DEL PAINE, BLOG 9

TORRES DEL PAINE, BLOG 9

A combination of the strong wind rattling the dome last night and that chocolate dessert I didn’t have the will power to turn down at dinner kept me wide awake last night. I finally gave up and took half a sleeping pill around one a.m. The good news is that we have another late breakfast so I got to sleep in.

As we walk to breakfast the temperature is definitely colder, the wind is gusting, and it is raining hard enough that we get a little wet. The towers are lost in the misty clouds so this is the first morning we haven’t had a clear view of them. Paul and I both have porridge this morning which is very tasty and the hot concoction helps warm us up. After we finish eating, we make sandwiches for our lunch. I also grab the chocolate bar that Paul has left beside his plate. Never pass up chocolate just don’t eat it late at night!

The logo on Eco Camp van

My energy is fairly low this morning due to this “half” cold I have come down with and add that to the rain, cold, and windy conditions my enthusiasm for hiking is not high. Paul and I put on rain pants and also affix rain covers to our day packs. I place my camera in Paul’s pack as it will be easier for me to get to it in his pack then it would be to take my pack off to retrieve it. Okay, maybe part of the reason I put it in his pack is because I don’t want the weight. We walk to the reception area in spitting rain and load up in the small vehicle with four other people. The man who was helping scout our way to the parking lot yesterday, the expat Russian man, and two Canadian women are our tour companions. Angie informs us that the man who was supposed to drive us this morning was coming from Port Natales last night and his vehicle blew over. Geez, I knew that the wind was strong last night but to blow a vehicle over it was really gusting. The good news is that the driver is fine.

A lone guanaco we pass by as we hike

We have more good news when we arrive at the head of the Fauna trail because the rain has stopped falling and the air has warmed up, however the wind is still blustery. As I mentioned I am a bit off my oats today and I walk right by two people who obviously are watching something. Paul stops me and says, “I can’t believe you didn’t see the Rhea”. Sure enough, a Rhea is eating grass 20 yards away. How did I miss that? Even then I didn’t get my camera out to document the big bird.

Angie talking about this bush and its berries which we sampled

Angie stops now and then to talk about some of the plants we are seeing. She also tells us about the time she was taking this hike and a female puma walked onto the trail in front of her. I don’t remember how far ahead the puma was but Angie said that the big cat continued on the trail for nearly the full length of the hike and would glance back at the young woman from time to time to keep an eye on her. Angie admitted she was a little afraid at first but soon realized the feline was not interested in her and like most animals wanted to walk the “path of least resistance”. That would get your adrenalin pumping.

One of the views from our high spot

Angie leads us up a steep path to a cliff with an overhanging ledge where there are some prehistoric paintings. I am panting by the time we reach the top but the climb didn’t seem to bother anyone else. Once I catch my breath, I admire the incredible view from our lofty perch. We also peer up at the deep red paintings that some ancient people painted on the ceiling of the overhang. Angie explains that researchers can’t pinpoint the date of the cave paintings but put the creation of the art at three thousand to eight thousand years ago. I comment on the size of the hand print because it is larger than my hand and our guide tells us that there was a race of people who existed here that were very tall. I do remember reading about the “giant people” that Fitzroy and Darwin encountered on their adventures in Patagonia. Perhaps the people who created the paintings were derived from that race of people. There also is a figure of a man and the other figures are probably guanacos but you have to use your imagination on these figures. We stay here to eat lunch and feast our eyes on snow-capped mountains or the lagoon below us occupied by Coscoroba Swans.

Some of the prehistoric paintings. that is a big hand

As we make our way down the trail there is another group climbing up but they stand aside to allow us to get by them. The remainder of the trail is fairly easy, some ups and downs on hills of course but nothing like the steep incline to the paintings. As we near a small water hole which is surrounded by green grass, we find a group of guanacos grazing. There are two small babies with them which are really cute but I notice one adult, ears flattened back, moves closer to them when we draw near. Angie is very cautious about an adult guanaco that is just a few feet from the trail but it is grazing and seems unconcerned about our guides close proximity and the animal doesn’t move as our guide passes it. I am watching two adults to our left that are staring at a lone guanaco that is approaching the herd from the right.

Cute baby guanaco

The camouflaged guanacos running towards the intruder, they do blend into the background. They are nearly at the trail we were just walking on

I am next to last in the group and I caution Nick, the expat Russian, that I am not liking the guanacos body language. I hesitate to walk by them because they have their ears laid flat and their shaggy necks stretched out. I make the decision to hurry by the sour looking animals and catch up with the rest of the group as does Nick, (we were both taking photos). We have barely made it past the surly duo when they begin barking and run towards the strange guanaco. The intruder holds his ground and when the front-runner reaches him the two feuding guanacos raise their front legs slightly off the ground and crash their chests together and bite at each other. However, the trespasser is smart enough to know that one against two angry defenders is not a fight to pick and turns tail, running off as fast as he can. The guanacos oddly enough chase the interloper just a short distance then come to a halt as they watch their enemy running away. I guess they don’t want to leave the herd unguarded.

The guanacos mean business, these are the chasers

This is after the brief clash and they are watching the enemy retreat. The back fellow sustained a bite as he is bleeding on his side

We end the hike at a ranger station where our driver is waiting for us. We were on the trail for three hours which was just right for me as the strong wind takes a lot of energy to hike in. When we arrived at Eco camp at mid-afternoon the rain started to fall again. We felt so lucky to have had no rain fall while we were hiking. The other people who took the longer hikes weren’t so lucky as they ended up hiking for several hours in the rain and cold. Nick’s wife was so chilled she was shivering when they returned to Eco Camp.

Another lovely view

We have reached the end of our hike. Notice the directions on brown sign about how to react if you meet a puma.

At our briefing this evening, Paul decides he wants to take the medium excursion which is tracking the wild horses that can be found in one area of Torres del Paine park. The hike isn’t that far but the drive is long and there are no trails to follow when you do hike. Paul doesn’t really care about the horses but would like to see some new country. The easy excursion is just riding in the van and stopping at viewing areas, most of which we have already visited. I hem haw around and agree to sign up for it too, with the option of canceling if the weather is really crummy and if I am not feeling better.

We walk back to our dome in light rain and it is still pattering against our dome when we go to bed. I wake up at midnight with chills and a clogged nose. It seems my cold has hit full force so I take some cold medicine and as I drift off to sleep admit to myself, I will have to forego the outing tomorrow. When the alarm goes off, I wake up to hear rain still splashing against the plastic walls of the dome. I tell Paul that I am not going on the excursion. Paul replies that he was hoping to talk me out of going because I have no energy when I succumb to a cold. I can’t argue with that.

I do go up to breakfast with Paul and this morning the towers are completely hidden by fog and clouds. When we get to the communal dome, I tell the guides that I will not be going on the wild horse outing as I am not feeling well. The concerned young women encourage me to drink some ginger tea then ask if I want housekeeping to clean our room. I tell them that the cleaners aren’t necessary and then ask them if I should make a sandwich for lunch. Marcella says that the chef will have a hot lunch for me and anyone else who is in camp at one o’clock. Paul and I walk back to the dome in more rain, the good thing is that there is very little wind.

Paul leaves at eight and I crawl back into bed and fall asleep. I wake up to someone knocking at our door and assume that the order to not clean our room wasn’t given to the staff. When I am opening the door, I hear Paul say “I’m baack” which really confuses me. Paul tells me that there is a vehicle stalled on the bridge and they all waited in reception in hopes that they would get a call that the car had been removed. When the problem still existed a half hour later Marcella and Angie told everyone to come back in an hour in hopes the problem would be fixed. We can’t figure out why someone just doesn’t pull the car off the bridge. I go back to sleep but wake up when Paul leaves to see if the outing is back on. I wake up around ten and since Paul is not here, I assume he is on his way to track wild horses. I also note that the rain is still falling and I can hardly see our neighboring dome through the foggy gloom.

I made good use of our comfortable bed today.

I spend the rest of the morning reading a book on the Kindle and blowing my nose. It is a good thing I brought lots of Kleenex! I am not the only one in camp with a cold as several other guests and a couple of guides had been fighting colds or sinus infections when we got to Eco Camp. I walk up to the communal domes at one o’clock surprisingly hungry. When I walk in, I think I am the only guest here but then I see the two people who got left behind on our Gray Lake outing already eating lunch. I know they were signed up to go on the wild horse outing except they weren’t going to do the hike. I ask them if they decided to stay in camp because of the weather but they inform me that the excursion was canceled.  It seems the car that was stalled out wasn’t on the bridge but trying to drive through the water that was flooding the road that leads to the bridge! The river is out of its banks and no vehicle is going to be getting across that body of water by car any time soon. Some of the group, including Paul, decided to take a trail from Eco Camp instead of just sitting around camp but the man and wife weren’t interested in that and I don’t blame them.

The couple from Georgia, kindly ask me to join them and I tell them that I have a bad cold and would hate to give it to them. They shrug and insist that I join them any way so I do. I apologize again for not paying closer attention to where they were as we were wandering around lost. The woman tells me that she can’t walk very fast due to asthma and admitted how frightening it was to be left behind. We move on to more pleasant conversation as we eat our hake, (fish), which I am able to actually taste despite my clogged airways. As we are finishing lunch Paul and the rest of the hikers walk into the dome, all dripping water on the floor. Paul says that it only rained hard at the end of the hike so they aren’t soaked but Angie does tell me her shoes have water in them. They hiked around six miles but were thwarted from going further by a stream that was too swollen with water to safely cross. I can’t say I am sorry I missed that hike.

Paul and I go back to our room and I sleep for another two hours while Paul reads.  We also pack as best we can as we are supposed to be leaving tomorrow to start the last part of our tour here which is puma tracking. The problem is we need to get across the river and we wonder if that will be possible. It continues to rain and for the first time our dome is a bit chilly despite the small gas stove turned as high as it will go.

The first bridge,(well side of the bridge), is the one we drive across to get to Eco Camp. I was really trying to get a photo of the old historic bridge in the background. Anyway, we won’t be driving across the bridge tomorrow!

When we arrive at our departure briefing the guides tell us that we will be leaving in the morning but we will be crossing the river in a zodiac as the river is still out of its banks. The news gets even better as we must be at the river for the first zodiac in order to beat the crowd of people who have to get out tomorrow. That means we will leave at six fifteen and take our breakfast with us. I am quite nervous about crossing a flooding river in a motor boat but one of the friendly guides assures me that it is quite safe.

At dinner we sit at the table with Marcella, Angie and another young couple that are leaving tomorrow. The blonde woman is quite gregarious and has us all laughing throughout the meal. Somehow, we get on the subject of shopping online and one of the things she talks about is acquiring clothes from a site called Rent the Runway. This site lets you rent designer clothes for special occasions. The outgoing woman gives an example of being able to rent an eight-hundred-dollar dress for eighty bucks. I must have an odd look on my face as she looks at me and says “you know, renting it for a wedding where you need to have a nice dress”. What she doesn’t know is that I am seeing in my mind the reaction of people in Wabaunsee county seeing me in a dress let alone in an eight-hundred-dollar dress and my vision is quite hilarious.

When the young lady finds out we are ranchers she thinks we should let her come and do an internship at our ranch as her dream is someday owning acreage of her own with a variety of animals on it. The sociable woman then says she would love to come to our ranch and cuddle the little calves which horrifies me. I blurt out to her “that if you try to cuddle our calves it is likely the cows would try to kill you”! Suddenly there is complete silence at our table as four sets of eyes are staring at me in disbelief. I tell my audience that although our cows are normally gentle, when they calve it is like a switch flips in them and they are going to protect their calf against anything that they perceive as a danger. Again, stares of disbelief. I try a different angle and say our cows are not dairy cows they are range cows which means they aren’t handled every day like dairy cows. Finally, Paul and I tell them about our neighbor that was nearly killed by a cow as he was tagging a baby calf. We tell the group that if he had not been able to roll under his pickup it was likely the cow would have killed him. Even then our neighbor spent a few days in the hospital recuperating from the beating he took from his cow. I hear one of the guides say something like, I guess I need to learn a little more about cows. I am a bit surprised that Marcella and Angie aren’t somewhat aware of this as they work in such a harsh environment and see the cruelty of nature too. Ah well, maybe Paul and I gave them a glimpse of reality ranching rather than the Disney World images that most people have.

No matter how cute no cuddling the new calves! See how alert mama is?

I must say our entertaining table mate leaves us completely flabbergasted when later in the course of our conversation she tells us that they pay fourteen dollars for a dozen of free-range, organic eggs. I think Paul and my mouth literally drop open. Holy smokes, I can buy ten dozen at home for that price. I believe all of us at the table learned a lot from each other tonight.  Nancy

 

 

 

 

Torres del Paine, blog 8

TORRES DEL PAINE, BLOG 8

What a sight to wake up to in the morning

Paul and I have a lazy morning since our breakfast isn’t until 8:30. The towers are stunning early this morning but a bit later clouds obscure the top of the peaks and there is a full rainbow spanning the mountains. Boy, does the weather change fast here.

A couple of hours later this is our view of the towers

After we eat breakfast, we walk through the door to the next dome to make a sandwich for our lunch. There was a bag of dried fruit and nuts plus a chocolate bar by our breakfast plates to put in our sack lunch too. There is an array of breads, meats, and toppings to make a super sandwich but I keep mine simple. Chicken with some lettuce and mayo. Paul and I wrap them in cling wrap and place them in the brown sack that Eco camp supplies. Perhaps I should explain the communal dome setup. The first dome you walk into is the bar, the second dome is the main dining area and the third is where they lay out the fixings for lunch in the morning but at night guests also eat in this dome.

We take our lunches back to our dome and then decide to walk down the hill to the visitor center. The trail is steep and due to some rain last night a bit slippery but our trusty hiking poles do their job in keeping us upright. The visitor center is really for backpackers to register with the park. The center also has supplies for backpackers to restock their empty packs. The offerings are mainly food but there is also pricy clothing for sale from jackets to hiking pants. We don’t stay long since there really isn’t anything to see. Besides buses are arriving disgorging hikers ready to tackle the trails making the long but narrow building quite crowded.

Paul and I trudge up the steep incline to Eco Camp and as we near the area where the common domes are situated, I spot the mother fox. She is trotting across the grass with a large rodent in her mouth. Paul and I try to follow her but soon she has melted into the trees on the east side of the communal domes. Paul continues walking in the direction the vixen went but I run to the communal domes. There are two doors that take you to the walkway which leads to the area where our dome is, in essence a shortcut. I know the female fox is taking the rat to her three kits and since the playful youngster we saw yesterday was on the side where the superior domes are, I’m betting this is where she is heading.

Mama after she made the delivery of the rat to her kits

I pass through the doors and am halfway up the walkway when I see mama trotting across the parking area headed for our territory. Yep, just as I suspected the vixen moves into the bushy land around the domes. I watch as mama fox stops and seems to listen before moving on to another area. Paul has caught up to me and we try to follow the searching fox as best we can but since we are not allowed off the walkways it is a bit difficult. We find ourselves backtracking towards the communal domes as we watch the vixen disappear into the brush growing next to the staff’s dome. We hear some yapping then after a bit the female fox reappears without the rodent in her mouth. I finally manage to snap a quick photo before she trots off probably in pursuit of another rodent since one rat isn’t going to satisfy three half-grown kits. Well that was very cool.

A close up of the red fox

The morning is simply gorgeous and Paul suggests we take advantage of it by walking the trail behind the yoga and massage domes that sit close to our dome. We never booked a yoga session or a massage but lots of people did! The trail is called “Contemplative Trail” and oddly enough no guides talked about it as far as we know. It turns out to be a beautiful trail that wanders through trees and across a small stream. There are picnic tables scattered here and there along with wooden benches to sit on so you can contemplate. As we climb to higher ground, we have a nice view of the towers. We don’t have time to walk to the end of the trail as our departure time for our excursion is fast approaching and we need to return to our room to get our packs.

Paul hiking the Contemplative trail

A nice view from the Contemplative trail

The white van is fully loaded as we prepare to depart at noon. There are three guides and I believe fifteen guests. It is a long drive to the lake and we will break up the journey by stopping for lunch at a visitor center. We drive by a trio of guanaco in pursuit of an interloper and Marcella talks about how the guanacos’ try to castrate their enemy with their teeth. We have heard this story from another guide too and took it with a grain of salt. However, as we watch the aggressors chase the poor intruder, they do stretch their long necks out towards that sensitive area between the fellow’s legs whenever they get close to their foe. Hmm. The angry guanacos are certainly tenacious as they continue to chase the trespasser for a good mile or more. The quartet is beginning to slow down as they veer away from the roadside. However, when I look back at them, I can see the silly things running still intent on punishing the interloper.

The trio of Guanaco who were chasing the intruder. Not a clear photo as I took it as we were driving

Further down the road we come upon a sight that is just the opposite of what we witnessed with the fighting guanaco. Standing on the edge of a high cliff is a single guanaco that is taking its job as sentry very seriously. Even though it is mid-day the light is very nice and our driver stops the van so we can admire this iconic scene. The guanaco is standing like a statue gazing out over the landscape. What a view he must have up there. There are a few guanacos at the base of the cliff and these are the fellow herd mates that he or she will warn with a barking bray if it spots a puma in the vicinity.

Guanaco on sentry duty

Eating lunch

White-tufted Grebe

After an hour or so we stop and have lunch near a lake which proves to be a popular place as many people are picnicking here. Despite the strong wind which makes eating outside a challenge it is worth it as the view is stupendous. After we have finished eating we go to the visitor center which is also next to a beautiful lake, perhaps it is the same body of water as we aren’t far from where we ate lunch. We walk out on a deck by the lake and I do a little bird watching before we go back into the building for our briefing on tomorrows excursions. We will be getting home late which is why the guides are giving us are options now. Felipe, the first male guide we have had while here, then takes us to a three-dimensional model of the park and points out our camp, trails and lakes making the layout of the park a little clearer.

3d model of Torres Del Paine

Lake next to the visitor center

As we continue on towards Gray Lake we are treated to beautiful views of lakes and rugged mountains. The wind certainly hasn’t gone down as an occasional gust will buffet our van. I can’t imagine we will sail in this and in fact the guides keep telling us not to be surprised if the cruise is canceled. When we pull into the parking lot our escorts are on the radio with the boat operators trying to find out the status of our expedition. Now it is our guides turn to be surprised as indeed the boat tour is on. I am not sure if I am happy or sad about this!

Yes this is a hotel. You must walk across a bridge to get to it.

Our first task is to get to the boat which means hiking for thirty minutes or so. We arrive at a swinging rope bridge which spans the river we need to cross. Only six people are to be on the bridge at a time and since there are people on both ends of the bridge this is going to take some time. One group will cross from our side of the river and then six people will come across from the other side. The wind is having fun with the bridge and most people hang onto the rope as they traverse the bridge. A few times we watch as the wind pushes the bridge hard enough that it bows in the middle causing the people who are on it to stagger even though they are holding on. Paul, remembering the time he had his glasses blown off as we crossed a swinging bridge in New Zealand, takes off his glasses and puts them in his pocket. Good idea!

The swinging bridge we crossed to get to the boat

Felipe and five of our group crosses first, then Paul and I are in the second group. Oh boy, it is really windy and we hurry across as fast as we can despite having to catch our balance at times. After the adventure on the bridge we are walking on a very nice trail through a grove of trees which block that awful wind. The calm doesn’t last long as when we step out of the trees into the open, we are blasted by a head wind. There isn’t a trail here, just an expanse of rocky ground. I would guess we walk a 1/8th of a mile to the gravel levee. On reaching the embankment we turn right and start walking towards the docked boat which looks like it is a mile away. Holy Smokes, the wind literally blows us and everyone else sideways and at times it changes direction just enough to stop us in our tracks. I am sure I might have been blown over if I didn’t have my trekking poles to help brace me. Paul does see a boy get blown down and once we are on the boat, we hear a passenger say his wife was knocked over. People are hanging onto each other in order to stay upright and if it wasn’t so scary and irritating it would have been quite comical. The wind is blowing sprays of water off the lake to add to everyone’s misery and even small pebbles are being moved around.

The catamaran we took to the glacier. The small boat is a shuttle boat

With my head down I keep trudging towards that darn boat and at some point, I yell to Paul that I can’t believe I paid money to do this. I really wasn’t completely joking either! Most of our group is huddled near a large rock which is blocking the wind a bit when we arrive. Marcella laughs as we walk up and facetiously asks if we are having fun. Paul tells her that I said I wanted my money back which brings more laughter from our cordial guide.

By the time we get on the boat, which is a catamaran, most of the seats are taken and Paul and I end up at the back of the boat plus we are sitting facing the back of the catamaran. Oh well. Our seat companions are part of our group which we got to know last night at dinner. They are US citizens but immigrated from Russia a few years ago. We settle in and listen as a pleasant woman narrates interesting facts about various things as the big catamaran floats across the lake. Amazingly, the catamaran feels quite stable in the rough waters to me but a young girl, maybe six, sitting two seats over from us becomes violently seasick about a half an hour into our trip. The poor thing.

Some of the scenery as we sailed for the glacier

It is obvious why they call the lake, Grey Lake, because that is the color of the water due to dissolved minerals and sediment. Because of the strong wind, no one is allowed to go up on the open deck while on the way to the glacier. With water splashing on the windows it is impossible to take photos of the bobbing ice burgs unless you go to the front of the boat where those windows are more protected. I take advantage of that a couple of times as do other passengers.

Paul and Felipe. Paul moved here after we got underway. I chose to stay at my window seat.

It takes an hour and a half to reach the massive glacier. We are told to put on our life jackets and then the crew allows us up on the deck to get an unobstructed look at the ice field. The pilot slowly cruises alongside the glacier allowing us to snap photos of the incredible ice forms. Maybe the most striking thing about the glacier ice is the many hues of blue that can be seen in one section of ice. Once we have floated along the length of the glacier, the captain turns the catamaran around and we glide past the sculptured ice again.

A small section of the glacier

Close up showing all the blue tones running through the ice

Paul and some other passengers enjoying being up top. Ice burg in the distance

It is time to leave this incredible creation of mother nature but we are allowed to stay on the deck because the crew has to pick up some hikers that were trekking the W trail and the pickup point is just a short distance from the glacier. The big boat just noses close to the shore and the crew drops some steps down so a dozen hikers can board. I notice a chunk of ice that has washed ashore and I snap a photo of the interesting shaped ice. Imagine my surprise when I see this piece of ice sitting on top of the ship’s cooler when we return to the cabin.  The narrator had told us that glacier ice was used in the drinks they served on board but I hadn’t really thought about where they picked up the free ice.

Getting ready to pick up backpackers

The chunk of ice on shore

The same chunk of ice which will now be served with drinks 🙂

The red and white boat docks in the same spot that we started from and no the wind has not gone down. As we are disembarking, the woman who was our narrator is telling passengers that they can take the shuttle boat back rather than trek along the wind-swept levee. I ask what it costs and she replied nothing. We see three of our group climb into the shuttle boat so Paul and I decide to follow them as do the expat Russians. Once we are settled on the zodiac, we see Felipe and the rest of our group huddled together not far from the shuttle boat. We wave at them so they know where we are and Felipe acknowledges our waves by giving us a thumbs up. The father/daughter duo that is in our troupe comes over to get on the boat too but they are told there is only one spot available so they go back to rejoin the group who will have to brave the wind as they trek back to the van.

Ice burg that looks like it is a sculpture. I definitely can see a face.

I am so happy that we are not having to take that miserable walk and even though the boat docking is a bit dicey it was well worth it. As the seven of us walk up the road the road splits but there is no signage to indicate where the roads lead. A guide who is leading several people who were on the boat motions for us to follow her. We fall in behind and soon we are at a motel, called appropriately the Gray Motel. When we tell the young woman that we aren’t guests here she looks at us oddly. We then tell her we need to get to the public parking lot where our van is. The guide who doesn’t speak much English enlists a staff member to take us to the edge of the hotel grounds and instructs him to show us which way the public parking lot is. We follow the small man to the hotels parking lot and since he speaks no English, he uses his hands to motion us in the direction we need to walk.

The rare Huemul deer, a doe

We start down the road and I note that there is a gravel road separated from us by a narrow field to our left but that isn’t where the hotel man directed us to walk. We continue to follow the dirt road and as we pass a meadow, I see two deer grazing. Are you kidding me, I excitedly tell everyone about the deer. No one cares except Paul and I so I guess they don’t know that the Huemul deer is on the endangered list. We were told that the chances of us seeing them were next to none. Even though the buck and doe are a quarter-mile away I use the full zoom on my camera to take several photos, then Paul and I hurry to catch up with our companions. I can’t believe we just saw the Huemul Deer!!

It gets better! There is a buck too.

The road turns into a trail and pretty soon we find ourselves back on the rocky open ground we walked across to get to the lake levy this morning except there is a body of water separating us from the grove of trees we hiked through. Are you kidding me? We walk up to the water and there is no way we are crossing this. Paul and another man start walking alongside the water but I insist we need to go back to the hotel as I think we will have to take the boat again in order to get to that darn windy levy so we can walk back the same way we came. Paul calmly says he thinks we are on the correct side and continues to walk along the water’s edge which before long becomes the fast-flowing river. I am adamant that we are on the wrong side of the river but Paul and another man who is walking beside us insist we should continue on a bit further.  Next, we reach some trees and here we find a well-trodden trail which Paul and our new friend insist we follow. This man’s friends and the Russian immigrants who are trailing behind us say nothing but keep looking back the way we came probably wondering as I am if we should just go back. So much for thinking we saved time by taking the boat!!

It seems we have been on this trail forever when Paul spots the swinging bridge in the distance to our right. The man’s friends and the Russians have fallen farther behind but I beckon to them so they know we are in familiar territory. However, the trail doesn’t go to the bridge but curves around and we walk out of the trees into an open field. The trail then turns back to our right and ahead of us we spy the empty parking lot. As the three of us pick up our pace to reach the concrete lot, we hear someone calling to us. Our van is parked on the gravel road we saw when we left the hotel parking lot. Good grief.  We turn and walk down the road and when we reach the van the Russians are already there. They must have seen the vehicle and heard our guides calling and cut across the narrow expanse of grass to have beat us to the vehicle. The other man’s friends haven’t shown up yet and we sit and wait and then we wait some more. Where are they? They weren’t that far behind us but truthfully once we rounded that curve, I didn’t look back anymore to see if they were still with us.

I think this is an Andean Goose. No time for photos while we were lost so will fill in with calming photos

The couples friend tries to get off the van to go look for his lost companion but Marcella says no she will go. Marcella is gone for maybe twenty minutes and tells us when she returns that she ran all the way to the beach and saw no one. The very calm guides decide we should drive to the hotel, there is no phone service here, and see if the lost couple managed to get back there. Nope, they are not there either. Felipe decides to walk the trail again and our van drives slowly back to the parking lot. On the way I see the deer again, which one of our guides had never seen until now, but everyone is too upset to care and rightly so. As we approach the empty parking lot, we spot the couple up by the ranger’s station. How the heck did they get there? Somehow, while we were walking to the van and no one was paying attention to the trail they must have hiked by us and ended up in the parking lot. Finding no vehicle, they must have gone to the ranger station to get help. What are the chances of that they could bypass us in that short span of time? Crazy.

The couple was upset and scared which is understandable. It seems they lost sight of us when we walked around the curve and they went the other way. Figuring out they were going the wrong way they backtracked and found their way to the parking lot. Many mistakes were made but pointing fingers isn’t going to change anything but I have a feeling things will be a bit more regulated on this excursion after this. The upside of the whole folly was seeing the beautiful Huemul deer and that is what I will choose to remember.

Just before twilight in the park. Nice half-moon over a mountain

Our driver is driving as fast as he safely can since we are running late and dusk will soon be falling over this beautiful land. The other upside of our debacle is that we are seeing the mountains in gorgeous light as we scoot down the rough roads. The wind is doing its best to push the vehicle around and at times it gusts hard enough that small pebbles smack the side of our car. Yikes. When we at long last arrive at Eco Camp we are told to go right to the communal domes and have our dinner. After all it is nine-thirty! Still, we are only forty-five minutes later than our expected arrival time would have been without our misadventure.

We were told later by one of the guides that the sustained winds at Gray Lake were 60 miles with gusts up to 80. I believe it as in Kansas we can have sustained winds of 40 to 45 miles an hour and compared to what we experienced at the lake today that would feel like a gentle breeze. Nancy

 

 

 

 

Torres del Paine, blog 7

Torres del Paine, blog 7

What a sight to wake up to.

I did not have a great night sleep due to sinus pressure, (something I have problems with quite often), and my sore throat that had me grabbing for the foul-tasting lozenges a couple of times during the night. My optimism for how I would manage our outing today isn’t very high. As we are getting up this morning, I glance out the plastic window to see a spectacular red light bathing the towers and I run out on the patio in my pajamas to take a photo. It doesn’t last long and even in the time it takes me to get my camera and get outside the light is fading. Wow was that something to see. After breakfast I am pleasantly surprised to find that I feel much better so maybe I will do fine today after all. Speaking of breakfast, there was quite a spread laid out in the buffet which included breads, cakes, muffins, cereals, fruits, and scrambled eggs. I enjoyed a sampling of several items but the muffin was my favorite.

Paul on our way to breakfast

The weather took a turn for the worse since we walked up to breakfast as it is spitting rain and the wind has picked up when we go back to our dome. Paul and I put on our rain coats and pants, grab our packs and head up to the communal area where three vans are waiting for all of us that chose the easy excursion called Laguna Azur. Everyone else has their walking sticks so I tell Paul maybe he should get ours too. Hey, he can walk a lot faster than I can and he is carrying the key. It turns out another couple arrives just as Paul gets back with our trekking poles so they didn’t have to wait on us. Once everyone is settled in a van the drivers set off to deliver us to the head of the trail.

Guanacos

This little one has an itch.

The weather is improving as some blue sky can be seen although we drive in and out of rain sprinkles. There is a large herd of guanacos with several young ones grazing and lounging close to the road so we stop to observe them and take photos. Thirty minutes after leaving the guanacos the vans come to a halt and we gather ourselves and our stuff and exit the vans. Our drivers head on down the road and will be waiting for us at the end of the trail.

Our guides for the trek are Claire, she is French, and unfortunately, Paul and I can’t remember the other guides name. I am going to call her Marie. Both of them are full of life and I marvel at the full packs the young women carry. The packs are half as tall as they are and look to be heavy. Paul and I have daypacks as do most of our fellow tourists and yet these fit women with their hefty loads could leave most of us in the dust if they wanted too. Gee I feel old.

Standing by the fence where the unfortunate guanaco was hanging.

Shortly after starting our hike we stop at a fenced off area where the skeleton of a guanaco is hanging from the fence. The poor thing got a back foot twisted in the wire when it attempted to jump the obstacle. Well, let us hope the sights get better from here!

Nice views along the trail

We string out on the trail behind Marie with Claire falling in behind us. As can be expected with a large group everyone walks at different speeds and I am towards the end with Paul ahead of me a few paces. The trail passes through a small copse of trees and one of the guides talks about the trees and the other flora in the vicinity. So far, the weather is very comfortable, even the wind isn’t too bad but we are walking in the valley. We hike near some Black-faced Ibis which I think are the prettiest Ibis that I have ever seen and most of us take photos of the birds. There are also Southern Lapwing striding around with the Ibis and swimming on a small pond in the distance are a flock of Coscoroba Swans.

Black-faced Ibis

 

As we begin to climb a rather substantial hill the wind picks up and a few sprinkles of rain are coming down. Another herd of guanaco are on the hillside across from us and we stop to watch them. The young ones are running around and engaging in mock battles, all but one of them that is. This youngster is limping badly on one leg and with puma roaming the park an injured baby guanaco probably won’t last long.

Part of our group

As we trudge higher up the steep hill the wind grows stronger and it begins to lightly shower. Claire says we should think of the strong wind as a hairdryer that will quickly dry us off especially since the rain is so light. Claire wasn’t teasing us as when the rain showers disappear as quickly as they appeared, we do indeed dry off quickly. Well truthfully, most everyone has rain gear on anyway so it is just our faces and hands that have to dry off.  Once we reach the peak of the hill, we take time to enjoy the wonderful view before preparing to tackle the steep decline. I much prefer going downhill to uphill but there are sections of the trail where the dirt and gravel is very loose. Thank goodness Paul went and got our poles as the hiking sticks are a great help in keeping us from slipping and falling at times. In fact, one member of our group fell and scratched up his arm unbeknownst to us until he told us about his spill later.

Heading down the hill where the vans are waiting

Two people on horseback far below us

The white vans are waiting for us at the bottom of the hill and once we have all loaded up, we head for the ranchero where we will enjoy a traditional Chilean barbecue. When we arrive at the ranchero everyone makes a beeline for the bathrooms, thank goodness there are two of them!

Our host grilling meat. Claire on the left and “Marie” on the right.

The sun is shining brightly now and the hosts have set up tables for us in the yard. There is a buggy sitting to one side and a lot of tack hanging next to a horse pen but no horses are to be seen. The aroma from the various meats that are grilling smell wonderful. Most of the tables are filled by the time I get to the eating area but Paul and I find one table with room for two. We introduce ourselves to the other three people sitting there and they do the same to us. The couple is from the Netherlands and the other man is from Oregon.

I would guess this woman had prepared the other parts of the meal

My lunch

We are the last to go through the dinner line, I always end up at that table for some reason, but there is plenty of food left. I take a piece of chicken and beef but forego the chorizo(sausage). There is also boiled potatoes which seems to be the most common way to serve potatoes here, lettuce salad, rice/vegetable salad and a chocolate parfait for dessert. It is all tasty and I eat too much but what else is new. Oh yes, we have a choice of wine or beer too. We really enjoy the people at our table. Everyone has a sense of humor and along with visiting we do a lot of laughing. The only downside is that the man from Oregon was stung by a small wasp that got caught under his shirt sleeve. Ouch. There were several of the tiny wasps buzzing around the tables, one falling into the Dutchman’s’ wine. Guess they were after the sugar.

The view from our picnic area

It is time to load back into the vans and return to Eco camp. We do make two stops on the drive home. The first is at the Laguna Azure, Blue Lagoon, hence the name of our excursion. Most of us walk down to the water’s edge of the picturesque lagoon and take photos. Claire and Marie decide to do a yoga position together except they perform this tough yoga maneuver on the tops of some old posts that are left from what was once a boat pier. Oh, did I mention that these posts are in the lagoon! Also, the wind is strong and the water has some good wave action going. The athletic women pull it off but at the end Claire loses her balance and ends up with wet feet which sends her into peals of laughter causing us all to laugh.

Laguna Azure

Claire and Marie doing a yoga pose. Amazing

Oops. Darn wind

Our last stop is at the Paine River where there is a beautiful waterfall for us to admire. I take several photos but the wind is really whipping here so am glad to get back into the shelter of the van. We thoroughly enjoyed the day and with my energy level running low, the length of the hike and day was just right for me.

Paine river and the waterfall

When we get ready to go to the commons area for the briefing this evening, (this is where they tell you about the three choices you have for tomorrow), I tell Paul I am not going to take my camera. Big mistake, there is a young fox not far from the parking area playing with a dead rodent. He will toss it in the air then chase after it like he is hunting the critter. We watch for a bit then Paul, at my request, goes back to get my camera. It was a wasted effort as almost the moment he leaves, someone drives up and scares the young fox away. That will teach me to carry my darn camera.

Obviously this isn’t the fox in the story. However, one of the guides came to us at supper and said a fox was just outside the dining dome. Hey, got my camera!

The three tours for tomorrow are explained to us by a couple of the lively guides and again we choose to go the easy route which is the Grey Lake excursion. The main part of the outing is a boat ride that takes you very close to the glacier that stands at one end of the lake. The women do warn us that due to the forecast of excessively high winds the odds are the boat ride will be canceled. If that is the case, they will try to find us another hike to take or we will just ride the bus to various viewpoints.

We move into the dining dome and find the tables reserved for the Blue lagoon group. Eco Camp seats the people who have been on the same excursion that day together for dinner so you can discuss the outing. We end up at the same table as the Dutch couple and the Oregon man that we sat with at the barbecue. Again, we have a great time exchanging stories and laughing while enjoying the excellent food.

We saw this hare several times in the camp. Not sure how it escaped the family of foxes that lived here.

I think it is Marcella who comes and tells us that there are so many people signed up for the Grey Lake outing that they didn’t have enough reservations for the early boat sailing. The only way to accommodate so many people for the Gray Lake tour was to change our departure time to the last sailing which is at four o’clock. That means another late breakfast, 8:30, which is fine by me.

It is time to call it a night so we say goodbye to our table companions who are leaving Eco camp tomorrow. We wish each other well and say how much we enjoyed spending the day with one another. Nancy

 

 

 

 

Torres del Paine, blog 6

TORRES DEL PAINE, BLOG 6

A final look from the ferry

We exit the ferry and begin the short drive to Puerto Varas. Rafa contacts his office and gives the staff our flight reservation number so they can check Paul and I in for our flight tomorrow and print our boarding passes. A short time later, Rafa gets a call saying that they can’t find me online. I tell Rafa to have them take out the hyphen in my last name as that is probably the problem, computers hate that hyphen. We know I am in the system because we have the form where all our flights are listed and my name is on that. Nope, they call back and say that taking the hyphen out didn’t work so Rafa suggests that we go to the office and see if we can get this problem solved.

There is no place to park, so Rafa stops in the street in front of his office and we hop out of the car taking our packs with us. Once inside, one of the young women calls the airline and gives them my passport number. Nope, they can’t find me. Come on!! Time for plan B.  The women look at the emails they have received from Swoop to see what they can find. In the meantime, Paul pulls out our paperwork from Swoop with all our flight information. Aha, it seems Paul has written an L instead of an I at the beginning of the flight reservation number. Within minutes we are checked in and our boarding passes printed, what a relief. We feel terrible to have wasted these helpful women’s time and apologize to them numerous times. Also, we misunderstood that I was the only one they couldn’t find in the system. It was in fact both of us that they couldn’t find since the reservation number we gave them didn’t exist.

Flowers lining the sidewalk on the way to Mero Gaucho hotel

Rafa has been circling the block and once he sees us emerge from the office, he stops the car and we jump in. He takes us to Mero Guacho and helps us carry our luggage into the hotel. We tell Rafa how much we have enjoyed our time with him and that he made us feel like friends not clients. We then say goodbye to this man who gave us such a wonderful experience on Chiloe Island. It was a privilege to be guided by Rafa who showed through his actions and discussions his passion for birds, and nature in general.

The owner of Mero Guacho, a young woman, checks us in and helps carry our luggage to our room which happens to be the same one that we had before. When we are settled in, Paul checks our email and there is bad news about Taz. Dr. Amy says she sent me an email on Sunday telling me that Taz had taken a turn for the worse and she made the decision to put her to sleep. Why the email didn’t get to us I don’t know but, in a way,, I am glad it got lost as the sad news probably would have taken some of the joy out of our time at Park Tepuhulico. Truthfully, I had a feeling that Taz was not going to survive and I had been preparing myself for the announcement from Dr. Amy that she couldn’t save my cat. There were so many things going wrong with her system that I wondered how she could overcome them all. Taz has been in our lives for eight years and I will miss her.

Taz always followed me when she was younger but refused to let me carry her. The creek didn’t stop her from coming along on my walks

Taz was sure I couldn’t see her. If it was dark and she closed her eyes she was hard to see

Paul and I aren’t very hungry but we do agree that a beer and an appetizer sound good. We return to the Tea house where we had that great sandwich our first night in Chile and the waitress seats us. When we ask what beer they offer we are told that they don’t serve beer. Imagine that, a tea house doesn’t serve beer :). The helpful and friendly demeanor of the Chilean people shows up again as the waitress gives us directions to a nearby beer pub.

On our way to the pub several people greet us with “Ola” and two older men even tip their hats to me. I love it. We find the pub and are seated upstairs on the balcony that overlooks the lake and the two prominent volcanos. The view is spectacular despite the smoke that is filtering across the face of the volcanos from a wild-fire.

This was our favorite beer in Chile. The label has a the famed Paine Towers on it.

As we are waiting for our beer and appetizers, (fish and chips for me, a bowl of fries for Paul) we are trying to figure out who sang the 70’s song that is being played in the pub. A young man seated at the table next to us leans over and says “Cream” and “Eric Clapton”. Of course. This leads to an enjoyable visit with the young couple from California as we sip on our Austral beer and eat the huge plate of appetizers the waiter brought us. When we finish eating,(we both leave food on our plates), we say so long to the personable couple and walk down to the lake.

Having fun in Lake Llanqihue. You can see a line of smoke on the horizon

Even the dogs join in the fun

It is a nice day but still cool as Paul and I both have our coats on. We had commented to Rafa about people being in the water at other places and how cold it must be. His reply was that people must take advantage of the “three days of summer” they receive in Southern Chile. We watch the beach goers romping, sunbathing, some throwing mud at each other and all having a great time then we return to the main part of Puerto Varas. I need to find someplace to buy some throat lozenges and know we passed a pharmacy when we were here a few days ago. We finally find a small pharmacy and with hand gestures get across to the woman waiting on us what I am in need of. I have been experiencing some ear drainage which is now making my throat sore. These symptoms generally mean I will have a full-blown cold in a day or two. Great!

It makes me cold just looking at the people in the lake

We get prepared as best we can for our departure in the morning, shower and I go to bed early. Paul is reading on the Kindle as I drift off to sleep.

We are up at six-thirty and have our usual breakfast except we take the blueberries we bought yesterday to top off our cereal. We check out of this lovely hotel and the owner tells us that our driver is waiting for us on the street. We settle into the mans very nice car and he drives the back roads to Puerto Montt. I think he did this to avoid the morning traffic but we can’t ask as he doesn’t speak English. Our driver deposits us and our luggage in front of the small terminal. We give him a tip and wave goodbye.

The Sky Airline desk is not even open but there are a few people already in line to check in. We join the line as I read somewhere that the small airlines here sometimes over book so even though you have a reservation it is best to be at the front of the line. We probably wait a half hour before the Sky staff show up and then it takes them some time to get the computers up and running. When they do start letting people check in the process goes quite fast.

No photos for this part of the blog so will fill in with some from Chiloe Island. This man is holding the meat from abalone. I ate that?

When it is our turn to check in the friendly man helping us tells us to put our check through luggage on the scales. We sit our two small cases on the scale and the guy, his eyebrows raised in surprise, asks us if that is all the luggage we have to check through. Paul says yes and adds that this is more than we usually have on our trips. He compliments us on traveling light, hands us our official boarding passes and passports and we walk upstairs to where our gate is.

We go through security which is much easier than in the states, you don’t have to take your shoes off or take liquids out. We take a seat close to where we will be lining up and I people watch as we wait for the boarding call. There is a young African man who has arrived shortly after we did and he stands, ticket in hand in front of the boarding area, even though there are no staff around and no lanes set up. When the boarding staff arrives, Paul and I get up and move close to the boarding area. A man sets up two lanes showing the row numbers which tell you which line to get in. We are in the second line and we end up being at the head of the line. Other passengers are getting in line except for the young man who had been standing here for the past half hour. He is looking at his ticket and seems completely at a loss. I hesitate and then walk over to him and look at his ticket. I point to his seat number and then point to the line he belongs in which is the one we are in. As he turns to walk to the back of the line, I take his arm and motion for him to get in front of Paul and I. It didn’t seem fair that he had been standing in line long before the rest of us only to end up at the back of the line.

Some of the crafts we saw for sale on Chiloe Island

We have to wait until the arriving passengers have unloaded and then for the passengers with lower row numbers to make their way onto the plane. When our turn comes, we filter into the narrow aisle of the plane and the young man hesitates and looks back at me. I look at his ticket again, and show him where his seat is which is two rows behind us. He smiles gratefully and soon we are taxiing down the runway on our way to Punta Arenas. At the end of our two-hour flight as we are leaving the plane, I look back and see the young fellow smiling broadly at me and I give him a big smile in return. We have been helped before on our travels so I know how grateful you feel when someone takes the time to give you a hand.

Old door at The Chonchi church

We have a momentary worry when one of our checked bags shows up quickly at the baggage claim and then no other luggage comes at all. There are still other people waiting and all of us breathe a sigh of relief when the belt begins to move again ferrying more luggage into the small airport. Our suitcase is one of the last to show up but at least it showed up! As we walk into the lobby a young woman walks up to us and asks if we are the Millers. Yes we are, and as usual we are so happy that someone is here to claim us! It seems we are the last of eight people to arrive that are going to Eco camp as the other guests arrived on earlier flights.

When we saw round bales they were wrapped in plastic

The young woman who greeted us introduces us to our driver, Pedro, and we follow him to the van where we add our luggage to everyone else’s. We climb into the van and find a seat. Everyone has been given a sack lunch as we have a five-hour drive ahead of us. The first part of the drive takes us through very dry seemingly inhospitable landscape. Paul taps me on the shoulder not to far into the drive and points out the window to the left. A condor is flying quite low to the ground and I have my second surprise on this drive. For some reason I assumed condors were only to be found in the mountainous areas. Grassland along with some small lakes is the next region we drive through and we see Rhea’s, Guanacos’ and lots of ducks and or geese. It is a bit tough to tell when you are driving past the fowl at sixty miles an hour. The third thing on this drive that seems out-of-place are Flamingos huddled together in a small lake. I knew we would possibly see Chilean Flamingos but seeing the pink birds later on with a snow-covered mountain in the background just doesn’t seem right :).

Scene on our drive to Torres del Paine, there are Rheas in this photo but they are very camoflaged

Man on horse back with a huge flock of sheep

We stop at Puerto Natales where the office of Eco Camp is and get off the van where we are welcomed by Marcella, a lovely, personable, young woman. We follow her into the building where we fill out forms with our passport numbers among other info. Since we will be arriving at camp rather late Marcella also has us give her our order for tonight’s dinner. There are two starters, four entrees and three desserts to choose from. Gee is that all the choices we have? I’m kidding of course.  Once we wrap this up, we load back into the van along with Marcella who will act as our guide for the rest of the journey.

Chilean Flamingos

Guanaco’s grazing

There are more Guanaco scattered throughout our drive. They look similar to llama and in fact both are a member of the camelid family. As we drive by a few Rheas’, Marcella tells us that the dad hatches and raises the young. She then says there is a male Rhea in the area that is raising ten chicks which is highly successful. Darned if we don’t see that family of eleven as we are on the final leg of our journey. Pedro stops the van and we join a few other people on the side of the road, admiring and taking photos of the Rheas’ as they feed on the green grass next to the black top road. The fowl pay no attention to us until one guy decides to cross the road and get right next to them, (why I don’t know because he has a huge lens on his camera). Dad decides this human is too close and he leads his youngsters away from the road and the intruder.

Male Rhea with ten large chicks

The guy with the monster lens ventures to close and Dad says it is time to go

The famous Paine towers. You can see two of the spire like rocks clearly, the third one only has the tip showing next to the snow covered peak

We also make a stop at a beautiful lake with the famous Paine towers in the background. The scenery in Paine is stunning and rugged. We finally arrive at Eco Camp, (it has been a long day), where more staff are waiting to welcome us. Everyone is assigned one person who takes them to their domes. Marcella ends up showing us to our dome. Since we booked so late, we are in a superior dome, it is larger than the common domes and we have our own bathroom. Yes, it is more expensive than the common domes but the private bathroom is worth it to me.

We were in dome number 5

Once Marcella shows us around the unique abode, pointing out the light switches and explaining how the toilet works among other things. Yes, we need to be shown how the toilet works as it isn’t like your normal toilet. No toilet paper can go into the bowl, (well we haven’t been able to put toilet paper in any toilets so far!) and the flush is worked with your foot. Very little water is used with this toilet, I’m talking a few inches of water. Pretty amazing.

Part of the main area. We never used the wood stove as the small heater in the bathroom was kept the dome warm enough.

This plastic window, well the dome was all plastic, looked out on the Paine towers.

Our dome is the closest one. Not a bad view!

When Marcella leaves, we get settled into our dome and then go to the communal area. We are part of the Safari group and all of us gather in one corner of the bar. Welcome drinks and finger food are set before us while three lovely, very fit, young women, (are they cloning these guides?) begin to explain the excursions we can choose from for tomorrow. One hike is very hard, the second excursion is classified as medium, and the third hike is easy. Paul had asked Rafa’s advice before we left, (I think Rafa guided here for a few years), on what he thought we should do. He told us to take the easy ones, telling us you guys are naturalists and on the easy hikes you will stop and learn about the things you are seeing. According to Rafa the other hikes, esp. the hard ones there is no time to stop and enjoy things. Of course, it could have been a polite way of telling us you aren’t fit to do the other excursions!

Paul as we are walking to the communal domes.

Once the cheerful women finish describing the excursions, I know I am taking the easy one. The hard hike to the base of the towers is over twelve miles, the last mile or so you are clambering over big boulders which can be slippery. The second one sounds very intriguing but it is a fourteen-hour day since the start of the trail is two and a half hours away. I’m not feeling very well and I sure don’t want to be out fourteen hours. The easy excursion is a three or four-mile hike, after which we will go to a ranch for a Chilean barbecue. It sounds perfect. I tell Paul if he wants to go for the medium excursion it is fine with me but he agrees that the easy one sounds great, so that is settled.

Part of the bar in the communal dome

We finally have dinner at ten o’clock and I eat very little since it is so late. We still need to shower and we don’t get to bed until 11:30. Another reason to have chosen the easy hike as we don’t have to get up as early as the people who chose the other two hikes. Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chiloe Island, blog5

Chiloe Island, blog 5

Early morning view from the lodges balcony

Paul and I were up at 5:30 at Rafa’s suggestion to see if there were Pudu on the lawn or grounds of the lodge but to our disappointment, none of the short, chunky deer were to be seen. We walk some paths and roads in hopes of espying a Darwin fox, an endangered species due to habitat destruction and dogs. Another reason the thousands of acres that Patrisio and his family are conserving is so important, there are no dogs here either. We see fox scat and tracks that are fairly fresh so we know that the rare animal is near. Darwin fox are only found on Chiloe island and in one National Park on the mainland of Chile.

Two cabins that can be rented where you cook your own meals as seen from the balcony

We return to the lodge after eight o’clock for breakfast and then Patrisio drives us to the head of a hiking trail to save us some time although we will walk back to the lodge from this point. While driving the narrow, tree-lined road the three guys exclaim as a female pudu dashes across the road in front of the car. I missed the little doe since I was not looking out the front of the car. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Part of the magical trail

Patrisio lets us out at the trail head and waves goodbye as he drives away. The three of us step off the dirt road into the forest and begin our last hike in this special place. Although the trail we hiked yesterday was terrific this trail feels and looks almost magical. Part of the reason is that the sunlight is filtering through the trees and the vegetation takes on an ethereal glow. The False Beech trees in particular are bathed in the stunning light and they are just breath-taking. I try my best to capture the essence of our surroundings in a photo but it proves to be impossible.

Rafa imitating the tree shape

False Beech trees. I couldn’t capture the beautiful light that was filtering over the trees

We have a close encounter with a Huit Huit which literally follows us down the trail at one point. Our companion puts on the same show as the one we saw yesterday. Scratching furiously in the loose forest litter while making sure he keeps us in his sight. Paul and I are chuckling over the comical bird when Rafa quietly gets our attention. We look down and nearly at Rafa’s feet is a Chacao peering curiously at these intruders into his domain. Wow, I can’t believe this. Two birds that are difficult to see and they show up on their own in plain sight. Hmm, maybe my description of this trail being almost magical should be revised and the almost taken out of that sentence.

More beech trees. I actually used the Huit Huit photos in the last blog.

We walk to the river, the waters brown with tannin, and a Ringed Kingfisher is perched on a dead branch on the river’s edge. As our encounter with the forest birds on the trail, the Kingfisher seems to have little concern that three humans are standing a few yards away. The bird is bathed in sunlight and it willingly poses for several photos. Returning to the open road and bright sunlight we find ourselves visited by the pesky horseflies but they can’t dampen our enthusiasm for the incredible hike we just experienced.

Beautiful Ringed Kingfisher

When we arrive at the lodge, Pedro has a box lunch prepared for us but since it is nearly lunch time we opt to eat on the terrace before we leave. The sandwiches are huge so Paul and I split one and place the other sandwich in our pack. Supper is taken care of tonight. Once we have eaten, we fetch our luggage and place it in the van with Rafa telling us to make sure we have everything. It isn’t like we can come back and retrieve a forgotten item very easily. Rafa drives the white van to the dock as Patricio is already at the boat.

Oh boy, we carry our luggage to the dock and waiting for us is the worst swarm of horseflies we have encountered. Once we have all our stuff loaded, Rafa laughs out loud and says that he has forgotten his birding scope. That is too funny. Rafa returns to the van and drives away. Holy Smokes, these insects are relentless so Paul and I zip up our coats and put our hoods up. There is a father and son, friends of Patrisio, on the dock dressed in t-shirts and shorts. I see the young boy nudge his dad, and incline his head at these weird tourists. I look at the cute kid and then start shooing the flies that are buzzing around us. The kid laughs in understanding and demonstrates how he uses the plastic bucket he is carrying to swing the pail at the flies that are bugging him.

Leaving Tepuhulico Lodge. The lake was so calm.

Rafa returns, scope in hand, and we all settle into the boat. The lake surface hardly has a riffle on it, quite a difference from when we came yesterday. I am sad to leave here and if we ever return, I certainly would spend more time at this beautiful sanctuary. Once we reach the opposite shore, we thank Patrisio and tell him how much we enjoyed his wonderful place. Rafa goes to get the car and Patrisio waits just offshore until he sees his friend driving out into the road. He gives a final wave goodbye and motors back towards his beautiful home.

We meet several cars on the narrow, gravel road and all of them are taking more than their share of the road and driving too darn fast. One pickup begins to fishtail as the drivers is speeding down a hill towards us. Good grief. He gets the truck under control thank heavens.

We were stopped at road construction for about twenty minutes. I took photos to pass the time

The Landscape was lovely as we waited for the pilot car

We stop at Chonchi to look at another wooden church. This is a Jesuit church, which is more simple in its decor than the Franciscan church we visited in Castro. Personally, I prefer the simple Jesuit church. Chonchi is also famous for the unique shingles that are used on the sides of many of the houses here.

Wooden church in Chonchi . I cut all the vehicles out so couldn’t get the whole church

Wooden pillars and the ceiling painted to look like the sky

The side shingles that were seen on many houses in Chonchi

We arrive in Castro and go to our Palifito where we deposit our luggage in the same room, we had two nights ago. Paul also collects our laundry which cost ten dollars for the 2.5 kilo we left with the staff. I like that they charge by the kilo and not by the article of clothing.

I snapped this photo as we drove into Castro

We hustle back downstairs and meet Rafa who suggested we go visit the wooden boat builders. Rafa speaks to a young woman who goes to talk to her Grandfather, (I think), then returns and says that it is okay for us to look around. I trail Paul and Rafa down to where three boats are in various stages of production. There is a young man working on top of one boat and he graciously agrees to visit with us. Paul and Rafa ask him a variety of questions and we learn a lot about the family business which is in its fourth generation. The boats are made of Cyprus and they make boats for fishermen and also build ferry boats. There are four men who construct the boats and there are four boats in production at one time. It takes them around five months to complete a boat and the cost for a boat is 150,000 which includes the engine and everything else. Paul and I think the price very reasonable considering these boats are built the old-fashioned way. As we walk by the ferry-boat that looks as though it is nearing completion, we notice a man underneath the boat, laying on his back, and sanding the bottom of the boat with a small hand sander!

Paul and Rafa checking out the skeleton of a boat that is being built by the business

The young man who took time to answer our questions.

If you look reallyclose you can see the man who is wearing white coveralls, sanding the bottom of this boat.

We walk back to the Palifito and say goodnight to Rafa. Paul and I decide to buy a couple of beers from the Palifito stock to go with our half sandwich and apple. The beers are craft beers and pricy, four dollars each, and we don’t really like them as the beer is fizzy and bitter. Some of that pricey beer ends up being poured down the drain. We decide to walk a couple of blocks to a small grocery store the Palifito receptionists directs us to as we are craving an ice cream bar. With no dogs in sight we make it to the very simple market in time to see them unloading a quarter of beef from a truck and carry it into the store by hand. We peruse the ice cream treat offerings in the freezer and pay for our choices at the counter. The ice cream is just what we needed to kill the after taste of the bitter beer.

Kayakers and Black-Necked Swans

This evening as the sun is sinking toward the horizon, I go out to the deck to enjoy the scenery on our last night on the island. There are incredible colors reflected in the water and Black-necked Swans glide over the array of colors. It is a bit surreal and I feel as though I am looking at a painting. What a gorgeous ending to the day.

Beautiful colors reflected in the water with Black-necked Swans adding to the beauty of the scene

It looked like a moving painting.

There is no reason to get up early this morning as Rafa is taking us to a market here in Castro and it doesn’t open until nine o’clock. Paul and I had most of our stuff packed last night so there isn’t much to do after we eat breakfast. I do email Dr. Amy since I do not have an email from her updating me on Taz. I tell her that we will have email tonight and early tomorrow morning but after that we will be off the grid for the rest of our trip.

Castro market

Lovely flowers

Rafa educating Paul

We bought our blueberries here

Fish for sale

We are at the market shortly after nine and a lot of the booths aren’t even open yet. Rafa tells us that in Chile people stay up late and are in no hurry to get started in the morning. Everything from vegetables, fruits, homemade liquor or cider, handcrafts, flowers and fish are being sold here. There is plenty of photo ops, that is for sure. When we walk to the part where the fish is being sold there are a few dogs wandering around. One dog is licking some fish that are sitting in a big tray on the floor in front of a stall. Yikes. The fish have ice on them so I think the dog is after the moisture. The woman who is arranging fish in this booth, comes out and shoos the dog away then drags the big pan of fish into the cubicle. Oh well, that fish is going to be cooked right? Paul decides to buy some blueberries from one vendor as we are leaving the colorful market. We return to the Palifito to get our luggage, load up and leave Castro and our Palifito behind. We really enjoyed staying here.

Another Unesco wooden church in Dalcahue

The simple interior

We make a stop on our way to the ferry which is in the fishing village of Dalcahue. There is another Jesuit church here that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We take a quick look inside and see the familiar sky painted on the ceiling and the impressive wooden pillars. Rafa is staying with the car and luggage, while Paul and I go to walk along the water front. It is just a beautiful day and the wooden boats that ply the water make for a very picturesque scene. There are Kelp gulls standing around on some of the boats plus we see a family of Flightless Steamer ducks paddling around some of the anchored boats. Tourists including us are strolling along the board walk just enjoying the atmosphere.

Love the boats

Paul looking over the water

Paul and I return to Rafa and the car and we continue on our way. Rafa informs us that he is taking us to a farm where the couple has been doing Agri tourism for twenty-two years. That is darned innovative. The Maldano’s cook a meal for large groups known as curanto which involves layering different kinds of meats and seafood on top of coals in a pit then covering the food with rhubarb leaves and letting the concoction cook for hours. Unfortunately, three people don’t constitute a large group but we are still served a scrumptious meal. We were served baked chicken and carrots, huge lima beans, bread, potatoes, and salad with rhubarb for dessert. Maria Luisa, her daughter and daughter-in-law have prepared our meal in an old-fashioned wood stove. Hardy, Maria Luisa’s husband, is recovering from health problems and was napping so we didn’t get to meet him. Maria Luisa was a vivacious and animated woman and we enjoyed our short visit here. Of course, Rafa had to translate for us.

Farm where we ate lunch

Lunch is served

Rafa sharing photos of his daughters with his friends

We arrive at the ferry station and are soon parked behind a big semi on the ferry. We go up to the top for the ride back to the mainland. The sea lions are still piled on the red buoys, there are gulls and cormorants too. A flock of stately Peruvian Pelicans fly close to the ferry as we are pulling away from Chiloe Island. I loved our time on this enchanting island and would seriously consider returning someday. Nancy

Chiloe Island receding in the distance

Snow capped mountains

Our vehicle is behind the flatbed semi closest to the rail