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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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