Sunday, July 29, 2007
We were on our way to the hotel to gather blankets and sleeping bags for an all-nighter near a dead guanaco, when we spotted this puma and her two cubs near a fresh kill. We went back to the rangers, and two of the rangers joined the boys to watch the pumas until 1 a.m.. After the park rangers went to bed, the three of us kept watch through the night. The pumas left around dawn.
On our way here, Alex bet there would only be between 5-10 U.S. citizens that we would meet on our entire trip. Trent voted for over 15. I took the seemingly reasonable 10-15. So far we have met (oh so briefly) 9 Americans. (Trent is insisting that we count the 5 Americans who passed the boys on a trail.)
But … the tourists we have met are most interesting! We have met wine traders from Switzerland (who also trade in China), three Canadians who just graduated from college and are taking off a few months before their engineering jobs begin in September, a South African (currently living in Great Britain) who is a mine engineer and is here in Chile for an internship, and a New Zealander who is on a “vision quest” for a year, hoping to figure out what he can do about global warming in his hometown.
In terms of the park as a whole, winter months bring fewer than 1,000 visitors to the park. In the summer months of December and January, there are over 1,000 visitors a day.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The small huemul deer are an endangered species, and Torres del Paine is the best place to get a glimpse of one. They generally live up in the mountains, away from the puma. We have only spotted three since we've been here, up on the hills near our hotel.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Cerro Castillo is a very small town. About 45 minutes outside of the park, it is no more than a crossroads where three ranching families have set up pens and other buildings required for their sheep and cattle business. There are two cafeterias with souvenirs for the tourists that stop by during the summer. As many as 150 tourists will stop by in a day en route to the park in the peak times of December and January. At this time of year, though, we haven't met one tourist in the town on any of our visits.
We return to Cerro Castillo every few days because of the really terrific (and affordable) food. By chance, I was invited to have the "house menu" one day, which is the meal that is served to the workers at one of the ranches. (The rancher owns the cafeteria and gift shop.) The midday meal includes a hearty soup and a main course. On our second visit, we were served rouladen (rolled up meat with carrot and bacon inside), which was just like the rouladen of my Aunt Marlies. All of the meals have been typical of Germany. The grandmother of the rancher's family, who has been doing much of the cooking, confirmed what I had learned in a history text: the original sheep herders came in the 1860s from Germany. She also remebered that as a young girl, she had a friend whose family still spoke German at home. For us, we're just happy that the recipes continue to be passed down through the generations, and we are looking forward to Friday's lunch of lamb.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
This area was inhabited by hunters-gatherers, sloths, etc. around 12,000 years ago. There is a cave on the way to the park where the remains of a sloth were found. (The remains have since been removed to England!) The hunters-gatherers had crossed the Bering Strait and moved south. Then, approximately 9,000 years ago, “catastrophic natural events” caused everything to leave or die out. Most fauna disappeared.
The guanaco are probably the most commonly photographed animal in the park. Related to llamas, these creatures are practically synonymous with Torres del Paine. There are hundreds of guanaco. In the summer, it is common to see them in pairs or clusters, often high on the ridges. In the winter, they tend to group together more as they move into the valleys for food and water. They are quite watchful, taking turns to drink and graze while others post guard for the puma. They are also territorial, as can be seen with the two guanaco in Alex's photo fighting for dominance.
New nomadic hunters appeared around 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. There is cave art from this period. The Aonikenk tribe are descendents, and they were here when the Spanish arrived in 1557, naming the area “Last Hope.” The 16th century Spanish were approximately 1.55 meters in height on average, and the Aonikenks were approximately 1.8 meters in height. From this, the area gets its modern name; the colonists wrote home news of the “Patagones,” the giants of Patagonia.
In 1892, Captain Eberhard started ranching with sheep near Puerto Natales, and by 1902 the border was established with Argentina. The town of Puerto Natales was founded in 1911. By then, the decline of the Aonikenk tribe was evident, having had their traditional ways of living disrupted.
Ah … but the way I know all this is because there is an excellent little museum in the town of Puerto Natales which is well worth the $2 admission fee.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
The boys would really like to take a picture of a puma eating at night. Last night, they went out with the park ranger and stayed near a dead guanaco that had been killed the night before. Generally, the puma will kill a guanaco and then hide the carcass with branches. For as many as four or five nights, the puma will return to the kill to eat. Pumas have been photographed at night, eating the kill, and they do not seem put off by flashes or lights. So far, though, the puma have not returned when the boys are there.
Last night's kill was not hidden, as the puma killed the gaunaco as it was trying to jump a fence. During the day, the boys were able to watch five foxes eating the guanaco. The pictures are of foxes eating guanaco at two separate kills.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The guidebooks don’t suggest a visit to the wharfs ... but it is one of the most colorful activities in town. Every morning at 6:30 or so the fisherman leave as others arrive with the daily catch of salmon and crab. Fishing and tourism are the main sources of income for residents of Puerto Natales.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
When I first parked in front of the laundry and started gathering my belongings, a young uniformed woman came up to me, almost immediately, with a ticket book in her hand. Without waiting a moment, I quickly apologized and drove off and parked a couple of blocks away. On my next visit, I noticed a sign that said (in Spanish) "Parking with ticket." Still somewhat confused, I parked my car in the downtown area. Again, a young woman in an orange jacket approached. This time I figured it out. You need to pay .40 cents to get a ticket, which is put under your windshield wiper. Every half hour, the ticket provider puts another ticket under your windsheild wiper. When you leave, you pay up. Each block has one ticket person, and they seem to be pretty relaxed about their job. They stand on corners and chat with each other, talk with the drivers of the cars, and are friendly to everyone.
There are many examples here in Chile of jobs that have been replaced with automated machines in the United States. Unlike the Untied States, here there are no self-serve check-out counters. Rather, in some stores, there are different salespeople who ring up the merchandise and then you pay yet another cashier and then receive your bagged goods from a third person. I am sure it is different in the large cities like Santiago, but for now, we are enjoying the relaxed pace of Puerto Natales.
The Andean condors are quite well-known, with about a hundred of them living in the park. Usually, one spots them gliding high above. Condors sometimes congregate when they find a dead carcass to eat. From a distance, Trent and Alex have seen as many as 30 or 40 condors flying above a dead guanaco, taking turns diving down to eat. In the past few days, the boys have had some luck hiking up to where the condors are perched. Of course, the condors don't wait too long before leaving, but they have stayed long enough for Alex to capture these pictures!
Thursday, July 12, 2007
We occasionally see the famous flamingos in the lakes, but usually they are too far away for photographs. More typically, we come across single birds that are willing to sit for photographs.
The austral pygmy owl on the right is the size of one's hand. More common is the long tailed meadowlark on the left.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
For the many birders in my life:
Arthur Button also relates a story about the aquatic fowl found here in southern Patagonia. The pictures are by Trent, taken from the shores of Puerto Natales. No longer are there “thousands” as reported by Button, but they are easy to spot, probably numbering less than 50 near the town."SWANS, FLAMINGOS & DUCKS"
The swans were not equal in number to the water-hens, [perhaps a variety
of /coot/, Ed.] but they too were countless from the point of Peninsula
Jamón, near Isla Guanaco, to the end of Ultima Inlet. They were so
numerous that one adventurer and writer, in his book "/A Rolling
Stone/", had the idea that a fortune could be made by traversing the
canals with a net, a mile long approximately, and drawing it in. I
venture to say it would not answer, but the idea gives you the number of
birds: there were thousands.
The white or /cuckeroo/ [/coscoroba coscoroba/, Ed.] swan is much tamer
than the white and black [/cygnus melancorypus/ or /'cisne de cuello
negro'/, Ed.]: its sense of curiosity brings it near your boat or near
shore, to where you are working. One day I was occupied for some four
hours, cutting firewood near the beach. There were some eight swans,
twenty yards from me. At this time, a friend came down to see me. We
talked for some time, and then he asked how I reared the swans: wouldn't
the eight eggs be too much for one sitting hen? I told him they were
/silvestre/, [wild, Ed.] and were tame because I did not frighten or
molest them. Those some two hundred yards away came sometimes: there
were some 250 of them.
"They are beautiful to see."
"Yes, that is what all persons say. It's a lovely sight when they arrive
at top of that bank, but I am always expecting someone to fire at them;
and, if they do, the swans will certainly go and my taming will be of no
A few days later, a number of visitors came. The sight was magnificent,
and they were very happy with the vista. Some few days after, a number
of persons /medio curados/ [half drunk, Ed.] came, who wear too large a
hat to cover their brains. These persons fired at them: they did not
kill one, but the shot no doubt injured many. They flew up, like a white
cloud, and away they flew.
That was in the year 1925, and not until this year, 1948, has there been
more than four, eight or ten swans. It has taken twenty-three years for
them to forget the injury: various times this year, I counted twenty to
two hundred. People will not think that birds and animals suffer. But I
am sure they inform each other, just like human beings.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
I visited the cemetery marked on my visitor’s map of the town. Rather large, it’s also somewhat removed from the town center. It took me 20 or 30 minutes to walk there from the town plaza. Looking for the stories of the early pioneers, I was rather disappointed. Most graves seemed recent, from 1970 or later. I asked about the cemetery, and I was told me there’s an “old” cemetery near to the town center. Only the old families can be buried there in the family tombs since there is no more room.
So, I found the old cemetery. This cemetery is much more diverse and colorful than the newer one. (This cemetery is reminiscent of the cemeteries in the villages of Guatemala, which have tombs of many colors.) Here, there is a lot of variation in the graves and tombs, with the oldest being wooden board tombstones and wrought iron fences. I am interested in the stories of older cemeteries -- like the grave of a young mother (30) who dies six weeks after her infant daughter (also buried there) in the 1930s. I’m told that many of the graves of fathers/sons and brothers in the old cemetery are from 1937. (The dates, though, are hard for me to find on the older grave sites.) Over local 100 men died in a mine explosion in Argentina in 1937. At that time, many men worked in Argentina, but in the recent past, it’s too hard to get the legal papers.
I was also looking for a different story ... but I didn't find it. I was curious if I would find the graves of the ten men or so who were killed in a labor dispute in 1919. In 1918, a large modern packing plant was built -- state of the art with freezing capabilities – to allow easy shipping of meat. The factor workers were initially paid much more than the local sheepherders, and a labor dispute broke out. Guns were drawn, and ten men died. But … I didn't find any graves much older than the 1930s.
Apparently, there is yet an older cemetery on a nearby island, but it is part of the Eberhard ranch. The Eberhard ranch was the first sheep ranch in the area, and the men in the dispute would have worked there.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Foxes are pretty common in Torres del Paine. There are four foxes that tend to be seen around the hotel where were are staying. We've also noticed foxes near one of the spots on the road where tourists stop for photos. We've passed tourists in their van, stopped at this photo spot, taking photos of a nearby grey fox. On a hunch, Alex suggested we stop there and see if the foxes would appear. Sure enough, the foxes appeared within a minute. Apparently, despite the park regulations, the tour guides ensure the foxes' presence by giving them treats.
The photos are of a fox that was asleep and curled up on a particularly cold and windy day. Alex saw it near the trail and captured these photos.
Yesterday, we spotted six more puma. One mother was with her four cubs, which we saw around 3:30. At dusk, Alex and Trent were surprised by a male puma which was quite close.
The mother puma in Alex's photo was watching out for her cubs nearby.