Monday, December 19, 2016

Antarctic Trip: Patagonia, Chile, December 15-19, 2016

View of Lake Toro in Paine del Torres National Park
We weren't stranded in Antarctica after all. We left on December 14 as scheduled except that we had to leave very early and I finally saw the sunrise in Antarctica. The charter plane flew from a Chilean Navy Base on King George Island to Punta Arenas, Chile. After a night in Punta Arenas, we were off to Patagonia Camp in Torres del Paine for the next part of our adventure.

We loved our hillside accommodation at Patagonia Camp which is made up of separate yurt structures with the addition of luxury bathrooms.

The view from our yurt at Patagonia Camp

Despite the rainy weather, we hiked at the Torres del Paine National Park everyday. The easy Fauna hike was first. The trail runs through grasslands littered with the bones of guanacos. Since food is plentiful, it is a killing grounds for pumas. We saw lots of bones, lots of guanacos, but no pumas.

The guanaco (pronounced "one-ah-co) is a member of the camel family and while related to llamas, it is more ancient.

Guanaco looking for challengers or predators

The hike took us as far as a rocky outcropping that formed a ledge over the ground. Under the ledge, first peoples created art using earthen pigments. The art seems to show humans, a handprint, pumas, and even a condor.

The rock wall under which the ledge is formed 
Gray Fox

Our guide told us that Guanaco males fight to the death when their alpha status is challenged by another male. One of the ways of fighting is to run after the challenger and attempt to neutralize the challenger by biting and ripping the testicles. We were almost at the end of the fauna hike when I heard a stampede coming our way allowing me to document the exact sequence of events our guide had just described.

Covering the guanaco jewels

It was a near miss and the challenger galloped away winded but still intact and able to procreate.

That was exciting!

Another story our guide told us related to an emu-like bird called a rhea. Male rheas have sex with about 17 females. The male makes a nest and one by one the female rheas come and lay their one egg in his nest and then leave. The job of raising baby rheas falls to the male who cares for his babies for about seven months. While the male is fulfilling his paternal duties, the females go on to procreate with other males.
Daddy Rhea

Baby Rheas
Even though it was cool and quite cold in Patagonia, we saw both flamingos and fuchsias thriving.

Grey's Glacier

On Day two we hiked near Grey's Glacier and beyond through a forested area containing trees at least 150 years old. Most of trees are beech and in Patagonia they are very slow growing.

During the night it poured, but we woke to a beautiful rainbow over our view Toro Lake.

It continued to mostly rain through our hike to the Los Cuernos Overlook (the horns). In fact, once we got to the overlook, the horns were not visible.

Dan hiking along a dead forest of burned beech trees

The tidy yellow plants are called "Mother-in-law's pillow" They are quite thorny

Looking for Los Cuernos
Porcelain Orchids (a rare green orchid)

Lunch was at a nearby picnic grounds. After lunch we watched birds and a cute armadillo stop by to look for crumbs.

 Later in the day we saw Chile's National Animal--a South Andean huemul also known as a South Andean deer that is barely visible in this photo.

After 3 fabulous (even with the rain) days of hiking, we migrated to summer in Santiago.

Patagonia Camp, a luxury camp with great food, wine, and scenery.
Torres del Paine National Park:

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