Patagonian Chile Travel Diary - p 2 of 4
10 January 2008
On the west side of Torres del Paine is Grey Glacier.
can be seen on a one-hour boat trip up Lago Grey on the good ship Grey II,
which holds 60 passengers. I always wonder about ships with numerals
after their names: what happened to Grey I?
The glacier, 28 km long, is apparently in full retreat but
still impressive, although nothing in a photo provides a sense of
its enormous size. We examine its east and west arms from a safe distance, after which
the crew serves pisco sours. A sign near the boat dock requests people not
to swim in the lake, a temptation that is quite easy to resist.
11 January 2008
East of Patagonia
are the high Andes; to the west and south are uninhabited oceans for thousands
of miles. In the north lies the barren Atacama desert. Patagonia
seems, as a consequence, a biological island, cut off from the rest of the
biosphere. The signs are everywhere:
a landscape covered with invasive species like dandelions, yarrow, and the
daisy-like scentless chamomile. The birdlife is rich in
waterfowl, shorebirds and the like, but, like most islands, has a meager list of
And like any island, many Patagonian songbirds are endemic,
such as the odd-looking and oddly-named Rufous-tailed Plant-cutter. We've
also had good looks at Grey-hooded Sierra-finch, a member of a group of
near-endemic birds, along with the more widespread Austral Thrushes, Rufous-necked
Sparrows, and even a Spectacled Tyrant, flitting in and out of reeds.
As we're leaving
Torres del Paine, we find several Chilean Flamingos on one of the small lakes.
I work my way down to the shore amid dull overcast light. Then the morning
sun breaks through and lights up the birds, a lovely display. As far as I'm
concerned, you can never have too many flamingos. Here we see them in
small groups, the most being 30 on a distant lake south of the park. I
must find more of these wonderful birds. But where?
The unthinkable has happened.
We missed our flight to the Falkland Islands this morning. There is only
one flight each week. We cannot charter a plane because Argentina would
not allow it to fly over their air space. No cruise ships, we are told,
are going that way now. Next week's flight is sold out.
It seems a nightmare. Lan Chile Airlines canceled our
original flight and scheduled one for 2 hours earlier, but I was told of this by
e-mail in December. However at a crucial moment I looked at the original,
not the correct,
itinerary; we arrived at the airport half an hour after our flight left.
We are both stunned. I am hopeful that Duncan will speak
to me after a few days. But in fact, he reacts with typical British aplomb,
stiff upper lip and all that. What's done is done, he declares. But I
feel lower than dirt. It was he who wanted to come here to visit the
Falklands; now we must accept that it will not be.
We return to our hotel in Punta Arenas, where we now feel
like castaways. A rental car takes us south of the city; among the
few birds we find Rock Cormorant. But every bird, every view reminds us
that we are not supposed to be here. We should be in the Falklands,
photographing Blue-eyed Cormorants and King Cormorants. It is the greatest
blunder in all my travels.
But life and bird photography must
go on. Today we head to Punta Arenas' pinguiņero, or penguin colony, along
Otway Sound north of the city. Near the road are many Lesser Rheas, a
South American relative of ostriches and emus. One had a chick,
surprisingly young considering this is mid-summer.