Tuesday, December 01, 2015

On to Patagonia

 We  began our experience in Patagonia by flying for about 4 hours from Buenos Aires to Calafate, Argentina.
Wikipedia Photo
Snow from the plane as we passed over mountains
Patagonia is the sparsely populated region in southern South America shared by Argentina and Chile.
The name of the area came from one of two sources:  Patagon was a name used by Magellan to refer to the tall natives  (the Tehuelches) .  He saw  their big feet, which looked bigger than normal because of their animal skin foot coverings.  (The word "pata" in Spanish refers to feet, especially those of animals.)  It could also refer to a character in a popular novel of the time (the 1500s).

The town of El Calafate is located at 50 degrees south.  It is named for a common bush in the area with yellow flowers and blue-ish purple berries.  The bush was just beginning to flower when we were in town.

 Originally there were groups of shepherds in the area and a small store that began in the area of Calafate.   The shepherds were from England, having come in the 1880s when Argentina was advertising for immigrants.  They felt that if sheep could adapt to the Malvinas/Falkland steppe climate, they could adapt to this region.  The store owner brought in a school teacher to educate his children and by 1900 other sheep ranchers' children joined the school.  Then enough people came that a priest was brought in for a church.

The town was the center for bringing wool from ranches.  Then one ton of wool was sent  out on carts pulled by bulls.    Calafate later developed as the first small town for backpackers. 25 years ago, there were 3,000 people in the town and now there are over 25,000.

The area is mainly cold steppe, a dry grassy plain with limited precipitation and often strong winds. That wind makes it hard for grass to grow.  As a result the area could only sustain one sheep per square kilometer.  As a result, estancias (sheep ranches) were often 10,000 to 70,000 acres big, fenced and subdivided by seasons.  The life expectancy of the sheep in the area is low as the special, hard grasses grown in the area  ruin their teeth.  (Australians are trying to make false teeth for the sheep on the lower jaw where they have teeth.)  You can see below how Argentina and Chile own different parts of the area in this region.

After checking into our lovely hotel, the Kosten Aike,  we were on our own for the afternoon.  Some walked over to the Laguna Nimez Reserve, where for a bit over $10 US, one could see a lot of birds at a distance in their natural habitat.  Since it was mating season, people saw the birds pairing up. .  The nature reserve is where the two small lakes are in the center top of the town map below.

Calafata has 300+ days a year of rain, snow, and strong winds, but we were super-lucky and had sunny, mild days.

Nava, Les and I walked along Argentina Lake with a wide roadway next to us.  The lake is one of the largest in the country and hosts the more than 5 glaciers in the region.   It was windy and the area empty of people and cars.  We passed a beautiful but empty playground and wondered why there was such a big playground in such a windy spot.  We later found out that President Cristina Kirschner is from the area and has a large house here (and her sister-in-law was running for governor of the region), so she "favors" the area with special perks, including good roads in town.

We ended up walking about three miles and went back to the main street where we went to a chocolate specialty store which also had a small cafe.  I got maracuya (passion fruit) ice cream and Nava got calafate ice cream.  Yum!!
Windbreaker and gloves kept us warm

Then we browsed the shops, especially the book store (Butique el Libro), ArteIndio (a cooperative of beautiful items) and Artesan Alley (open from about 5 to 10 p.m.) with lots of little booths.  I bought some small jewelry items of blue lapiz luzuli, the national gem of Chile.  We also saw the rose-colored gem of Argentina, Rhodochrosite.

There was even a vegan restaurant in town, Pura Vida, but when we tried to eat there two day later, we got there too early--7 p.m.-- and we were too hungry to wait .  We walked past several restaurants that were roasting whole lamb in the special Patagonian way.

That night we ate as a group in the El Cucharon (the ladle) restaurant.  Since we ate at 7, the place was empty as the locals eat much later!  The food adventure of the day for most was to have Argentine lamb stew for dinner.
Several of us had tasty, fresh trout, mostly farmed locally. And we all enjoyed the squash soup.

And in this town, we were treated to Calafate Sours, a variant of Pisco sours with Calafate liquor ....also quite yummy, in small doses.

The next morning after breakfast, we met our guide for the next few days, Ximena.

 As we drove the 78 kilometers to the Perito Moreno glacier (look at the map above--we headed WNW), our driver stopped along the way for a number of nature vistas.You can see a number of "finger" channels on the west side of Lago Argentino, where glaciers have moved down hill to the lake.  First we saw a number of flamingos on the shores of the lake, matching up with mates.
The lake was low as the snow melt from the mountains had barely begun, so the edge of the lake was muddy.  By summer,the water level will rise two to three meters.   Baby flamingos are white.  The adults turn pink from the shrimp they eat.  These Chilean flamingos go NE in winter but return to this area to nest in spring.
 Ximena showed us a picture of a condor's wing span.  Adult condors are about one meter tall and can eat up to 5 kilos of food at once, 1/3 their body weight.  It then can be tough for them to take off, so they wait for a warm thermal air to fly off.      Below is my first photo of a condor.

We later saw quite a few condors thanks to the great eye of our driver, Andres (?).  We also saw a lot of Southern Lap Wings, Aplan geese (which are native to the area) and crested ducks.

We were delighted by the rare, awesome reflection of the mountains in the lake.   Our guide Lu said that this was the first time she had seen it in the 8 years she has been leading  tours here.  We were at 48 to 52 degrees south latitude, similar to Seattle or London, and about 600' above sea level and the mountains were  a maximum of 4500 feet tall.    There is a huge ice cap in Patagonia, the third largest in the world after Antarctica and Greenland.  The Chilean fjords have 7500 square miles of ice.
This was part of a bird check list we were given of birds in Patagonia.
A black-chested buzzard-eagle, I believe
The adult is 20" tall from head to toe.  The females are bigger so as to provide more heat to the nest.  The males are smaller to make it easier to fly.  The young are brown.  These are the only eagles in the area.

We also saw our first guanacos. They were not too happy to see us and quickly turned and walked away.  There are easily a half million of them in South America in the highlands and arid areas.  Unlike llamas, they are not easily domesticated.
The area closer to Calafate,gets about 12" of rain a year.  Closer to the mountains, about 24" of rain falls and by the glaciers and mountains, over 115" falls a year.

We saw sheep too as we drove. The sheep are a hybrid of merino and Scottish Lincoln, developed in New Zealand. Their wool is not as fine, but it is sold to India and Thailand.  Also, most of the ewes have twins.  The sheep are sheared twice a year, once a full body shear and the second time just in the face so that they can see the grass to eat in winter. Hereford cows also give birth  and graze here until the calves are moved north to fatten.

As we rounded the corner, we saw this amazing sight, the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Los Glaciares National Park was established in 1937, in part, for Argentina to be sure that this area would remain inside the country.  There is  afee of 260 pesos ($17 US at the blue rate, and $27 at the official rate) and is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.   This glacier is the most accessible one in the park.

The path was beautifully made, with a metal base that allowed for snow to melt and pass through.  
 When there were steps, there was also a platform every six steps.

Again, we had amazing weather, even though it was cold.  Often one can experience all 4 seasons in one day, but we were lucky with sun (and some wind--with about 50 degree temperatures) most of the day.    The sun was in my eyes in the photo below.  I wore a buff around my neck and often wore it over my face to stay warm, and I was wearing a light weight down jacket.
You can see how much the glacier has receded.  The first photo below was taken in 1931 by Alberto de Agostini.  The same are was taken in the early 2000s.  At this point the Perrito Moreno glacier is neither growing or shrinking.  I had a bit more written here but my 15-month old grandson "discovered" the backspace key.  Oops!       

 Of the other main glaciers in the park, Pio 11 is the biggest and the only one that seems to be growing.  Viedma is the 2nd largest and Upsala is the third largest and shrinking the fastest.  Perrito Moreno is the 4th largest.                    

It is the easiest to access and is approximately 160 square miles, the same area of Buenos Aires.  People can trek on the glacier but only if they are under 65 and is really really good shape.  My son and daughter-in-law hiked on it in the spring of 2009 on a tour with a group of about 20.  They walked a couple of miles on the glacier wearing crampons and said that it was exhausting. They did have a drink with ice from the glacier.

Over 300,000 people visit this glacier a year with 2,000 a day in high season from October to Easter.  In the winter it is a snow park where children  can see snow for the first time.  

We walked in the opposite direction of most, facing the glacier as we approached. Icebergs float and are  10% above water and 90% below.

  Perrito Moreno is 2 miles wide and about 17 miles long.  It moves 6 feet a day in the center and two feet a day on the sides, slower in winter and faster in summer.  The face of the glacier that we see is 500 years old.  
 It is amazing to see the top of the glacier.  When we saw glaciers in Alaska, we could not really see their tops in such detail.

 There are lots of trees in the area, especially birch, since there is more precipitation. Chilean fire bushes grow in the area and make the soil richer so more birch grow.
 Solitary rocks were brought in by the glaciers and placed along the way like the one below.

The colors were not as blue today because it was so sunny.  The ice itself is crystal clear but the more compacted is the ice, the less air, so the bluer it reflects.  

 Close up of picture above

Aren't these pictures stunning!  Being this close to such a beautiful glacier was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Sometimes when the glacier pushes again the land, a tunnel forms as it did about two years ago.

 As the ice gets closer and puts pressure on the tunnel, it crashes down.
Below is what that same area looks like now, so in another couple of years, another tunnel may form.

On our way back, we all had a taste of Calafate liquor.  Yum!
And another view of a condor...
Several people stopped at at the Glacerium on the way back to Califate.  There were two parts:  a museum explaining the glaciers and also an ice bar where people were given warm clothing and could drink as much as they wanted in 20 minutes.  You can read about it at:

We learned a bit more about Calafate as we drove along.  In about 1990, there were 3,000 people in the town.  By 2001, there were 6,000 but now there are at least 25,000.  The place is growing quickly.

 The open air town dump had been in town, but was quite smelly.  In 2010, a group gathering signatures to move the dump and create a system to classify garbage.  The dump was moved  out of town and the government got a loan from the Inter American  Bank, thanks to the Argentinean Minister of Tourism, to convert the open air dump into an area with organic mater to recycle into compost and another part to bury.  Also, recyclables would be sorted out.  Since this is an area that Pres. Kirschner is interested in, they are working to get this program in place  and to teach people to sort.  They are hoping for a grant form the IAB to cover 80% of cost and money from the state to cover the rest.  Part of the funds would be to teach people to sort recyclables and to teach children in schools and families in neighborhoods.

The public schools here are on shifts with one group going from 8 a.m. to non and the second from 1-5 p.m.  The few private schools have a full day program with English, the arts, etc. in the afternoon.  One building in town runs a high school from 8 a.m. to noon, a secondary school for kids at risk from 1 to 5, and a junior college with a focus on tourism from 7:30 to midnight.

Ximena also told us about Douglas Tompkins who founded the North Face clothing and equipment stores.   He was considered controversial because of his for profit businesses but he retired in 1990 and he and his wife Kris began to work in South America to save many of the natural area.  He would but estancias (sheep farms) and then turn them over to the government to manage as national parks.   They created the Conservation Land Trust, and one special site that he bought was the Monte Leon national park on the coast.  You can read more about it at


and about him at:  http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/about_kris_and_doug_tompkins.htm

She also told us of a proposal of China to build two hydroelectric dams on the Santa Cruz River.

Part of the area in question
 An Argentinian president in the 1960s wanted to do so, but never moved forward.  But now there is huge interest by President Kirschner.  Ximena and others are really concerned as no environment review was made.  Due to a large effort by concerned citizens, those reviews are being made, but they are not considering the impact on the glaciers, the animals in the area especially the nesting birds and the effect on Lago Argentino, and the archaeological settlements that would be flooded.  The dams would supply 1,740 megawatts of power, which represent 8% of the maximum national use, but 85% of the power would be exported and China would profit.  Also, the workers on the dam for the most part would be from China except for the menial workers.  The plan is already causing rents to increase a lot in Calafate because of the Chinese workers that will move to town.   The first result of the environmental study are  in and the dams to be 3 meters shorter.

The next day we traveled a lot by bus as we headed to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Inside our bus
We saw the unchanging Patagonian steppe scenery.

  Very little rain falls here, but the wind blows a lot.  The sheep eat the festuca grass that grows here.  The mata negra bush makes lamb taste bad, but it is easy to burn and has deep roots so it prevents erosion.

   Our guides Lu and Ximena and the driver Andres were sharing drinks of mate  (pronounced "mah'teh") tea.  Along the way we were given a history of the drink.

The Jesuits were the first Spaniards to drink Mate.  They got closer to the natives by drinking with them, especially with the Guaranis in the northeast.    The scientific name of the plant is Ilex Paraguayensis, which grows naturally in the north of Argentina.
The bush, the leaves, and the dried mate
The Guaranis mixed the dried leaves with warm water and drank it from a dry gourd, spitting out the first round (the most bitter).  The Jesuits invented the "bombilla," a straw with filter on the bottom to keep the leaves from entering the mouth.
The gourd and bombilla
A bag for carrying mate supplies
 From the Jesuits, the tradition passed onto the gauchos and then into the cities. Mate is drunk at home and among friends in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil as well as Argentina, Iraq and Lebanon.   It helps bring friends and family closer together.  A gourd is shared and no one wipes off the bombilla.  The gourd is filled half full of dried herbs, then shaken a bit upside down to get dust out, and then filled with water.  The same leaves can be used for about a quart of water.  It is an acquired taste and was too bitter for me.  There are over 45 brands, but the smoothest are La Merced de Monte and Union Suave.  The bombilla is often made from Peruvian alpaca silver (a mix of silver and nickel).

A picture of some of the animals in Patagonia
Along the almost empty road, we saw shepherds (who waved at us) with horses and a dog.  They are going around the borders of the estancias (sheep  farms), checking the fences, and watching for lambing.  Fences need to be checked to keep puma away.  Pumas can kill over 20 sheep a night if not kept in check.  The estancias are huge, from 10,000 to 70,000 acres in size.  They are fenced and then subdivided by seasons and use.  Since the land in Patagonia is not very productive, a lot is needed to take feed the sheep. Now Hereford cattle are also raised here from birth to about a half year and then transferred north to an area with better grass.

Mama ewe and baby lamb
As we drove, we saw shrines along the road.  A very common one is for the populist "saint" El Gauchito Gil (Antonia Gil), who was said to have performed miracles.  He was tired of the Argentine Civil War and refused to fight.  He was caught and killed as a deserted in 1878 but forecast events in the future.  He is considered a strong-minded man of faith who believed in a mix of Guarani and Catholic faith.

  For details see:  http://wander-argentina.com/argentinas-gaucho-saint/    and

There are colorful shrines along the road for him, and people stop to bring beer and ask for something or thank the gauchito for helping them, and they are very serious about it.  We too stopped at a shrine around the road.

  Lu sprinkled beer there, and anyone from our group could ask for a favor and/or sprinkle beer on the site.

On the anniversary of his death on January 8th, hundreds of thousands of people go to the site of his death to honor the Gauchito Gil.

We again saw condors along the road, both on the Argentinian and Chilean side of the border.

 We had am amazing condor show with 4 or 5 visible at once.  They have no sense of smell but  have very good eyesight.  They live in very structured social groups and can live 85+ years in Patagonia.  They produce guttural sounds, similar to a helicopter, for 45 to 60 seconds.  The female chooses an area to nest on a cliff.  The condors' DNA shows they are related to storks.  They probably survived the ice ages.  The male is larger, with a crest,  and weighs 40+ pounds, and from head to tail is one meter long.   They do eat rhea eggs (Lesser  Rhea)  or freshly born guanacos.  They can eat up to 5 kilos at a time and then wait for warm thermal winds to take off again.

We also saw black chested buzzard eagles which are 20" tall from head to tail.  The females are bigger and have more body heat for the nest.    The "agila mora" is the only eagle in Patagonia.

 When we got to the Chilean border, we changed buses and ate at the El Ovejero restaurant at the border (on top of a tourist shop and coffee bar).  And as we left Argentina we said good bye to our local guide Ximena and met our Chilean guide Cota.

The Argentinian border staff  did not have electricity.  They did have a generator that worked a few hours a day, usually in the evening.  The Chilean authorities were computerized and had electricity full time.  Also, they had a nicer building and better roads.  (We had ridden on dirt roads in Argentina most of the time since leaving Calafate.)

Welcome to Chile
We stopped for lunch, a bathroom stop, and some touristy shopping at El Overjero, just across the border in Chile,
End of the World route
and again had a mini-pisco sour (I'm not used to drinking and don't remember ever having a drink at lunch...but pisco sours are yummy.) and all had the traditional Chilean chicken soup called casuela.

Downstairs seating--we ate upstairs--yes, the sheep skins are real
As we drove along the way, we saw more sheep and lambs and also the endangered lesser (Darwin) rheas, a large flightless bird.
Ewe with twins
Until 1990s it was OK to harvest lesser rhea eggs, but now it is illegal.

Our next stop was at Lake Sarmiento, which is partially in the Torre del Paine National Park. It is 86 square kilometers and was connected to the Pacific Ocean many thousand of ears ago so has salty water and basalt rock.  Much of the water in the lake is originally from glaciers that cover the area.  Glaciers no longer feed the lake.  The original lake stretching from the Pacific was called Tehuelche, but it evaporated.
There are amazing rock formations around the lake called microbialites.

 More than 3 billion years ago, microbialites constructed by cyano bacterias represented the first construction of life form on Earth.
Macrobialites--pretty cool

  However, the structures at the Sarmiento Lake (thrombolites) were formed after the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago.  The microbialites can be divided into three groups:  thrombolites, stromatolites and dendrolites.   These microbialites (white rocks of varying sizes and some crumbled at the beach)  found by this lake are very rare and scientists from all over the world come to study them.  Some of the microbialites are huge and are hundreds of thousands of years old.  There are few places where they exist but are here due to the very dry weather.  They are a huge attraction for scientists,  Pavilion Lake in Mexico has some and possibly Mono Lake in California.  Wind gusts in this area are up to 85 mph.

As we got closer and closer to Torres del Paine National Park, we saw lots of guanacos.  The dominant males tend to have a "harem" with anyway from several dozen to up to 70 or 80 females.  Several females help him guard the group and chase off other males.  The dominant male has to service the females in mating time and also must find the best grass for his group.  If the grass is bad, the females do not nurse, and babies die.  Males have longer teeth than females and fight other males.  Their life expectancy is about 14 years.  Only 10% of the male babies survive the first year and they are fed less than females.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed watching these animals in their natural habitat.
Their major predator is the puma.
 The male below was upset at something and let out a large howl.

 By the entrance to the park, one guanaco ignored us and let us get close.  There are over 5,000 guanacos in the 480,000 acres of the park.
The word "Paine" (pronounced pie-nay) is from the local native language meaning "sky blue."  
We finally stopped to take a 3.8 mile hike in the park, first to see a stunning waterfall and then walked toward the main peaks in the park, not part of the Andes but caused by magma pushing up and glaciers cutting the tops.
A busy beginning to flower in the area--one of the few bits of color

 The walk was beautiful but along the way we saw the results of a huge forest fire caused by careless hikers from Israel from Dec. 2011- Jan 2012.

Seven glaciers in Patagonia created these sharp granite peaks of the Paine mountain range or massif.

You can read more about the park at:
Part of the towers of the Torres del Paine--see how tiny group members walking are in comparison
The park has over 140,000 visitors a year as it is a favorite hiking place;  we were lucky as we only saw a couple of other people during our three hikes.  People do come to climb the main peaks between November and March but must have their own backup rescue team.  The weather, even in the milder season, is quite unpredictable, and the harsh winds make these peaks difficult clumbs. 

 In the past  11 years, there have been two devastating fires in the park.  The first in 2005 was caused by a Czech backpacker, destroying over 60 square miles.  From Dec. 2011--Jan. 2012, a fire started by an Israeli backpacker burned over 68 square miles (34,000 acres).  The Israeli govt is helping to replant the area and educate travelers.  Because of the harsh weather conditions here, it takes much longer for a forest to grow back.  We saw seedlings that had been planted and more that will be.

  We stayed at Hotel Rio Serrano outside the park w a stunning view of the peaks from our room.  It is located in an area which used to be sheep ranches.  An old one  remains but the rest of the area is set aside for a natural area or to support tourism.  The hotel was built to support the natural tourism in the area.  The hotel is open from September through May and workers are housed on site.  They come from all over Chile but also other countries, including one from Cuba and several from Peru.  

 The buffet dinner here was amazing and lots of vegetarian choices. We had another pisco sour to toast our arrival. Of course I was plenty dizzy when I saw down to eat!! 

   There are plenty of calafate bushes all around the hotel.
Rio Serrrano Hotel

 The second night the staff cooked lambs the traditional way on a special BBQ spit.  It was first for a special group but there was plenty left over for the buffet that night.  It was tasty and very fresh.

The next morning I stayed back because of sinus issues.  The rest of the group went on a hike to a lake with ice bergs.

That afternoon we went on a nature walk and also a horseback ride.

Below are some of the birds we saw on the walk.  

 We saw evidence of puma being in the area by finding puma poop, which included baby guanaco hair and small bones of birds.

 We saw quite a few of the birds below but it was hard to get a close up photo as they did not want us to approach.
The male, trying to scare us away?
The horseback ride lasted close to an hour and was a lot of fun!  We mainly walked though my horse trotted a bit on the way back.  I had not ridden for at least 15 or 20 years but it came back easily.  BTW, there was no "horn" to hold on to.  It was the first time I wore a helmet while riding.
Great mount, Nava!

Nava exiting a walk through a small stream for about 100 meters
The next morning we went on our last hike in the park before heading south toward Puerto Natales.

After driving a bit, we stopped at Lake Pehoe and again were treated to a beautiful view on a sunny day with clear reflections in the lake.  I couldn't stop taking photos of the reflections.  Below you can see part of the lake with the Pehoe Hostel (on a small island accessible by a bridge) with the Torres del Paine mountains in the background.
 Looking to the left, note the reflections.
 And a close up of the little finger in the lake.  Isn't the reflection amazing??
Nava and I with the same view of the hostel.

The Salto Grande waterfall we saw from the top yesterday, now from the front
 Stunning reflections in the lake
 The sharks fin (?) in Torres del Paine Massif

An important bug in the park
 A young guanaco killed by a puma.  It broke its neck.  Sometimes guanaco  run into a nearby fence and get caught on the fence. The puma ate this guanaco after killing it and brought his family to eat the next day.  After that, birds or fox or condors eat the eyes.     It was probably killed about 4 days ago as there is still a lot of hair left on the guanaco, on the back, neck, etc.  If it had been more than a few days ago, that too would have been removed by birds, etc. for nests.   The fences are to keep in sheep and cattle but the younger guanaco cannot jump them and often get caught on the fences.
As we walked along here, the land was spongy and damp.
The views toward the hills were stunning.  A glacier?
 In this rather dry area, vegetation was sparse, so it was nice to see flowers poking their heads up in spring.
Dandelion and daisy seeds are in Patagonia because they are spread by the Pacific Ocean.

Neneo bush
The large clumps with orange flowers budding were stunning but it was sad to see other low plants slowly dying from lack of water.
As we drove south, Cota told us about Punta Arenas and a bit of politics.  She grew up and lives in Punta Arenas.  She said that people there, in the Magellan Region  (Region independiente de Magalanes) trust the regional news more than the national news which tends toward yellow journalism.  The national news focuses on soccer, celebrities, accidents and crime.  And then may add something on a back page about an important law passed on Congress.  The regional news has "real talk" and analysis and not fluff.

There was a national campaign to stop using so much gas and to avoid using it year round for heating.   Much of Patagonia is cold, so the region needs heating most of the year.  The people in Punta Arenas realized that corporations nationally use much more gas than people in Punto Arenas.  When the government passed a law to raise the gas tax 30%, the people in Punto Arenas went on strike in 2011.  Barricades were put up and business in the area stood still.  Anyone arriving at the airport had no way to get to town or to leave.  After a week, the government relented.  They still raised the gas tax but less than 30%.   Magalenes is the 12th of 14 regions in Chile and one of the largest in area (140,000 sq kilometers). It is sparsely populated with 1 person per square kilometer and a TON of sheep.

She also told us of the disaffection of Chileans for politics and that many feel that their vote has no value.   Something I did not know:  General Pinochet greatly admired Hitler and felt his one error was to not kill off all of his enemies.  She also said that the people of Patagonia trust the local politicians much more than the national ones.

The rivers we have seen flow into Last Hope Sound in Puerto Natales (where we spent the night).  About  13,000 people lives in Puerto Natales.  The first European to arrive here was a Spanish explorer in 1537, looking for a passage to the Straits of Magellan.  Many Europeans arrived here over time to work with sheep, etc., and the city of officially founded in 1911.

Puerto Natales is developing as a tourist place too, with hiking, backpacking, and kayaking..  There is a statue of a Grand Sloth at the entrance of the town as this animal used to live here.  You can read more about the town at this website:

Our hotel was right next to the sound, and a cute playground and small skateboard park as well as art work were on the shoreline.
View from front of hotel
Skate Board Park

Yes, it was cloudy and cold!
Our hotel, the Australis, is on the right

Our dinner menu a the hotel, just one menu offered (About US$24)--most food is imported from warmer areas
The next morning, after a beautiful view of the mountains as we ate breakfast, we headed out toward Punto Arenas, where we would catch our ship to sail in the Tierra del Fuego area.

We passed a shrine for another  populist Saint,  la Difunta Correa,  who died of thirst but her baby was found  alive two days later attached to the beast and nursing.  People leave water bottles at the shrine, or pour the later out at the shrine and leave the bottles in her memory.  I even found her on Wikipedia!   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Difunta_Correa

Next Cota told us a fascinating story of the Chilean-born poet Gabriela Mistral (pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga)who won Nobel Prize for Lit in 1945.  She was the first Latin American  to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature for her lyric poetry.   You can read about the facts of her life in Wikipedia:

But Cota also told of the many emotional aspects of her life including the news later revealed that she secretly had a woman partner.

We also heard music of Victor Jara, a singer, song writer, teacher, and political activist, who was arrested by Pinochet soon after he came to power, tortured and then shot to death.  His songs inspired many including Bruce Springsteen.

Among the sheep ranches and fields  for sheep to graze, we made a bathroom and hot drink stop at Cafe El Patagon in the de Huerta district..    The place had a lot of character with all kinds of stickers affixed to the front windows.

 Before we went in, we saw several foxes running away from us. I managed to get a non-blurry picture of one of them!

Cota made mate tea while we were inside.
There was a very cute girl named Fernanda there, and she was entranced with my photos of grandchildren..

I ended up giving her the photo of me with my dog Ziva.

Along the way, we heard about the non-war between Chile and Argentina in 1978 over ownership of land and water in Tierra Del Fuego. We also heard how Pinochet  allowed Chile to support Thatcher against Argentina in the war over Malvinas/Falkland Islands. 

 Cota told us a very special story of her father's involvement in the Malvina's War in the 1980s and how he later met up with another soldier.  She showed us a special badge that he had given her and asked her to tell his story.

We soon saw two shepherds with about 2000 head of cattle, with baby calves, ten dogs and a bull leading the group.

 We stopped along the side of the road to watch them.

 One calf headed out on its own, and the herder sent dogs to bring it in.

Meanwhile the cow belatedly noticed her baby was gone and jumped the fence to look for it.
 She was furious when the dogs tried to herd her back.

   She eventually went back and found her baby, but it was quite a show!

As we approached Punto Arenas (about an hour away), we made a detour for a special stop to the Estancia Fitz Roy.  We had to take a three-minute ferry ride to Isla Riesco and then drive a short distance to get to the 3000 hectare (about 7500 acre) ranch.

  Isla Riesco is one of the largest islands in Chile (almost 2,000 square miles) and has Chile's largest known coal reserves, with mining dating back to the 1880s.  Coal mining was the first use of the island by immigrants. After WW II production went down but it has risen again recently after energy demand increased. 

 We stopped at the 3000 hectare sheep ranch owned by the Fernandez family.    They family leaders first started driving buses.  In the 1930s and 1940s, there was a need for a form of transportation from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, a distance of 240 kilometers that meandered in an out of Chile and Argentina.  The distance took 6 to 12 hours, depending on the weather and road conditions, with 20 people in the vehicles that went 30 to 40 km (18-24 miles) per hour .  Then in 1947, Fernandez started his own company, and it changed things. It also had buses for students as Puerto Natales didn't have secondary or technical school.  

 Then the family branched out and bought ranches on this island.  The one we visited, Estancia Fitz Roy, was the last of 13 ranches bought by them on the island in 1996. In 2000 they started tourism business at this ranch. The head of family also collects implements used in the past on such ranches and had an amazing collection which was nicely displayed indoors and out.  

 They also had a collection of old cars, some of which we saw outside.

  Then we would see first hand more about sheep ranching and to have a wonderful lunch.

One of the daughters of the current owner was our guide.

Started with a bus company
We saw the way they dip sheep once a year to rid them of ticks, with two of our group acting as "dippers."  These two were only dipped in water and not the chemical that rids them of ticks.

We then  watched one sheep sheared the traditional way with clippers, which is not what is commonly done.  Sheering is much quicker nowadays and, therefore, easier on the sheep.

The average weight of the wool sheared is 10-12 lb.

 We also saw alpacas on the ranch.  
The ranch had a puma in a large cage.  Our guide raised is as a baby with a bottle  after its mom was killed.

We walked over to the chapel on the ranch which was built it time for the wedding of one of the daughters.  It was beautifully made with local wood and a ranch theme.

Capilla of San Nicolas de Fitz Roy, initiated Dec. 2003

Where chapel tabled was sliced from
 After another pisco sour, we had lunch.   
Taking the lamb off of the barbecue skewer

We also had salads, etc. as part of the lunch.

I think this was the best lamb that I ever tasted.  Others said that it was much better than the lamb they had had elsewhere, in Chile and Argentina.

 And more alcoholic drinks:  an after dinner liquor of either almond, mint or camomile  flavor. I tasted the last one (thinking it was the mildest) and it was too burning strong to drink.  I later found out that the almond was the mildest.

 We also saw baby lambs 1.5 mo old and a three month old pup learning to herd them!   Aren't they cute??

 And a very sweet, retired doggie who loved being petted.

Before leaving, part of our group put on their special penguin earmuffs and had a photo shoot!

We got back on the bus  for an hour on the Road to the End Of the World to head to Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas is approximately 800 miles from the coast of Antartica.  It has about 130,000 inhabitants, including our guide Cota.   You can read about it at:  


We had a few hours to see the town and/or could rest get on the internet at the Australis hotel.

We drove by the "palace" of Sara Braun, a Jewish woman who had lived in the town for many year.  The palace was in the main plaza of town.  Sara was born in Russia and arrived in this area in 1874.   She married a Portuguese businessman there who exported gold and was a pioneer in sheep raising.  He died of TB but she inherited a fortune and finished the house in 1905 that they had planned together.  The house is now part museum and part hotel.  As part of the sheep business, many of the natives were pushed off their land and many died.

Several of us shopped and a local store and found some nice sweaters, etc. It also also some fascinating books there including one of the last Indians of the Yaghan tribe or at least the last speaker of that language..  You can read more about her and the Yaghan at:

 Others found "buffs," light weight neck warmers, at local stores or from street vendors.  I got one from an Indian street seller  from Otavalo, Ecuador who had arrived in town a month ago and planned to travel to Spain soon, among other reasons because Punta Arenas was too cold!
Statue in the main square to Magellan
And soon we were off on our final part of the trip and one much awaited for:  cruising on a small ship with a total of 88 travelers along Tierra del Fuego and to Cape Horn.