April 19 to May 1, 2006

For some years I had read about and wanted to see Patagonia, a vast steppe in southern Chile and Argentina with the Andes Mountains in the west. In 2005 Joe VanOs offered a Photo Safari there in 2 parts. One was an "exploratory," meaning the first time it was ever offered, and the second part a standard tour to a well-known place. It was also possible to take either the first or second part separately. In reading the itinerary, they both seemed attractive so I signed up for both of them. I had planned to cash in my frequent flyer miles on Continental, and knowing that these rare "award" places are reserved very, very early I redeemed my miles for flights from Cleveland -> Atlanta, Georgia->Santiago and back again by September 2 of 2005. Next I began to read everything I could find about Chile and Argentina, which was very little. So few people had any idea of where Patagonia was that I began my own private survey of random people I met; asking them what continent Patagonia is on. Out of approximately 25 people questioned, only 2 knew that it is in South America.

The more I read, the more interesting Patagonia became, but clouds entered the plans. Too few people had signed up by December 31 of 2005, and for want of more clients, the first portion of the trip was cancelled. This meant switching my southbound reservations. To my dismay I learned that there were no more "reward" seats on the flight from Cleveland to Atlanta, although there were plenty of seats for "real" money. I was angry at having to pay an extra $184. for the same flight on which I was already booked. I also bought my tickets to and from Santiago, Chile to Punta Arenas, Chile at that time. Lan Chile are not partners with anyone, and do not honor frequent flyer miles.

Cleveland, Ohio is a very long distance from Punta Arenas, Chile where the tour began, and with long layovers in Atlanta and Santiago, it became even longer. Punta Arenas is located on the very tip of South America, with its airport on the Straits of Magellan. South America extends farther south than any other land mass on earth except Antarctica, so that the winds of the famous "roaring forties" arrive at the fortieth parallel south, they have been gathering strength over almost the entire southern portion of our planet. The first and only obstacle they meet are the Andes Mountains, upon which they lash their pent-up energy, and moisture they have picked up on their way around the world. Patagonia, which lies just west of the Andes, is therefore known for its terrible climate: ferocious winds, and cold weather. Warm clothing, therefore, was advised.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Despite the stringent weight limits placed on baggage, I somehow managed to cram my "essentials" into my one permitted checked bag. Leaving my car at a "Park-n-Fly" lot for the first time ever, the bus driver asked where I was going and as usual,did not know where Patagonia is. He knew I was a photographer and asked if I worked for National Geographic. Don't I wish!

My first of three long flights was delayed by a security breach at the Atlanta airport, not a good way to start, but with a scheduled four hour layover, still not problematic. The two hour flight was uneventful.

Making my way to the International Terminal in Atlanta, I found a line of at least one hundred people who had missed their international connections, and were standing in an endless line for other flights. I felt sorry for them. Fortunately a gate agent with sense came down the line asking if anyone needed just a boarding pass. Thankfully, she made one for me, because those people were going nowhere that day.

Our plane was a huge B-767 with a capacity of 204 passengers, Few of these had shown up for boarding, possibly because of the horrendous delays in Atlanta, so the flight was only about 1/4 full. The center coach section had three seats across so I selected a row of them, and after a very tiny "dinner" put up the armrests, lay across all three seats, and went to sleep.

Thursday, April 20

We touched down in Santiago about 7:30 AM, It was already daylight because Chile is in the same time zone that we are. I had not realized that South America bends so far to the east, that Chile lies in the same time zone as the eastern US.

Dragging my bag through customs, I looked around the airport for my departure gate to Punta Arenas, and after asking questions in "Pigeon Spanish" found it in a different area than I had expected. I was happy to meet another trip participant who was taking the same flight as I.

Our flight came in over the Straits of Magellen, and I was glad to be able to see it from the air. It was much wider than I had expected. Perhaps Magellan did not have as difficult time discovering it as I had imagined.

The Straits of Magallen as seen from the air

Punta Arenas is a very small airport which was filled with the passengers from our flight, and those awaiting them. It was good to recognize John Shaw waiting just outside the baggage claim area, as planned. We were introduced to Alejondro Ronchetti, our local guide and photographer, as well as to each other.

Dinner was our first real introduction to Spanish, trying to order from the Spanish menu. No one except Alejondro knew any Spanish, but he graciously translated for us, and explained what our choices were. People were full of fun, despite their long journeys, and this promised to be an exciting trip.

Friday, April 21

At breakfast, John Shaw, our leader announced that we would be stopping at a wildlife refuge this morning before beginning our long drive to Torres del Paine National Park. Birds were those who could not be rehabilitated into the wild, and were cared for here and used for educational purposes. John showed us some pictures he had made the previous day, and they were spectacular! If only I could do half as well!

The refuge did not open until 9:30 AM so we spent some time down at Punta Arenas harbor photographing old fishing boats. Some of the colors were bright, but many boats were rusted away.

These old commercial and fishing boats were drawn up on the beach.

When we reached the wildlife refuge, we learned how true were the cautions about rural Patagonia. Although the animals and birds appeared well-cared for, people comforts seemed lacking. Perhaps by Chilean standards, however, they were very good. The birds were kept in very large walk-in cages, and looked good.

In the very first cage was the bird I most wanted to see - a condor! It was a female, who pretty much "ruled the roost" in that cage over the Austral Parakeets and Carracarras.

The Andean Condor is the second largest flying bird in the world, with a wingspan of 10 feet. Only the wandering albatross is larger.

There were so many of us (11) that the birds were frightened and flew to the farthest corners of the cages, where they had poor backgrounds for photography. We were quiet and tried to move them into more scenic areas, with limited success. The most successful attempt was to bring out a dead rabbit (road kill) that John and Alejondro had found along the road yesterday, and decided to use as bait for the scavenger birds. They did not hesitate at all, and despite our presence, attacked the dead rabbit immediately. Like all good photographers, we moved the rabbit into better light for our pictures. The condor followed the carracarras (another bird which survives on carrion)and by her sheer size drove them away. The carracarras did not give up, and continuously harrassed her, so that she spent as much time defending "her" kill as eating it.

The carracarra is also a carrion eater, and competes with the condor for food.

Austral Parakeets (left) and Magellanic Oystercatcher(right)

There were several other birds in the first large cage also as well as a couple of Patagonian Cavy, which resembled large hamsters.

Patagonian Cavy

In the second cage were more birds.

Southern Lapwing

The Black-faced Ibis

In the last cage was a large pond, still enclosed under the netting, where a number of ducks were swimming. A group of school children came in, obviously on a field trip, and we were concerned that they might frighten all the birds. They were well-behaved, however, and seemed interested in the ducks. We needed to leave in order to reach Torres del Paine Park where our accomodations were for the next two nights.

Patagonian Crested Duck (left) and Brown Pintail (right)

Some Patagonian Ducks

Along the way we saw rheas, guanocos and carracarras. The mountains appeared larger as we continued, and the red and gold Southern Beech trees which had been little more than scrub brush became taller now.

The rhea is a flightless bird related to the African ostrich and the Australian emu.

We passed Last Hope Sound, which actually opens to the ocean. Many bays in this part of Chile have discouraging names given by the early explorers, who struggled with the violent winds and rain.

We stopped in Puerto Natales where we photographed cormorants with mountains in the distance. We also had lunch in Puerto Natales - made-to-order sandwiches.

Many Imperial Cormorants made this old dock their home.

Shortly after Puerto Natales the pavement ended. We would not see paved roads again for many days. This was a state highway, so it was better maintained than the back roads - that means the road grader came by more often here. Our drivers drove quite fast, and seemed to be accustomed to the roads.

Through mid-day we drove on through gently rolling grass-land with scrub bushes and sagebrush, not unlike our American west. Gradually the red and gold Southern Beech became larger and more numerous.

Torres del Paine National Park

Chile's Flag

Torres del Paine National Park is huge, covering 630 square miles. It contains 11 lakes, 105 species of birds, 26 species of mammals and 12 glaciers. The Patagonia Icefield is the third greatest ice mass in the world after Antarctica and Greenland.

Welcome to National Park Torres del Paine

The bridge to Lago Grey Lodge where we were to stay had been weakened to the extent that our bus was unable to cross it. Therefore, we all got out in the dark where it was raining hard, and carrying our camera gear and personal items, walked across the bridge, where another bus from the lodge awaited us on the other side. Our main baggage was taken across on wheelbarrows by hand later. Evidently the second bus was marooned on the lodge side of the bridge when it was damaged.

Dinner was very late tonight, and I was grateful to these people for staying open waiting for us. Dessert was chocolate mousse, delicious. As we walked back to our rooms, we could see stars in the sky - a hopeful sign for tomorrow.

Saturday, April 22

Upon awakening, I felt nauseated, so did not go out photographing with the group. Instead I did a lot of reading, got some bottled water, and felt much better after a nap. At the lunchroom I had a small lunch.

The sun looked beautiful on the mountains so I took my tripod and camera gear out for a small walk. As I walked around, I saw the red fox, a rare and endangered species walking around the grounds, and was fortunate to get a few shots. In a little while another red fox appeared.

Chile's Red Fox is a rare and endangered species.

The kitchen workers saw me with my camera and pointed to a very large bird perched on a tall fence. They brought out some meat to feed it, and it stayed around for quite a while and didn't even budge when I walked past it just below its fence.

A Juvenile Black Chested Buzzard Eagle

Then the workers gestured excitedly toward a nearby tree, in which there was an adult black-chested buzzard eagle. He flew away soon, but I did get one shot of him.

The Adult Black-chested Buzzard Eagle

In the late morning I took my camera down to Lago Grey (Lake Grey)to photograph an iceberg floating in the lake. It was definitely blue. Although it was windy, I found a bit of shelter behind a small shed.

This beautiful iceberg was floating in the Lake Grey.

Behind this bright cloud over the mountain's summit, I could just image God giving the 10 Commandments to Moses.

In the mid-afternoon, I went out again and found the wind much stronger. Even in the shelter of a large tree, it was impossible to make the camera steady. Later, I learned that the wind speed was clocked at 90 KM/hour! I decided to remain indoors and instead tried a few pictures of the mountains through the window.

At the time I photographed this, I believed it was the back of Torres del Paine.

Lago Grey Lodge was a pretty place with strips of adjoining rooms, constructed on stilts. Evidently there is a lot of rain here, and the stilts keep the structures dry.

At dinner that night John Shaw told us about the VanOs trip to Snow Hill. Last year there were 100,000 penguins there, this year there were only 6. Imagine going so far at such expense to find nothing there to photograph!

Punta Arenas is 3000 Km from Santiago!

Sunday, April 23

This morning we saw a Chemonga Carracarra in flight. This is a different variety of carracarra than what we photographed at the Wildlife Preserve. On the hotel grounds we also saw a White Tufted Crested Grebe, an Upland Goose, and a Red-breasted Thrush, which looked much like a robin.

A male Upland Goose

We drove to an overlook where we could see Lago(Lake) Nordenskjold with a reflection of the Torres del Paine(Towers of Paine). It turned out that the postcard and popular view is reached only by a long and difficult trail, beyond the ability of most of us. We were happy to see the Towers reflected in the lake however.

Lago Nordenskjold looked both beautiful and mysterious, with the mountains reflected in it.

A native Patagonian grey fox came up to us, and walked around the area where we were photographing. He was noticably different in color from the rare red fox I had seen yesterday, and not the least afraid.

The common grey fox of Patagonia

Farther down the road we saw a herd of guanacos, another animal on my list of hoped-for photos. They were rather shy and the only way to get close was with a long lens. The guanaco and the vicuña of the high rugged mountain cliffs are the only native large mammals in South America. The Inca bred them and developed the domestic llama and alpaca, which are not native. To me, they typified South America.

The guanaco symbolizes South America, and is a camelid, related to the camel family.

There is little rain in Patagonia, so the guanacos have learned to subsist on harsh, dry plants.

This sharp thornbush does not appear to us to be particularly tasty.

Continuing down the road we stopped at another pull-off to admire the view of Torres del Paine. This was a particularly beautiful spot with the Paine River flowing through the valley below.

This was our first very good view of Torres del Paine. The left tower is 8550 feet tall, the middle tower 8400 feet, and the right 7800 feet.

Some vehicles pulled up and delivered box lunches for us all! Right in the middle of the wilderness! Talk about convenient! At the bottom of the hill we pulled off, received our lunches, and noticed the beautiful waterfall - Cascaides del Paine. It was sunny and warm so we sat on various rocks in the area to eat our lunches, and then photograph the lovely waterfall. I had seen pictures of it in my reading, and hoped to see it. I asked our driver the name of the waterfall and he replied "Cascaides del Paine." "Oh, Cascades of Paine" I replied. "You speak Spanish!" he said with obvious pleasure. I hated to disappoint him, but picturing the written words in my mind had made it evident.

The Cascaides del Paine

We stopped again to look at a marsh surrounded by sedges. The water was a lovely blue, which contrasted with the green of the fresh sedges, and yellow of the dried grass. At one point a guanaco walked past.

This rock with lichen growing on it, begins the transformation of rock to soil.

This is about as much of the Towers as the average tourist sees.

Before dinner, John explained some Photoshop tricks and some available programs. One was I VIEW MEDIA PRO, which is a program for cataloging our many digital photos. Another was the announcement that Adobe will come out with LIGHT ROOM, their version of Photoshop for nature photographers. I will wait until it's been out a while, but would like to get it.

Monday, April 24

Our accomodations here were at Pehoe Lodge, on an island in the middle of Lago Pehoe (Lake Pehoe). To reach the lodge, we walked over a wooden bridge(in the rain). What a pretty place! Our rooms were in an L-shaped motel-like arrangement. They were nice, and the best part was the lounge at the end of the hall, which had a viewing room looking out over the lake.

Pehoe Lodge.

I went out to see the view around the island, as John had recommended. At one end was the brightest rainbow I have ever seen! Not only was it bright, but it filled the entire scene in a 180 degree semi circle. I had only seen partial arcs before, but this was my first full rainbow. How exciting!

This very bright rainbow made a full half circle across the sky. Notice that the colors are reversed in the second rainbow as they always are.

After the rainbow faded, I went around to the other side of this small island and found the "Horns" of Torres del Paine. These are very rugged mountains.

"The Horns" of Torres del Paine

Today we drove on the only other "road" in the park, which led to a different area. We stopped to photograph 2 horses, which appeared to be wild. It was fun to watch people trying to photograph them, because as the people moved around for better lighting, the horses moved away. Eventually, Alejandro ran off to the side and tried to shoo the horses toward us. They responded by running away in the opposite direction. There was a deep drainage ditch between the road and the horses,and by the time I crossed it, the horses were already gone. Probably some other people got some nice images.

We stopped at another sedge pond which required climbing a small hill. Some of our more able members climbed the next hill as well for better views. While they were doing this, I photographed the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine), but found them somewhat hidden by clouds - a typical condition.

Sedges and Edges.

Torres del Paine

Later in the day we went to a place where the "Towers" could be reflected in some water. They did not form a silhouette, but were visible both in reality and in their reflection.

Torres del Paine Reflected.

As we were taking these pictures a guanaco walked past. Soon another guanaco came past walking quickly. Then another, and then a whole group. Eventually about thirty or more guanacos passed on the same strip of land, and the later ones were running!

We were late returning to the lodge, but dinner was at 7:30. I think most people went right to bed.

Tuesday, April 25

Today was to be an early start with our bags outside our door at 6:00 AM with breakfast at that time. Everyone made it.

On our way out of Torres del Paine we saw a beautiful sunrise developing, so we retraced our path back to the overlook at Lago Nordenskjold where we had seen the grey fox, and the nice reflections. The fox returned, probably hoping to be fed, but we were paying attention to the beautiful sunrise instead of him. It was windy and cool this morning, but the mountains were clear.

What a beautiful way this was to begin our day!

We drove to the Chile-Argentine border without incident. Leaving Chile was no problem at all. Alejandro was careful to remove any left-over food. The Argentine border was not far away, and there we filled out the required forms and got back on our 2 buses, thinking we were finished. Not so. The soldiers got on the bus and searched our carry-on bags, which were almost entirely camera equipment. Mine was first since I was in the front of the bus. The guard searched all the bags but did not confiscate anything. They seemed impressed by all our equipment.

It was convenient to have two 25 passenger buses for just the nine of us tour members, plus our two guides. Of course, there were to have been ten of us originally.

The paved roads in Argentina were the first we had been on since leaving Punta Arenas five days ago, and were a welcome change. Our drivers all had done an excellent job on the dirt roads and would go out of the way to avoid huge puddles and pot holes. One could distinguish the main roads from the side roads by the size of the rocks in road. On the main roads the rocks were smaller, but on some side roads, rocks could easily be as large as one's fist. The difference must have been how often the road grader went through.

The foothills of the Andes were barren of trees.

As we left the Andes Mountains, the land rapidly became first rolling, then flat. Trees were very few, and the growth that there was, was mostly scrub with small bushes that remembled sagebrush. Most of the land was used for cattle or sheep grazing.

At one point I saw a large group of several hundred sheep herded together, and watched over by two gauchos on horseback, and three sheep dogs. It seemed so typical of Patagonia.

These sheep had been rounded up for some purpose.

We followed Lago Argentino (Lake Argentina) for many miles. It is the largest lake in Patagonia.

Lago Argentino

At last we reached Perito Merino Glacier, our goal. A guide boarded our bus and explained some facts about the glacier.

Our guide for the glacier. He is drinking yerba matte. The leaves of a shrub belonging to holly berry family are ground into a greenish herb, and mixed with very hot water. The person drinks it through a bombilla (bom-BEE-yah), a metal straw with a perforated bulb at the bottom. It has a high caffeine content.

Perito Merino is a fast-moving glacier, traveling at the rate of one Meter (about 1 yard) per day. Its center moves faster than the sides, and it frequently "calves," meaning that pieces break off of it. When a glacier calves, it is very obvious announced with an extremely loud sharp C-R-A-C-K followed by a rumble which sounds like thunder. If it is breaking off from the upper part of the glacier it makes an enormous splash in its melt-water lake.

Perito Moreno is a fascinating glacier, and we were fortunate to approach so close to it.

Perito Moreno Glacier is 200 square miles in area, and advances about 8 feet per day. Its leading edge is 3-1/2 miles wide. It flows, like many other glaciers, off the Continental Sur, an icecap covering some 9,000 square miles, mostly in Chile. The entire ice field extends from latitude 47 to latitude 51, and is closer to the equator that any other ice field in the world. In the northern hemisphere, only Greenland and Iceland at 60 degrees north latitude have anything comparable.

This is panoramic picture of 2 pictures "stitched" together in the computer. The leading edge facing us is 3-1/2 miles across!

Perito Moreno Glacier was named for an Argentine naturalist, Francisco Moreno. In 1876 he led an expedition up the Santa Cruz River from the Atlantic Ocean to its source at the base of the Andes. It took 30 days to complete the 140 mile upstream portion, but with a fast current, only 3 days to return.

Some close up views of the glacier. The dark marks are debris that it picks up during its slide down the mountain. Notice the point of ice separated from the main part of the glacier. This may "calve" soon.

Of course, it was cold - with such a mass of ice direcly in front of us, what else would one expect?

Unlike most other glaciers, Perito Moreno is neither receeding nor advancing despite global warming. It is "balanced" so that its forward motion from additional snow is equal to the amount of ice lost by melting.

The end of the glacier is in some fairly shallow meltwater of Lago Argentino and the mainland is not far away. Sometimes the ice freezes right up to the mainland blocking one of the arms of Lago Argentino. The meltwater continues to build up behind the "ice dam" and the difference in height of the water on each side of the dam can be considerable. It has reached a difference of 25 feet in the past. Eventually, however, the great pressure of the water held back by the dam breaks through with a tremendous roar, and the water rushes through, enlarging the original opening even more. The most recent time this happened was in February of this year when the levels of the water differed by only 9 feet. I did see the glacier "calve" an enormous piece from its underwater portion. It did sound like a thunder crack, followed by the piece of ice rising to the surface of the water, spreading ripples all around. It was rather like the image of throwing a stone into the water; but in this case the object (the ice) came from underneath the water rather than from above it.

Back again on our buses, we continued to El Calafate, the closest town.

Our hotel was Tehuel Plaza, the nicest one of the entire trip (in my opinion). It was new, clean and beautiful. The Tehuel were a tribe of native people who lived in the area before the Europeans arrived. Many items around town had Indian names, and the hotel was decorated with Indian symbols and crafts, very tastefully presented. For all I know, maybe the Indians owned the hotel too. My room had THREE twin beds in it, with large decorative pillows with the hotel name arranged diagonally.

Wednesday, April 26

We were up early for a l-o-n-g drive to Fitz Roy. Breakfast included yogurt to drink! I had never seen drinkable yogurt. It was tasty and rather like our "smoothies."

We stopped for some nice light on the distant mountains, but it disappeared before anyone could get set up for pictures.

In the distance we could see the Fitz Roy Massif. It was named for the commander of The Beagle,on which Charles Darwin sailed around the world in 1834.

Our first look at the Fitz Roy Massif. Last years's tour never saw more than this, from what I hear.

We made a stop at the ridiculous "Hotel La Leona," The Hotel Lioness, which had the major distinction of having the only bathrooms for at least 100 miles in any direction.

The exterior of "La Leona Hotel."

To flush the toilet one pulled on a string attached to a lever on the toilet tank high above your head. Of course, all the tourist buses pulled in there, as we did. This place also had "atmosphere," which is what some people called it. There was no other building in sight. No one wanted to spend much time here, so we quickly boarded our buses and got back on the road.

The interior of "La Leona Hotel. The postcards were $2.00 each.

We made another stop to try to photograph the Fitz Roy Massif. Although we could see the side peaks, the main summit remained shrouded in clouds. It is so high that it makes its own weather, and just when it appeared about to clear, another cloud would form. We tried to photograph it using scenic foregrounds for interest. We also learned that last year's tour never did see the summit of Fitz Roy. Not a good history.

Fitz Roy seemed so huge and so beautiful, yet so distant. Would we ever see it clearly?

As we neared El Chalten, we stopped at little park with pretty red and gold southern beach trees, most of them 10-15 feet tall. There was a thin, pretty waterfall there, "Chorrillo del Salto," or "Falls of the Little River."

Chorrillo del Salto

We walked through the area which was filled with huge boulders, surrounded by smaller boulders. I asked if this was a dumping ground for some sort of construction project, but was told this was entirely natural. I don't see this park being taken over for a mall in the future. It was necessary to be extremely careful when walking around, so as not to twist an ankle or break a leg. Fortunately no one was harmed.

Some old trees amid the boulder piles.

At dinner John showed us how to stitch panoramas using blending mode, or black point, white point.

Thursday, April 27

Although the sky was cloudy this morning, Fitz Roy Massif was clear. Our group split up for the first time. Five people wanted to take the strenuous hike with a park ranger, and four of us preferred not to go.

One of our drivers, Pedro, drove us to a viewpoint not far out of town to see the Fitz Roy Massif. The first thing we saw was a Patagonian skunk, which immediately ran away. I was not sorry to miss that photo. It was so beautiful to see all of the rock! We were in a field, and walked around photographing from every angle, congratulating ourselves on being able to see the mountain at all, as we remembered last year's trip which never saw it.

There were beautiful mountains in every direction.

We stopped for a view of the lovely trees across the river from the town itself. They had especially good color.

Some of us walked back to town, stopping for a picture of the welcome sign.

Although all the signs were in Spanish, it was possible to get an idea of their message.

A few of us walked around the town of El Chalten, which did not take long. It was raining lightly by now. The town had not one inch of pavement, but a number of good-sized rocks. There was a great deal of construction taking place, much of which was of very poor quality. Even the corrugated metal roof on our motel was being replaced, which was fortunate, because one member of our party was rained out of his room when the roof leaked.

The Main Street of El Chalten.

We did stop at a bakery which offered some very good cookies. At an internet cafe I found some post cards to send. These were intended for people who do not live in the Cleveland area, and would receive them a long time after I returned home. No stamps to mail them with were ever found.

The bakery was adding an upper floor with the worst construction I have ever seen. Their bakery was delicious though.

Those of us who had not taken the hike, went to lunch at the La Casita across the street, and were glad we did, because the rain now changed to snow; falling heavily and accumulating on grassy areas and later on all surfaces. Our hikers returned wet and tired, but pleased with their pictures, which made it all worthwhile. They had also encountered the snow, and were glad to be back.

In the afternoon John got out his laptop and taught us more about using Photoshop. I admire his skill at putting on a worthwhile production with no preparation time or notice. He may already have everything in his laptop computer that he needs, but he is so familiar with the material that he can simply open his computer and teach lessons. He answered questions along the way as well, and I admit I asked a lot of them. Hope you didn't mind, John.

In the evening we went to a different restaurant only a few buildings down the street. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was glad of waterproof hiking boots that evening for walking down the "street." The Patagonian stew at this place was good, but different.

Friday, April 28

After breakfast we drove to our favorite viewing area, but Fitz Roy was covered with many clouds. I was glad we had at least something from yesterday.

We drove along until we saw a herd of horses. We thought they might be wild, until someone noticed that two of them were hitched together. We all jumped out with our photo gear for some great photos of real Argentinian horses. John walked up to one horse, and began quietly talking to it. The horse came closer to him, and eventually allowed John to pat him, while continuing to talk calmly to it. When John turned around and walked away, the horse followed him. We called him "The Horse Whisperer."

Our favorite "horse whisperer."

Although I don't know much about horses, these animals looked good to me. I was surprised that they were just wandering around on their own.

We continued to the Visitor Center of this National Park. Although small it was well done. A very interesting movie was shown about the exploration of the park, and the ice field from which it comes. To my amazement the first explorers to study and map the ice field took along surplus parachutes, left over from WW II. On their return trip they unfolded the parachutes and allowed themselves to be pulled along on their skiis. One day they covered forty miles! And this was in 1946! The area had not been previously surveyed. Another interesting feature was a relief map as a model showing the heights of prominent peaks, and the names of glaciers. I was astonished at the size of the ice cap!

There were some red and gold beech trees outside the visitor center, so we climbed a small hill and photographed the Fitz Roy Massif and Cerro Torre through the tree tops. It made an interesting foreground to the pictures.

Looking at Fitz Roy Massif through the trees gave it a very different perspective.

Lunch was at El Casita's again. We liked their food, their waitress, and the convenience of just walking across the street. By this time we had all learned how to order "Agua, sin gas," meaning water without carbonation.

We stopped along the road to view Condor Lake. It had the prettiest red and gold beech trees. It was also very windy, and those leaves were moving quickly.

Condor Lake was nearing the completion of its autumn colors.

We returned once again to our favorite mountain-viewing area, but again Fitz Roy was cloud covered.

We returned to town, and went through and out the other side to our morning viewing area.

The Sinsuous River

The clouds of daytime turned beautiful at sunset with a silhouette of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. As soon as the sun set, it turned cold.

Mountains look so majestic with special light on them. Cerro Torre is 9384 feet high.

Dinner had some good stories.

Saturday, April 29

Fitz Roy Massif before any real light was exquisitely beautiful. It was still so dark that the camera's shutter stayed open a long time to collect enough light to look like day. I set my exposure to -2 to make it appear like night-time.

Before dawn broke.

Then as first light hit them...

Quickly the sun became brighter, and then appeared the pink light of dawn - just exactly when we needed it! All of us shot as fast as possible with as many variations as we could think of, in order to record as many variations of the scene as possible. Not only Fitz Roy Massif, but Cerro Torre was beautiful too. Soon John said it would be safe to use a polarizer, but my photos with it turned out much too dark. It was fortunate that I did not take many. John also said he had never seen these mountains so beautifully lit. What a special time to remember forever!

First light of dawn on the Fitz Roy Massif, 10,125 feet high

These pink lenticular clouds were unique and beautiful.

As we were making a turn onto another road someone called out how beautiful the grasses were in the early morning light. We stopped and hurried to set up again for another round of pictures in very different lighting. What a morning of opportunity this was!

Even the grasses were lovely in the morning light which had now become golden.

This morning certainly had been a marvelous experience for us all.

As everyone was enthusiastically discussing our experience, I felt compelled to tell them why it happened as it did: my friend and high school classmate, Sister Mary Benedict, had told me she would pray for our trip. I knew she would, and when I later told her about our extraordinary experience she admitted she had indeed been praying for us. When Sister Benedict prays; even God listens! Nor is this the first time I've seen this result.

We were on our way now to Puerto Natales, and someone asked to make a stop at a pretty little stream John had photographed last year which had been published in the catalog. He was able to relocate the stream, and we all piled out again. (We never lose our enthusiasm for photography.) It was still so early in the day that our shadows kept appearing in our pictures, but we tried to work around it. The unnamed stream was indeed a pretty one.

It was now already 10:30 AM with many kilometers to go. It was necessary to reach the Argentinian border before it closed at 5:00 PM (17:00 hours their time).

Almost all the remainder of the trip was on regional highways which were dirt roads. On the most important highways, the road grader scraped a little wider, which made only a scant difference.

At one of our few rest stops (no facilities) I noticed a very battered car parked near our buses. It was literally held together by tape. I also noticed the license plate which began with "ZO......" Since it was the first two letters of my name it attracted my attention.

It was surprizing that this car was able to move at all, but when it passed us at a high rate of speed, it was astonishing! We were going 90 Km/hr as it was!

At our rest stop at LaLeona Hotel, it had lost its uniqueness for us. We just visited the baños, picked up water bottles and left.

Beautiful Lago Azule created a fair number of pictures.

At dinner, someone asked Alejandro what there was to see in Argentina besides Iguazu Falls. Among sights he mentioned was Mt. Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere at 22,834 feet, even higher than Mt. McKinley in Alaska. In my pre-trip readings, a book about Chile, claimed that the mountain is in Chile, so I asked Alejandro about this. He replied that Chile and Argentina have been fighting over the border for many years and this area is one under dispute.

These beautiful lenticular clouds form in late afternoon usually in mountainous regions. One could easily be mistaken for a flying saucer.

We made it on time to the Argentina border and found it jammed with people with a line out the door of the small office. Somehow our leaders got us through ahead of other people, but it still took quite a while and we needed to get through the Chilean border before it closed as well.We did make it through, although it required an hour and a half to do so.

It was a long drive to Puerto Natales and our Black Necked Swan Hotel, but nobody complained. Our morning light and gorgeous scenery made it all worthwhile.

Sunday, April 30

We were up at 6:00 AM next morning for good light at Puerto Natales Harbor. The light turned beautiful too, first with pink light on the mountains, and then brilliant sunshine on some boats in the harbor. It was very cold so early, and many of us were dressed for our homeward flights in lightweight clothes. Shivering did not make for clear pictures, and my tripod was already buried in my luggage for check-in. It was another beautiful opportunity.

These fishing boats were shining brilliantly in the morning sun.

This cascarovas swan reflected in the pink light of early morning.

We headed for some hard driving now, to make the Punta Arenas airport on time for the one flight that all of us had to make. To their credit, our drivers drove very well. At one point, I sat up front with our driver hoping for a shot through the front windshield of a rhea. At one point we saw a conservatory where rheas were being raised, but when we stopped the bus, they ran away as soon as they saw us.

We arrived in Punta Arenas airport on time, (Whew!)and had time to spare drinking coffee or hot chocolate (it was good). It seemed only yesterday that we had arrived as 9 people from 4 different countries, and now we were parting as friends. The flight was full, with the usual screaming child a couple rows ahead, who actually kept it up the whole 4 hours to Santiago.

The flight from Puerto Montt to Santiago was uneventful, thankfully. With 4 hours to wait for the flight to Atlanta, Georgia, a friend and I took turns watching our baggage while the other went to spend any left-over peso. An airport is well known as the worst place to shop, but there had been no previous opportunity, and I didn't want to take home pesos that I could not spend here.

Eventually we boarded our 767-200 plane. I liked the map showing our progress to our destination, our estimated time of arrival, the altitude, speed and outside air temperature. There were few people in coach, so I sat in the middle seat of the 2-3-2 seating arrangement, put my tote bag on one outside seat, and camera bag on the other outside seat to make it appear that they were occupied. Nobody claimed those seats, so once again, I pushed up the arm rests and lay down across all 3 seats. Unfortunately I did not sleep well anyway.

Monday, May 1

It was morning when we landed in Atlanta and I had a 5 hour wait for my flight to Cleveland. It was difficult to say goodbye to the last member of the trip; and now I was alone. It seemed a very, very long wait, but at least the plane was on time.

Things in Cleveland went smoothly too. I claimed my rolling duffle bag, grateful again to not have to carry it, and went out to the curb on a lovely, warm day. Soon the circle bus came by to take me to my car. They actually had it waiting for me, having been alerted by the driver who called in my claim ticket number. What a nice surprise!

Evidently no one paid attention to my itinerary, for my friend called me even before I had my bags in the house. She thought I had come home last week. My son and grandson came to cut my lawn, which really needed it, not realizing that I was already home. I was grateful for one less chore to accomplish.

What a wonderful adventure this has been! I had never been to a "developing country" before, and had many misgivings about all the warnings. I followed them and never did have a serious problem. I especially enjoyed all the new friends I now have in so many different places.

We all know that "there's one in every crowd", who makes things difficult for everyone else. Whoever it was on this trip didn't come, because this was a most congenial group. I NEVER heard anyone complain about anything, and that's a long time for a group of people who had never met each other. Everyone was on time for everything, and we never had to wait for anyone. This was an extremely well-run adventure, and I'm sure it was due to a lot of support that we were unaware of. I'm sure all of us will remember the sunrise at Fitz Roy Massif for a very long time, as a highlight of the trip on our very last day of shooting. Thank you to all of my fellow travelers.


Click here to read about my adventure in Switzerland

Click here to read about my trip to Africa

Click here to read about my trip in Italy

Click here to read about my tale of two cities: London and Paris

Click here to read about my journey to the Hawaiian Islands



The Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range on any continent, stretching 5500 miles, about as far as from New York to Moscow! The South America tectonic plate drifts westward, while the Nazca Plate is forced eastward. The heavy basaltic sea floor is forced under the floating South American plate at the subduction zone. The seafloor plunge is 25,000 feet below the continent, where it vanishes. The force of its subduction has pushed up what we now call the Andes. The mountains extend as far below the surface as they are tall above it.

Northern Chile is dominated by the Atacama Desert, some parts of which have never had a drop of rain. It has large desposits of nitrates and copper.

Central Chile enjoys a pleasent climate and fertile soil. Eighty percent of the people live here in the heartland. Santiago has a population of 5.2 million people. Like California's Central Valley, this area is green and highly cultivated.

Southern Chile experiences fierce winds, icy temperatures and rough seas. These conditions were named by old time sailors as "The Roaring Forties," at the 40th parallel south.

Cape Horn is the southernmost point. Mapuche (mah-POO-chay)Indians live in Punta Arenas on the Straits of Magellen. The Straits of Magellen were an important passageway from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean until the Panama Canal was opened in 1914.

Tierra del Fuego also on the Straits of Magellen is an island divided with Argentina.

Chile is the longest country in the world. It is 2,700 miles long and only 110 miles wide at its widest point. It is slightly larger than Texas with 292,000 square miles.

Chile also owns Easter Island, one of the world's most isolated islands. It contains more than 600 carved human-like figures called Moais, dating back to 900 AD. They have elongated heads, protruding eyebrows and chins and small mouths. The largest statue weighs 140 tons and is 70 feet high.

Chile also owns Robinson Crusoe Island. In 1704 Alexander Selkirk, who was not shipwrecked, was put off the ship for criticizing the condition of the boat. He changed his mind when he got close to land, but the captain would not take him back. Not long afterward, the ship sank. Selkirk was rescued after 4 years. He went back to sea, in 1717 and died of a fever in 1723.

The weather is characterized by extremes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. More than 100 earthquakes have been recorded since 1575, sometimes followed by tsunamis. Valpariso and Conception have been repeatedly damaged by natural disasters.

There are many mountains in Chile. Mount Ojos del Salado is 22,539 feet high or 2219 feet above Mount McKinley (Denali) in Alaska.

People who live in the mountainous areas have adapted with larger lungs and more blood. Their hearts are 20% larger than people who live at lower elevations.

At the higher altitudes live the guanaco, llamas, alpacas and vicuñas. All of these are members of the camelid family, and have lived in South America 2 to 3 million years. Only the guanaco and vicuña are native to this region, however. The llamas and alpacas were developed by cross-breeding


In the early 1400's the Incas claimed the northern half of the Central Valley. Attempts to claim more land were foiled by the Mapuche Indians who resisted fiercely. They were the only Indians not defeated by the Spaniards. The Indians stole the Spanish horses and used them to raid Spanish towns.

Magellan was the first European to sail through the Straits of Magellan, and the first to see Tiera del Fuego.

Santiago was founded by Spaniard Pedro Valvida in 1541. He was later murdered by the Mapuche Indians. He gave much agricultural land in Chile to his soldiers, and gave Indian slaves to farm it. Each hacienda or fundo (FOON-doh) was an independent society with its own store, church and sometimes school. Landowners participated in rodeos and festivals with the Indians to keep them loyal. In the mid 16th century there were 1 million Indians.

Santiago was not as sophisticated as the Inca cities, because these Indians did not have advanced tools. In the mid 17th century they signed a peace treaty, but the fighting was not really stopped until the late 1800's.

During the colonial period, Chile was run by a governor who answered to the viceroyalty of Peru in Lima. They were forbidden to trade with other Spanish colonies, and had many restrictions. The landowners gradually lost their loyalty to Spain which had little interest in the land which had so little gold, and Indians who would not be beaten.

Early in the 19th century Spain controlled territory from California to Cape Horn; from the Pacific to the mouth of Venezuela's Orinoco River. Twenty years later only Cuba and Puerto Rico were left. Spanish children born in the New World felt more South American than Spanish. In 1817 José de San Martin brought freedom from Spain, and the date September 18th is still celebrated today.

In the 19th century Chile won the War of the Pacific against Peru and Bolivia; and thereby expanded its territory to include the Atacama Desert with its rich resources of nitrates and copper. The mining industry created jobs for a new middle class. When President Balmaceda in 1886 tried to put some wealth into the middle class, the upper class and British disliked these policies, and he was deposed in 1891. Again, civil war killed 10,000 Chileans.

During the period of 1883 to 1901 only 36,000 Europeans immigrated to Chile. During that same time more Europeans came to the US in a single month.

In 1940 women were first allowed to vote.

In 1973 to 89 Pinochet terminated Congress, suspended the constitution, curbed freedom of the press, banned political parties, burned books opposing himself, and many thousands of people disappeared.

In 1990 democracy was restored.

The Mapuche Indians are the only tribe in North or South America to never surrender. They just stopped fighting. The Spanish conquest brought smallpox, slavery and war. Several tribes: the Ona, Yagan, and Diaguita were completely wiped out.

The Mapuche are a tight community, speaking Spanish only when necessary. They feel badly treated because the government gave them inadequate portions of land to farm. The are impoverished, have inadequate medical care and no opportunity to advance.


Fr. Alberto Hurtado (1902-1952) took in homeless children and started Chile's most important charity, Hogar de Cristo. He was recently canonized a saint.

Pope John Paul visited Santiago in 1987.

During the military rule, the Church provided lunches to 30,000 children, vocational training for adults, and assistance to small farmers and the unemployed.



Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world, and the second largest in South America after Brazil. Its land mass is almost 1.1 million square miles, and its width is 868 miles at its broadest point. It also has the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere; Mount Aconcagua at 22,834 feet high, even taller than Mount McKinley in Alaska.

Northern Argentina contains fairly heavily forested lowlands with few people. Some areas are swampy, while others experience drought with dry winters and hot, humid summers.

Between the Parana and Uruguay Rivers are grassy plains, with some swamps. Ranchers raise cattle, horses and sheep. Farmers grow flax, wheat and fruits.

Misiones Provence in the northeast has heavy rainfalls and thick forests. The name of Iguazu Falls near the Brazilian border, is taken from the Indian word meaning "great water." It consists of 275 waterfalls which surround an 8100 foot wide arc in the Iguazu River. The average fall is 270 feet wide, the largest, "Devil's Throat," at 350 feet. Two parks protect the falls: Argentina has 132,500 acres of tropical jungle, while Brazil controls the rest. Iguazu Falls is a World Heritage site. (UNESCO)

Two thirds of the Argentian population lives in the pampas. The main economic activity is here, as well as the capitol, Buenos Aires. The region is a flat fertile plain with a temperate climate, covering one fifth of the Argentine land mass.

Central Argentina extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes Mountains. It is very flat and is used to grow wheat, corn, flax and alfalfa. It receives about 40 inches of rain, but the western plains are drier and used to raise vast herds of cattle.

Only 15% of the population lives in the Andes, although just east of the Andes lies Piedmont, where farmers grow crops. There are low mountains and desert valleys which are good for the wine industry.

The Uspallata Pass leads into Chile at an altitude of 12,600 feet.

The drainage patterns of Argentina are very much affected by the height of the Andes. In the south a number of lakes empty into the Pacific Ocean through Chile. After heavy rains they empty into the Atlantic because they are on top of the continental divide.


Argentine Patagonia is characterized by dry, windswept plateaus, deep canyons and cool deserts. Western Patagonia has beautiful resort areas around lakes and mountains. There is almost no summer, because the ocean currents moderate winter temperatures. Only 1-3% of the population lives in Patagonia.

Tierra del Fuego, which means "Land of Fire" was named by Magellan for the Indian campfires he saw all along the shoreline of his Strait. One third of Tierra del Fuego is in Argentina, and the rest in Chile.

In the 1880's Europeans built large ranches for sheep and irrigated farmlands.


In 1527 Sebastian Cabot, an Italian, founded the first European settlement near Rosario.

In 1810 Argentina declared its independence from Spain, but the king refused to acknowledge it.

In 1816 General José San Martin led the fight for independence from Spain. He led his troops across the Andes into Chile and drove out the Spanish troops. Chile and Peru later ended Spanish domination in South America.

In 1853 a constitution was drawn up, based on the US model.

In 1860 Argentina adopted its present name from the Latin "Argentum" for silver.

From 1946 to 1955 Peron was the dictator of Argentina. His Peronist party still exists. They ignored civil liberties, altered the constitution to give himself more power, and left a legacy of debt and inflation. In 1973 he returned from exile, and named his 3rd wife, Isabella, vice president. Inflation rose 400% and many terrorist acts were committed.

In 1976 the "Dirty War" began. Military leaders arrested Isabella Peron, seized the government, dissolved congress and outlawed all political parties. They kidnapped and killed many innocent victims and buried them in mass graves. 9,000 Argentines "disappeared" during the "Dirty War." During the "Dirty War" Mothers marched in the Plaza de Mayo carrying signs with the names of missing loved ones in order to hold the government accountable for their "disappearence."

In 1982 Argentina and England fought the Falklands War. The Falkland Islands are 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, and were owned by the British. Argentina and Great Britian fought for 72 days, killing 2,000 people.


Argentina has 6 year round stations and 7 summer stations in Antarctica. It claims territory in Antarctica along with Australia, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. They signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1951, which was strengthened in 1991 to protect the continent as a place for peace and science.


There are 37 million people in Argentina. 85% of them are European, mostly Italian and Spanish. The largest ethnic group of Italians settled around Buenos Aires.

One million Europeans came to Argentina after WWII, and more recently people have come from Korea and Southeast Asia.

Criollos (Kree-OH-yohs) are people born to Spanish parents in Argentina.


A gaucho is a South American cowboy, most likely a mestizo (mixed European and Indian descent). They are excellent horsemen, and can find their way on plains, determine whether water is nearby or not by chewing grass, tell directions from the grass, and count the number of riders by the sounds of the horses' hooves. They lead a rugged life with few comforts. There are few gauchos now, but they work on the pampas driving tractors, repairing engines and vaccinating cattle.


Beccaceci, Maracello.Natural Patagonia, Argentina and Chile (Pangaea 1998).

Chiappe, Luis M.and Lowell Dingus.Walking on Eggs: The Astonishing Discovery of Thousands of Dinosaur Eggs In The Badlands of Patagonia (New York: Scribner, 2001).

Gofen, Ethel Caro, and Leslie Jermyn.Cultures of the World: Argentina (Malaysia:Times Media Private Limited, 2002).

Kohen, Jane and Susan Roraff. Cultures of the World: Chile (New York: Benchmark Books Marshall Cavendish, 2002).

McEwan,Colin and Luis Borrero and Alfredo Prieto.Patagonia: Natural History, Prehistory and Ethnography at the Uttermost End of the Earth (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 1997).

Roy,Tui de.The Andes as the Condor Flies (Buffalo, NY:Firefly Books).

Wheeler, Sara. Travels In A Thin Country (New York:Random House, 1994).

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