Monday, March 24:
We awoke to a magnificent sunrise, easily the loveliest I have ever seen, and I rushed outside in a t-shirt and sweats to capture it before it faded.
As I trotted along the Rio Serrano looking for the best vantage, I noticed a bird shape in the water that looked new. After shooting my fill of the sunrise I returned to find a Great Grebe (LIFER!) with a chick. Alas, there wasn’t nearly enough light for a photo of this lovely bird, and even if there had been, it would have been coming from the wrong direction anyhow. Not that I can complain too much about a world-class sunrise and a cool bird within 5 minutes of waking up :)
After one last buffet breakfast we checked out of the Cabañas del Paine and drove back toward Puerto Natales. Taking the road we should have driven in on was at least an hour faster than the way we’d come in, but it was a great detour, and I’m glad we wound up taking the long way.
The Magellanic Society Building in Puerto Natales
In Puerto Natales, Sarah & I did a little souvenier shopping and we got some much-needed gasoline. Our “lovely” Pathfinder required nearly US$80 of gas to fill up, but these were our last two driving days. I would not be sorry when we returned the vehicle the following day!
Puerto Natales church
With that, it was time to head to the southernmost point of our trip, Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in continental Chile (Tierra del Fuego, the south-most place in South America, is a large island, jointly owned by Argentina & Chile).
Just out of town on RN9 I spotted a roadside shrine to the Argentine folk saint Difunta Correa. Our guidebook mentioned this shrine, and it was an unusual one to say the least! Surrounding several small shrines were hundreds, if not thousands of 2-liter plastic bottles.
I was curious about the background of this folk saint, and as usual, Wikipedia came through with the following:
According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around the year 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneras [partisans]. In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took her baby child and followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province. When her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle through, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the deceased woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast.
From the same article, the bottles of water are offerings “to calm her eternal thirst.”
Lesser Rhea and sheep
For the next hour or so we drove south through mostly featureless landscapes dotted only with the occasional Rhea and sheep, eventually turning off onto the dirt road to Rio Verde, the estancia we were staying the night at.
Road to Rio Verde
Things picked up considerably here, as the terrain turned to rolling hills and we spotted several Andean Condors overhead.
Lesser Rhea / Ñandú
Before long we arrived at Rio Verde, a lovely working farm near the shores of Seno Skyring. The gracious owner, a woman from Uruguay, showed us to our rooms, which we got to pick out, since there was nobody else staying at this ~20 room inn!
We had wine and bread, then walked the grounds a bit to stretch our legs. Three adorable puppies came out of holes in the ground, and followed us everywhere, nipping at our heels and being generally cute.
It started to rain earnestly, so we headed back toward the guest house. On the way we were amused to watch the puppies completely fail to navigate a cattle crossing, falling face-first and having not the least idea why.
Dark-bellied Cinclodes / Churrete Común
We had bread and a glass of wine, and out the window I saw a mockingbird-like bird, which (after asking the helpful folks at BirdForum) turned out to be a Dark-bellied Cinclodes (LIFER!).
Flightless Steamer-Ducks / Quetru No Volador
The proprietor of Rio Verde suggested we drive north along the shores of Seno Skyring for birdwatching, and so we did, seeing Crested Ducks, Speckled Teal, the ubiquitous Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, Chimango and Crested Caracaras, Imperial Cormorants, Kelp Gulls and a pair of Flightless Steamer-Ducks (LIFER!). The latter are funny, fat birds, who cannot fly, but flap their stubs as they scoot across the water, which is referred to as “steaming,” hence their name.
Light was getting low, so we headed back, having not found the bluff where the woman suggested we look for Terns, although something bluff-like was a ways off across a fenced-off field.
Back at the farm we had a fabulous dinner of Pisco Sours, crab crepes, Chilean Shepherds Pie and rum cake, then settled into our rustic, comfortable rooms for a good night’s sleep. Any thoughts of staying up and reading were dashed by the fact that the electricity is only on from 7:30pm-11pm :)
Tuesday, March 25:
We woke with the sun and had a tasty breakfast of eggs toast and coffee, then visited the small Rio Verde Museum, located right next door to the Estancia Posada Rio Verde – the owner of the estancia has the key, and showed us around. There wasn’t much there, but a display of dusty stuffed birds was neat to see, especially the Magellanic Woodpecker, one of my target birds for this trip, and one we had not seen.
After yesterday’s puppies, today we had kittens, a good half-dozen or so hiding and playing in the grass by the buildings. The owner pointed out the bluff she’d mentioned the previous day, and it was the one we’d seen – little did we know that all of the lands around here are part of the estancia, and it’s perfectly fine to open gates and go wherever we wanted, so long as we left gates how we found them.
Imperial Cormorant / Cormorán Imperial
We drove to the base of the bluff, then walked up it. It was much as I imagine New Zealand to be – spongy turf, a heavy surf crashing into the rocks, high, chilly winds, and lots of sheep. Not many birds, though, with mainly a bunch of Imperial Cormorants, which did some nice fly-by’s.
Much like our backcountry excursion in El Calafate, there were a great many sheep skeletons on the ground. Since it was chilly and not particularly birdy, we didn’t spend much time here, and soon drove back to the estancia, checked out, and continued on our way south.
Andean Condor / Condór
The proprietor of Estancia Rio Verde advised us to keep an eye out for condors as we drove south, as they hang out at a set of bluffs, and sure enough, several of these magnificent, enormous birds treated us to slow and close fly-bys.
Austral Parakeets / Cachaña
One last treat before we rejoined the paved main road to Punta Arenas was a flock of noisy Austral Parakeets, barely visible in the above photo.
Before long we arrived in Punta Arenas, at over 100,000 people, the largest city (by far) in Patagonia. We checked into our hotel then went downtown to see what was afoot. Not much, as it was siesta-time, and the few shops that were open were pretty junky. We had a very greasy lunch at the bewilderingly-popular Lomit’s, and then it was time to head to the port for our cruise to Isla Magdalena, home to thousands of Magellanic Penguins, but that story will wait until my next post.
Part 1: Getting to Patagonia
Part 2: El Calafate & Laguna Nimez
Part 3: Glaciar Perito Moreno
Part 4: El Calafate backcountry excursion
Part 5: Goodbye Argentina, hello Chile
Part 6: To Torres del Paine!
Part 7: Lago Pehoe and Paine Grande
Part 8: Mirador los Cuernos
Part 9: To Rio Verde and Punta Arenas<– You are here!
Part 10: Pelagic, Penguins, and farewell to Patagonia
Part 11: To Buenos Aires!
Part 12: BsAs’ Sunday markets and other diversions
Part 13: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Part 14: Buenos Aires’ Jardin Botanico and Costanera Sur
Part 15: There’s no place like home