Ancient hunter's trail

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CHILE

“LAGO SARMIENTO”
DAY TREK

March 2014 • Canon 60D camera • iPhone 4S


Itried to wake up early this morning to get some photos of sunrise at the campsite. Just made the end of it so did not get much. The night before we stayed up quite late. Antonio and Rodrigo got out the guitar and started singing songs. Naturally the rest of us joined in on the singing. After our final breakfast at the campsite, we packed our bags and tent and jumped onto a mini van to take us to Porteria Lago Sarmiento. Here we would catch a public bus back to civilization, to the town of Punta Arenas. I have to say I was sad to leave. There was still so much to do in the park and I thoroughly enjoyed camping in this natural wonderland. Before we left the park we had one more hike to do this morning before catching our bus.

From Porteria Lago Sarmiento there was a trail to another Porteria at Laguna Amarga. On this hike you could see the Park's wildlife of animals and birds. Also what was special on this trail was the opportunity to visit a cave with paintings from the native Indians that lived here some 6,000 years ago. We did not have time to complete the full trail and back, so the plan for this morning was to hike up to the cave and come back. It was another glorious hot and sunny day with blue skies. Not very windy which was a bonus. Rodrigo our tour leader did not go on the hike with us, opting to look after our backpacks while we hiked. Antonio our tour guide in the park lead the way. We started climbing up a steep hill before arriving at a flat open plain.


Lesser Rhea

(Rhea pennata)

The Sun was burning down on us. I did not have a hat to shield me from the sun so it was at times uncomfortable having the heat of the sun on your head. The ground was soft and in some places like marshes that we had to walk around. Most likely melted snow the day before. We got our first glimpse of wildlife in the form of the Lesser Rhea, which is also known as Darwins's Rhea.

These were large Ostrich size birds. Weighing around 35–55 lbs and have spotted brown, grey and white feathers. Although Rheas do not fly, they can sprint at speeds over 35 mph. They did not seem to be bothered by us and carried on walking or eating. They are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


Guanacos

(Lama guanicoe)

Above us we spotted condors from time to time soaring through the sky. At one point we walked past a small lake with wild Chilean Flamingos. This trail also produced one of the most common mammals in the park, the Guanacos. They are a camel like mammal similar to Llama's, with a dark brown colour and pale chest, belly and inner legs.

Their head is grey compared to the rest of their body. The Guanacos were funny as they would sometimes be standing still like they were posing. It was almost as if they knew you wanted to take pictures of them. They are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


Did you know...

Charles Dawin was on the hunt for the fabled Lesser Rhea for months when he visited Patagonia in 1834. He eventually recognized the bird on his dinner plate one evening after nearly eating it. Spotting something was not right, he quickly put together the bones on his plate. He confirmed with the help of ornithologist John Gould back in London, he had finally found the lesser Rhea.





And in the background of the photos with the Guanacos was the snow capped mountain of Alimirante Nietro that we got a closer look yesterday. Here was another view dramatic view of the mountain with swirling low level clouds. The hike was long but gentle and easy.

We were surrounded by low level hills with no trees around. Just small bushes with occasional rock formations. It was also very quiet on this trail. We did not spot anyway in fact for a very long time.


We finally arrived at a very rocky area where Antonio said the cave paintings were up a massive rocky mountain. There was a trail that we could hike up to the top. As we went up and looked back we had an amazing view of where we had walked. I was looking forward to see the cave paintings. I was expecting some big cave that we would have to walk into the mountain. As usual I let my wild imagination get the best of me. At the top was a small carving into the rock face that revealed a small collection of paintings. A hand and some animals.

It was out in the open and unprotected. I was surprised that they did not protect the paint from the natural environment to preserve it. The painting were some 6,000 years old from the Tehuelche people. They were hunter–gatherers that lived a nomadic life. The view from up here was amazing. Gorgeous panoramic views of the whole area. We stopped here at the top to take a break and have something to eat and drink. Blue skies, sun and no wind. It was calm and peaceful. We then made our way back the same way we came.


Punta Arenas



Hotel Patagonia B&B

Av. EspaƱa 1048, Punta Arenas
+56 61 227243
www.patagoniabb.cl


La marmita

Plaza Sampaio 678, Punta Arenas
+56 61 222 2056
www.marmitamaga.cl

By the time we got back to the start we were all tired due to the heat of the sun. We had a short rest at the bus stop before catching our bus to Punta Arenas with a connecting transfer at Puerto Natales. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. The Hotel Patagonia B&B was amazing. Nice and clean with friendly staff. It was exactly what we all needed ofter 3 days camping. After a short rest and a warm bath I joined the rest of my tour group to go celebrates Sara's birthday today. I was surprised about how European the city felt as we walked to the restaurant this evening. The architecture and roads were like they were copied from somewhere in Europe. Rodrigo told us that there was a strong Croatian community here, dating back to the 1880's, hence the European feel.

Birthday celebrations were at a charming restaurant called La Marmita. They had all kinds of home–styled Chilean dishes from casseroles and seafood to fresh bread and tasty deserts. We all tucked into a 3 course meal. The staff also had a surprise birthday cake for Sara... well a plate of 3 deserts with some sparkle lights which was nice and we all sang happy birthday. It was an enjoyable end to a very long and memorable day.

Final thoughts

The hike was well worth doing to see some of the natural wildlife in the Torres del Paine National Park. We were blessed with amazing sunny weather, but as you know the weather can change drastically for the worse so come prepared. If the weather turns bad on this trek you will be exposed for a long time due t the open plains. Although I was sad to leave the campsite it was pure bliss to sleep in a nice comfortable bed in Punta Arenas after 3 nights in a tent.

It was our last night in Chile and all I can say is that the Torres del Paine National Park is a must to visit. So many wonderful natural sights to see and camping there will only make the experience more memorable. Tomorrow we head of back into Argentina to Ushuaia for a chance to go on the Beagle channel cruise and a chance to walk with penguins. I can't wait...





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