Wow. This is some place. It’s a bit of a struggle to know where to look next. To check out another nugget of wildlife unfamiliar to visitors from little England, or stand agape at the mountains of Torres de Paine which rise up almost vertically to over 8,000 ft. Not a bad backdrop for a spot of kayaking.
This was my first experience of kayaking in Chile, and my first in South America. And my first in the southern hemisphere since (kayak) surfing in South Africa in 1989.
It’s actually rare for me to venture further south than Penzance, so thanks to Pete and Bron for masterminding the adventure (and Dave and Sioux, but more about that in the next blog when we explore even further south).
Mornings start with a nice and noisy display by the Black-faced Ibises that are setting off on their daily routine.
Matching them in looks, personality, and volume are the Southern Lapwings that seem full of the joys of the southern summer. Breeding season is in full swing down here…the Lapwing chicks are well grown,
as are the pair of Great Grebe chicks, and their parent, out on the wider section of the Rio Serrano….
The extended family of Upland Geese must have one of the most impressive views on the planet from their goosey ‘office window’.
I was of course dead excited to get out on the water in a kayak. It’s not that easy because howling wind is the norm here so expeditions are frequently cancelled. Fortunately the morning Becky and I had chosen for a paddle was relatively still (for a couple of hours).
At last, after safety briefings and instructions on how to paddle, we were on the water and soon out along the edge of the very large Lago el Toro. It was good to be paddling in Chile!
I had a glimpse of the wind forecast earlier, and it looked a bit worrying. There was a gale force wind expected to arrive after midday, and we had encountered a few (Chilean-style) holdups already. Although we were paddling under the expertise of a very experienced guide, I felt we really needed to get a move on to get into the river before the wind started to howl.
The only problem was there was wildlife to be watched. Such as this Eagle.
But conditions stayed calm and it actually felt quite warm.
Just before we were about to cross a critical 200m exposed arm of the lake which would lead us on to the more sheltered river section, we heard a roar behind us like a jet taking off. It was the wind arriving in true Patagonian style…very big, very sudden, and very dramatic. And we failed to get across the channel by literally minutes. The surface of the lake was instantly churned up into whitecaps with spindrift being whipped off the top. So we pulled up onto a beach and the guides did a spot of thinking about what to do next.
Becky and I loafed about on a little beach while the guides went off for a wander, and a funny thing happened. Before I left home my chum Dave, who is an experienced Patagonian adventurer, had said that if you want to see a Condor up close you must lay flat out on your back like a corpse, and the birds will soon come over to investigate. I was too polite to suggest that he was mixing up reality with mythology…..but he was absolutely right!
Although we were wearing high-vis dayglo green drysuits, a pair of Condors that we could see hanging over a distant mountain as a couple of dots, were soon on their way over to eye us up for a meal.
As we lay on the beach one dropped down to really quite a low level and hung about overhead, undoubtedly trying to work out what was going on, and who these strange creatures were loafing about on its ‘patch’.
Some might have felt a bit uneasy, as the largest flying bird on the planet, with a wingspan of over ten feet, hangs overhead. Particularly if you were a hobbit, because the head of a Condor bears more than a passing resemblance to a winged steed of a Nazgul.
We, however , were thrilled to have such a superb view of one of the world’s legendary creatures, which we were only expecting to see as a dot over a far mountainside (if at all). More like this…….
That beach was as far as we were going to get and marked the end of our (short) kayaking adventure in Patagonia. The trip had to be aborted because of the wind. Never mind, because the Condor encounter made it all worthwhile.
The rest of our Patagonia experience was punctuated with more top wildlife, including two different Pumas on a single day (courtesy of Pete’s alertness, and Bron’s absolutely unbelievable long -range spot).
Hard to believe we were only there for four days!
Next blog…coming soon. KAYAKING IN THE ANTARCTIC….. don’t go away!