The plains of Patagonia sweep east from the Andes, with the southernmost of these plains incorporated into Chile. Vast and windswept, they appear to us to like a gigantic version of Ka Lae, the southern tip of our island home. At the southern tip of these plains, you will find Punta Arenas, a surprisingly large city of 120,000 people. Oil, energy, agriculture, and tourism are the main economic engines. Patagonia was a major exporter of sheep in it’s earliest days. It’s from here that our journey begins.
With our respite at La Casa Escondida with Mauricio and his mother Edita behind us, we were on our way to Puerta Natales, about 2 1/2 hours from Punta Arenas. The plains are vast expanses of low brush and inlets of water, marsh, and mall rises for the first half of our journey. Our guests are often asking questions about cattle, horses, mongoose, snakes, chickens and other animals they see along the roadway back home. Here we found ourselves doing the exact same thing. It made us chuckle how strong the curious traveler is in all of us.
Ten minutes out of Punta Arenas, we had the great pleasure of seeing our first Condor, it’s wingspan quite visible for a long time as it traveled further into the afternoon sky. Shortly thereafter, we saw our second bird we had never seen before, an ostrich like bird called the nandu or rhea (English) on the side of the road and we swiftly made a u-turn to try to get the pic. Then, moments later, we saw yet another bird for the first time. This was a bird of prey which we believe, after some consulting, was a karakara. The karakara, if that is really what it was had a hawk-like beak, streaks of white in the back, and some red on its’ neck. Down the road a ways we had the pleasure of seeing our first guanoco, It was all by itself wandering across the lonely plains. Lastly, some domesticated llamas lazing in the grass topped off a great first look at some of the animals in the Patagonia region.
The landscape changed as we move further north. The hills began to rise and the view now included snow-capped mountains in the distance. Our surprise treat was watching a couple of ranchers on horseback with their dogs corralling a herd of sheep in a holding pen to cross the highway. We realized what was going on, stopped to watch, and very quickly all the sheep were led across the highway with one quick hustle of horses, dogs, and sheep all doing what they were supposed to be doing and in a matter of seconds! Well, this was Patagonia!