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Quite the Day in Patagonia: Chilean Patagonia

Guanacos are related to llamas and alpacas; their coloring hair and site is what distinguishes one species from another. Nandus, also known as the lesser rheas, are the Americas' ostrich.

Well, if yesterday was rather calm and uneventful, today certainly made up for it.
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We were up very early — 5 a.m. — in order to eat breakfast and get on the bus that would take us to Torres del Paines National Park. (Actually, there were seven separate buses from our ship that went to the park.) This park was established in 1959 and covers over half a million acres of some of the most unique geology in the world. The crowning point of the park are the huge snow-capped spires that rise up in the middle of the surrounding bluffs, plateaus, and plains. Although it would seem that they are just more of the Andes Mountains that lie off in the distance, they are not. The Andes were formed about 60 million years ago; the peaks of the Torres del Paines are only 12 million years old. They were formed when hot magma pushed up a relatively small section of granite and sedimentary rock through a "soft spot" in the earth's crust creating a separate little mountain range.
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The drive to the park took nearly an hour and a half. We had several stops at scenic lookouts where wecould view aqua blue lakes, wild flowers, and mountain vistas. One small hitch: the weather here changes by the minute and the frequent driving rain and low clouds hid the very tops of the majestic peaks.
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Around 11 a.m. we stopped for a very nice four course lunch at a restaurant in the park...our choice of salmon, chicken or steak. Very nice.
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Then we were back on the bus to visit some spectacular waterfalls. This is where the day got extremely ("extreme" being the operative word) interesting. On our way to the falls, our Chilean guide told us that there was a 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the falls, and once there, we would have one hour to walk and take pictures. He cautioned us that it can be very windy. When our bus arrived at the parking lot for the falls, one of the expedition guides from the ship came on our bus and told us that two people from another bus had just been injured walking to the falls because they had literally been blown off of their feet by the wind! (They were taken back to the ship to be treated by the ship's doctor; one person hadseveral stitches in his face.) Well, we had come all this way, so we weren't going to sit on the bus...we headed out. It wasn't too bad at the start, but about halfway there we walked onto a rise and the wind hit us like a train. We crouched down so we wouldn't blow over; at one point a Chilean guide made her way over to us and said, "You can't stay here! You have to move! You must go forward!" It sounded like something out of a war movie. Once we got down off the rise, it was better (some) and and the view of the waterfall was worth it. The price: soaked shoes and socks (once again, thank goodness for rain pants and parkas).
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More excitement ensued when a couple from Australia didn't return to our bus. For over an hour we all worried and fretted and contacted the park rangers for fear they had blown into the falls; as it turned out, they had walked down a trail that they thought was a short loop — but it wasn't. That delay cost us some sightseeing, but we still managed to see lots of wildlife: guanacos, nandus, gray fox, upland geese, and an Andean condor.
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Another memorable day!

Posted by jeburns55 04:12 Archived in Chile

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