Friday, November 23, 2007

Too much to tell!

A lot happened since I left Concepción. First I went to Los Angeles with Dennis the Dutchman, and we made an attempt to climb Volcán Atuco (almost 3000 meters). Antuco is a perfect volcano in Parque nacional Lago del Laja. However, we ran into some trouble when the bus took about three times as long as we´d been told it would take, when we didn´t have too much luck hitch-hiking into the park, and finally when the clouds moved in on us as we were about two-thirds of the way up. Oh well, it was a beautiful climb nonetheless, and a fun slide back down to the snowline. We also saw two condors!

We then went to Pucón, which is home to another famous volcano. Antuco is most famous for having killed 17 Chilean soldiers who were caught in bad weather during an ascent, and Volcán Villarica is famous for its accessibility and constant activity.

Volcán Villarica is off-limits to independent climbers, so we had to hire a mountain guide (a great Swiss guy called Tobias). The weather was stunning, and we made it to the top in less than five hours. Sadly, the noxious gases were getting swirled around so bad that I didn´t get to see magma inside the crater, but I brought a nice bottle of wine up there and some cups, so we celebrated in the middle of clouds of hot, sulphurous smoke at about 2900 meters.

I then went to some really nice hot springs (two bottles of wine, this time, and lots of cups), some nice little hikes, and a half-day hike in Parque Nacional Huerquehue. The goal of visiting this park was to see wild Araucarias (monkey puzzle trees). It sounds strange to go look for “wild” trees, I know… But these trees are just awesome, prehistoric, and in the mountains they grow much larger than the largest one I had ever seen before. And they die! I know that all trees die, but seeing giant dead Auraucarias rotting on the ground is strangely fascinating. The forest s a mix of Araucarias and Nothofagus, with a bamboo understory. I also got to see black-throated huet-huet, the Chucao tapaculo, and lots of white-crested elaenias and austral parakeets.

I then went to Valdivia, which was very pretty and great place to party with Chilean students and relax. I had a great time just visiting sites of local cultural interest, and reading my book. The highlight was a visit to some old Spanish forts. I also made the mistake of signing up for an organized tour to an isolated farming town on an island in the delta. It sounded good, but all the other passengers were little old Chilean ladies whose only concern was to harvest medicinal and decorative plants from the woods, the roadside, and even people’s gardens! So that´s what we did - for two hours. At least there were dozens of black-necked swans…

I then went to a small place in the countryside North of Puerto Octay, on the shores of Lago Llanquihue. It is a beautiful place, dominated by Volcán Osorno, and very fertile and peaceful.

As you can probably guess, I wanted to climb Osorno, but I ran into Sep, a German mountain guide who had been beat down by a storm along with a world-class climber the day before, only fifty meters from the top. So I got wise, and did a day-long bicycle trip to Frutillar over backroads, and a nice hike up a side-crater of a much smaller volcano in Parque Nacional Puyehue with Sep and a Canadian traveller. Some good birds there were the condor, Chilean flicker, and the Chilean tinamou.

I struck a friendship with Joseph, the Canadian guy, and we went down to the island of Chiloé. I am now in Ancud, in the north of the island. It´s been amazing birding without even trying. Magellanic penguins, Humboldt penguins, Magellanic diving-petrels, kelp geese with their chicks, flightless steamer ducks, etc, etc. Oh, and the place is beautiful, too. Like all of Chile so far.

And for last: a nice comparison of Humboldt´s and Magellanic penguins. I didn´t bring my camera with the zoom lens because I knew I´d be taking bird pictures the entire time. But I went out to a colony with a skiff and I was sooooo close!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First week in Chile

Santiago was great, but so far my favorite place is Armerillo, near Talca, where I stayed at a small place called Refugio del Tricahue. There is a really large Nothofagus dombeyii there, which soundeed just like the giant hemlock that I can never find. "It´s up the valley", they told me. "It´s the biggest tree there, but you might not find it." Well I found it, so I took the photo to prove it!

I also found all sorts of neat things which where completely new to me. Like burrowing parrots, plain-mantled tit-spinetails, torrent ducks, dark-bellied cinclodes, thorn-tailed rayayditos, etc. Ad infinitum. As you may see from the picture below, the place was really nice too. This is one of the more open valleys that I walked through with a Dutch friend that I met in Santiago:

I am now in Talca with Dennis the Dutchman and a cool Argentinian girl named Emilia. Among many other things we went to Lota to visit the old coal mines of Chiflón del Diablo, walk around on the beach, and visit the town. Here we are in the coal mine:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Leaving Sitka!

I'm trying to update this once a week, but it can be a struggle. If the airline gods are propitious I should be going to Chile in a few hours.

In the past week there were a couple of good hikes, but the highlight was definitely Whalefest, a cycle of conferences on marine mammals that I attended. There was some whalewatching involved (we even got to see a gray whale right up close and fluking, which is rather unusual here in this time of the year), but the conferences were the main attraction. What I found most fascinating was information about PBDE concentrations in killer whales, and the significance of underwater noise from mineral exploration.

Although there were at least a couple dozen humpback whales, I didn't take a single picture of one. But here's a picture of downtown Sitka seen from the water:

My Russian friend Roman got married yesterday, when it was beautiful weather like this. He proposed underwater, married on Castle Hill in the sun (Castle Hill is where Alaska was transferred to US ownership), the big ceremony will be on a boat in Sitka Sound, and they're going to Hawai'i. Sadly, I didn't take any pictures.