I hadn´t even planned to go to Patagonia, but here I am... I spent the rest of my time in Chiloé visiting the same northern areas, and making a short side trip to Castro. I just loved the hiking along the cliffs, beaches and countryside of the village of Puñihuil from which people go see the pingüineras.
From Chiloé I went back to the mainland, to Puerto Varas for just a day, and then down to Puerto Montt, where I took the ferry to Puerto Natales in Southern Patagonia. I just couldn´t resist the temptation of a three-day ferry ride through the islands of southern Chile. (Et oui, Joseph, pour repondre à ta question, tu devrais retourner et prendre le Navimag. Je crois que ça va bien te plaire. Aussi, envoie-moi ton adresse et je vais t´envoyer ton bouquin). I rode the ferry “Magallanes,” which was up until recently known as the “Evangelistas” as is still written on the boat and the life rings.
The “Magallanes” is not a pretty boat, but it did the job rather well. Most of the trip was flat water, except for an eight-hour crossing of the Golfo de Penas where we encountered some oceanic swell that tended to slam into the bow. The majority of the passengers was tourists, so at times it felt a bit like a floating youth hostel, which was not necessarily a bad thing. The ferry never deviated its course for marine mammals, so I couldn´t identify for sure any of the ones I saw, but it did make a side trip to the PioXI glacier, and I saw lots of good pelagic birds such as the black-browed albatross (very numerous), pink-footed shearwater, Chilean skua (one of the McCormick´s species), southern giant petrel, southern fulmar, cape petrel, and best of all, three royal albatrosses! The route was very beautiful, but the gigantic scale of the mountains and islands, and the windy, rainy, cloudy weather made almost all photography efforts ridiculous. This is a small village in the Patagonian islands – our only stop between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales (can you tell I like the boats here?).
This is going to be long… I then went into Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, where I hiked a 5-day circuit that took me around the back of the mountains, but not in the more heavily visited valleys. Once again, everything is enormous, and about half of my pictures are of little things like flowers.
And yes, of course, there are interesting birds here as well. Lots of condors, magullan geese, ashy-headed geese and nandús, but also some Chilean flamingo, Magellanic tapaculo, black-chested buzzard-eagle, cinereous harrier, dark-faced ground-tyrant, Magellanic woodpecker, Magellanic oystercatcher (notice a trend yet?), etc… And outside the park, there are guanacos everywhere. They are just incredible! The best part is that I get to observe very cool behavior, such as an owl flying about and looking at me, a pair of Magellanic woodpeckers peeling a dead tree just a few meters away, rayaditos in their nests, a fire-eyed diucon scrubbing a huge, hairy caterpillar on the ground before eating it, Magullan geese with their chicks, etc. I hardly ever needed binoculars, as most birds didn´t seem to care that I was there. Oh, and the Nothofagus forests were amazing, and there were many species of cool plants. Julien would have loved it.