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Chris Bonner and his wife Marelle live on a farm in the beautiful Scenic Rim of South East Queensland where Chris uses his camera to showcase the scenery and wildlife of the area. Besides wider Australian travels, he has also produced a portfolio of pictures from across the world including  the wildlife of Africa to e magic of the Amazon to the history and beauty of Europe.  While Chris' primary motivation is to share his experiences, photos are available for sale in digital or print format. 

All profits from photo sales go to a Cambodian charity www.newhopecambodia.com. Non-profit organisations may apply to receive free photos for Promotion or Fundraising.

Patagonian Adventure 2015

Santiago was the entry point to get to Patagonia so we chilled out there to get over Jetlag.  Initially we booked with  a tour company but the tour was cancelled. South American Tourism, based in Australia offered to match the tour which gave us the flexibility to create a fantastic individualised private tour with in many cases our own driver an guide, surprisingly such a service no more expensive that the 30 plus group bus tours offered by the big companies.

This also involved avoiding the big hotels  which meant a “downgrade” to boutique accommodation which turned out to be a highlight of the tour. Santiago was an excellent and quaint 5 roomer, managed by a girl from the Gold Coast (another new best friend for Marelle). Excellent restaurants nearby.

After a tour of Santiago, sightseeing included a trip into the Chilean Andes: Very barren and lots of copper oxide colours in the barren hills. Copper is to Chile what Iron Ore is to Australia. A 3 hour drive then “stroll to a glacier” turned out to be a 16 K hike up a mountain and back which we were not quite ready for but the chassis held together. Equate with a 150 K bike ride. We did get to see a volcano but not the one that is erupting.

A tour of Santiago was on "because we were there" which included Marelle providing some assistance in guarding a building (more on why she is such a good choice for this task in another blog) . Interesting sculptures included one of a couple seemingly practicing yoga.

After that hike up the Andes we were rewarded with a drink kept cool by an icy mountain stream.

After this quick introduction to the Chilean Andes we flew to Punta Arenas on the southern tip of the Patagonian area of South America and then were driven to Tierra Patagonia our accommodation in the Torres del Paine National Park, so designed as to blend unobtrusively into the landscape.   

Our picture window provided a view  over Lake Sarmiento to the Torres del Paine peaks.

Patagonia is an area spanning over a million square kilometers, occupying almost half of each of Chili and Argentina, including the Southern Andes yet home to less than two million inhabitants.  The name seemingly meaning "Land of Big Feet" was given by Magellan because he exaggerated the inhabitants size based on the footprints he saw. The mythical Giants turned out apparently to be an impressive 6'6" tall, although we will never really know because due to the insensitivity of colonisation there are none left!

We were mistakenly booked on a tour with a group of Americans on a private tour who wanted to stay private.

To relieve our disappointment the one Aussie guide here and his driver got out of bed to take  us on our own personal tour hiking and seeing the sights with the highlight being a climb to this classical Patagonian landscape. 

Guanaco to Patagonia are what Kangaroos are to Australia.  Pumas live here too but the Guanacos are too fast for them.

And a smattering of birdlife.

The flightless Rhea native to South America is distantly related to the Emu and the Ostrich.   Guanaco's can at least jump the sheep fences but the Rhea go straight through them so the landholders are happy that there is a feather duster industry.  Charles Darwin ate a smaller one once thinking it was a juvenile only to eventually discover that it was a different species having adapted to a different but overlapping environment, leading to that luckless bird featuring in a breakthrough in his theories.

Andean condors, weighing 15 kg and with a 3.3 M wingspan are the largest birds in the world that are able to fly.  They look so graceful in the air but close up are contenders for the ugliest bird on earth and can stay ugly for up to 50 years provided enough Guanacos cark it to sustain them that long.

A Magellan Goose, assumedly provided a meal or two for the explorer when navigating these parts.

As for the Owl, of some interest is that the only owl I have ever photographed happened to be in Patagonia.

Unsure what possessed us to go horse riding when there was so much to see but it was a good laugh.  

I thought my horse was dead but forgot to fall over until I gave it one in the guts. Well I was champion boy rider at the Stanthorpe show 60 years ago.

The Torres del Paine (Spanish for "Towers of Paine", "Paine" being the old indigenous name for the colour blue), three immense rock towers give the park its name.  The indigenous contribution to the name is all that is left of them, having been driven to extinction by European diseases and incursions verging on genocide. Like our indigenous people, these Tehuelche tribes became master horsemen after capturing horses that escaped the sixteenth-century conquistadors.  They didn't need to take a packed lunch as was the case with my early mustering days because they also ate horses and in the end were buried with their horse (except the last survivor whose horse could run free).

There are enough excursions (all inclusive in the hotel fare as with food and drinks) to fill a whole week here. This day we chose some serious group hiking with views at times over a million plus Ha sheep station outside the park.

Torres del Paine was hard to leave but our driver was waiting to take us on a two hour drive to El Calafate, passing through Steppe country and sheep stations and crossing from Chile to Argentina where I could forgive the border guards for being grumpy being stuck in shed with cold 60 Kph winds driving through the cracks.

Patagonian Chile and Argentina host about 10-5 million sheep of which 70% are merino.  The industry suffered when wool prices collapsed compounded by the effects of overgrazing and now big consortiums like Benneton snapped huge tracts of land to supply the wool for their jumpers. Much of the land Benneton own now was actually seized by the Argentinian government from indigenous farmers in a bloody military campaign at the end of the 19 th. century.  More recently a series of  violent attacks on indigenous people occupying their ancestral lands gave worldwide prominence to the injustices of the past.  Mr. Benneton has agreed to give 18,500 of their  2.2 million acres back. (https://www.coha.org/benetton-in-patagonia-the-oppression-of-mapuche-in-the-argentine-south/)

The wealth of this industry would explain the expensive infrastructure, including concreted and shedded sheep yards,  surrounding the homesteads. Other than that and the howling winds, we could draw comparisons between Patagonia's  savannah and  Australia's Outback.

Comparisons to the Australian Outback end when we get to El Calafate with its Moreno Glacier. The pointy bit impacts on the bank every few years which dams the connection between the 2 lakes. One becomes a lot higher than the other over time and eventually the dam breaks, creating a spectacle as it resupplies the lower lake.

Another 200  Klm drive from El Calafate north across the open Patagonian landscape to El Chalatan,

For my cycling friends: never let us hear a complaint again. Lots of these dudes on the road. I don’t know where they started but Patagonia itself is a few thousand K long and the towns in the southern tourist strip are 200K apart. They are all heading south AND the place is swept by southerly winds commonly over 50 Kph. We have actually seen a cyclist with 4 panniers walking his bike in the middle of nowhere on flat road headlong into a gale. Why don’t they start in the south and head north.

Now to El Chalatan, credibly claimed to be the hiking capital of the world centered on the Fitz Roy mountain.  No road tours here so its hike or nothing getting up front and personal with the Patagonian Andes. So the first day we made the most of the weather to venture across the hills surrounding the village with views over the famous mountain,  the desert and Lake Viedma.

And it peeked out of the clouds for long enough to give my bucket list photo from which the Logo of Patagonia is derived.

Then for a serious 18 K hike which happened to coincide with Patagonia’s promise to change its weather on a daily basis. Are we having fun yet.  Five klm into the hike it was just us and the guide left with lunch under the brolly and a glacial lake at the half way mark.

The Patagonian Andes and Savannah lands, now ticked off the bucket list.

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