Late September saw us heading out to South America to explore some new areas of this beautiful continent. We flew to Buenos Aires where we had to ‘waste’ a day due to difficult flight connections(more of that to follow later). We have been to Buenos Aires before, and quite honestly, there is only so much Evita stuff that I can take! I had heard about a large park/nature reserve in the south of the city so we thought it would be nice to visit. We took a taxi, who drove us miles, and dropped us off in the middle of the docks, pretending not to speak English and pointing in the wrong direction. He clearly knew we were miles from our intended destination, and in a fairly unsavoury part of town, thats for that. Probably a Falklands war vet!  We eventually found the reserve which though crowded was very nice. The day was saved by a visit to La Cabrera, a very nice steak restaurant! The next morning after a night at Rooney’s hotel, (how could we stay anywhere with that name!!), we headed south to El Calafate. This little town in Southern Argentina is fairly bland, sits close to the beautiful mountains and the national park called Las Glacieras. This is clearly named after the glaciers that we visited . The Perito Moreno glacier was impressive, and we were able to see it from land rather than boat. Very interesting and a good view of some calving.

_nd51429-3

I would not recommend the boat trip to the other glaciers however as you will be sat waiting for hours while everyone takes their selfies, the first place where we were frustrated by this ridiculous activity. El Calafate is named after the Calafate berry, which is like a blueberry and delicious. The town is blessed with a lovely little nature reserve called Laguna Nimez. This reminded me of Titchfield Haven where I have spent many happy days. The star bird here was a beautiful harrier. I have spent ages in Europe trying to get good shots of Montagues harriers, but here, they have a very similar bird called the Cinereous harrier. They were just arriving for the summer and provided great entertainment.

_dsc7494

There were lots of great birds here and I could happily have spent several days just in the reserve. After three days, we traveled west to Chile. This was the focus of the whole trip and as we approached the Torres Del Paine national park, we were not disappointed. The scenery was stunning with the three towers dominating the landscape.

_dsc8234

The reason we came to this park was to look for pumas (aka cougar or mountain lion). This is a big cat that is very elusive and I have never seen on many trips to North America. Even here , they are shot by farmers as they occasionally kill sheep, and are quite shy. It is nothing like seeing lions in Africa, but perhaps, more like leopards. They are usually solitary, and hidden. With driver Cesar, guide Sebastian, and tracker Alejandro, we looked, searched, crept and climbed to get views of these cats. The first one was perched high up a steep hill and needed a very careful approach from about 750m. Carrying a tripod and 600mm lens in this situation is not easy, but we got to about 200m before the male decided that was enough and moved away. It constantly amazed me how hard it was to find these cats considering the almost complete absence of tress and high bushes in the area. We enjoyed early morning starts and evening sessions with the middle of the day spent exploring other areas of the park, including some lovely hikes. As well as the pumas, there were lots of great birds and of course the guanacos.These relatives of the llama were everywhere and form the bulk of the pumas diet. In fact they are crucial in finding a puma as the herds usually have sentinels on hill tops, so that as soon as a puma is spotted, alarm calls ring out. Trying to triangulate using the alarm calls can sometimes reveal the presence of an otherwise invisible puma.

_dsc8479

We drove around various parts of the park, but mainly just outside the park looking for pumas, but the highlight was undoubtedly early one morning when I spotted some movement our way back to the hotel. It turned out to be two cubs, probably about four months old, that had been left by their mother who was presumably hunting. It was fantastic to see these two who stayed in the open for a couple of minutes.

_nd52699-2

They were clearly out when they shouldn’t have been and hid fairly soon. We decided to come back that evening in the hope of seeing them again. As we approached the area, we saw an adult lying about 200m away. We assumed this was the mother and took some shots.We could not see the cubs however, and being in the national park, were unable to go off the paths to look. After a while, a car pulled up and one of the senior park rangers got out.We were expecting to get moved on as were a little way from the road. Instead, he was interested in hearing about the cubs, and went back to where we had seen them in the morning. To our amazement, he found them in a thicket, with their mother. The adult we had been watching clearly nothing to do with the cubs. I was called over to joint the ranger who walked me down to about 15m away. It was a truly amazing experience, and although the photography was difficult, I got a couple of shots, before we had to retreat.

_nd53040-2_nd53034-3

Hard to beat something like that!

Torres del Paine is a great place and I heartily recommend it. The pumas were great as were the birds. Here are a group of gorgeous flamingos.

_dsc8626

And of course, the symbol of the Andes, the Condor.

_dsc9544

All too quickly, we had come to the end of our time here. The next part of the trip was rather contorted. A long drive to Punta Arenas(boring), then a wasted day before a flight to Santiago (boring, and ripped off by another crooked cab driver!), another boring day, then a flight to Buenos Aires where we had to wait several hours for the flight to Iguazu Falls. Aerolineas nearly ruined this part of the trip by not sorting our luggage, but managed to sort it at the last minute after a lot of running through the airport in dramatic fashion!!

We finally arrived at the falls, and wow, it was worth it. What a stunning place. Nicky had heard that there was a Belmond hotel here so wanted to end the trip with a bit of luxury. More importantly, the national park and hence falls, is only open to the public from 9-5 during which time, it is packed. If you stay at the Belmond, you are there by the falls with free personal access outside these hours.Well worth paying for. This is the ‘Devil’s Throat’ at the heart of the falls

_dsc0096

The falls stretch for a huge distance with somewhere between 250-300 separate waterfalls making up the whole thing.  We spent most time on the Brazilian side, but one day across the border on the Argentinian side. Both are worth visiting as they give quite a different perspective. The Argentinian side has a network of very nice walking trails, though we were again dogged by the dreaded selfie sticks as we did this side during the ‘daytime’.

I could resist the chance of a short helicopter trip to get an overview. Here are the falls, and our hotel (good position!!).

_dsc1340

There wasn’t a huge amount of wildlife at the falls but it wasn’t completely dead! My favourite South American, the Toco toucan was present.They always make me smile!

_dsc1626

There are a number of coatis that make a living scavenging from tourist, who in spite of signs everywhere continue to feed them. At night they climb up into trees and sleep in little groups in nests.Very cute!

_dsc2088

I did manage to spot some parrots and monkeys by going out early, but during the day, they tend to keep away. The falls were so spectacular, that they are a must if visiting Brazil. If you are a photographer, pay the extra and stay at the hotel Des Catarates too, really worth it.

That was it. Back to Sao Paolo and home, back at work in the blink of an eye. Great trip and wonderful photography. Go there if you can.

Advertisements