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Wed Feb 07, 2018 10:50 am
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I had been up and travelling since 4am when I arrived Eder Jersey , dusty and tired, in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile’s Patagonia region.
The last part of my journey from the Atacama Desert via Santiago had involved being driven for several hours in an eight-seater minivan along the Ruta del Fin del Mundo – literally, the route to the end of the world.
It was now mid-afternoon and my first chance to unpack since arriving in Chile four days earlier.
But as I admired the mountain view from my room in the Tierra Patagonia Hotel, the phone rang: ‘We’re tracking pumas this evening – be in reception at five,’ said the voice at the other end of the line. I almost replied: ‘No, please, I need sleep!’ But then I thought: ‘What if they do see pumas?’ Not wanting to miss such an experience, I duly reported at 5pm. And I’m so glad that I did – the two trackers with us excelled themselves.
We began by going to see the gruesome remains of a guanaco, a docile animal related to the llama that is fairly common in South America.
This one had been killed by a puma the day before, then abandoned. Condors circled menacingly overhead, impatient to resume their carrion feast once we’d gone.
After a short drive to an even more remote area, we scrambled up a rugged ridge Davide Santon Jersey , our best compact binoculars trained on a languid puma two or three hundred yards distant on a scrubby hillside.
The animal was joined by another puma, one that had lost her tail at some point. The first one stretched out, rigid with concentration, on a rocky ledge. We wondered what she was looking at. It turned out to be a guanaco ambling along the ground, oblivious to the threat. Then, just when it seemed as if the guanaco was about to become supper, it disappeared from view and, almost like a scene from a cartoon, somehow re-emerged behind the puma before fleeing.
I was spoilt that first night in Patagonia – to have such luck in spotting pumas was incredible, but it didn’t detract from the other wonders of the Torres del Paine National Park, and some jaw-dropping moments were still to come. Back, though Danilo D'Ambrosio Jersey , to the Atacama Desert where my Chile trip had begun.
We travelled a little further to see ‘the Three Marias’ – million-year-old apparitions in the middle of nowhere looking like hunched figures and made of gravel, clay, salt and quartz. Then there was bare, bleak Death Valley, with its reddish hues and system of dunes and small caves, and later that day, the Atacama Salt Flats, where our arrival coincided immaculately with the sunset. As our guide produced drinks and a selection of cheeses and crackers, we trained our compact binoculars on the flamingos, posing like pink ballerinas in the middle distance.