Wednesday, March 19:
We woke up Wednesday morning, breakfasted in the dark due to a power outage, then I walked around Kau Yatun’s grounds and enjoyed the lawn birding, which in addition to the South American Snipes, Upland Geese, and Southern Lapwings, included a few Ashy-headed Geese (LIFER!), and a Bar-winged Cinclodes (LIFER!)
Upland (left) and Ashy-headed (right) Geese
Bar-winged Cinclodes / Remolinera Común
Since this was our last day at Kau Yatun, I walked around and took a few photographs of the grounds:
Right at 10:30, as scheduled, a MIL biodiesel Land Rover pulled up to the hotel, and we met our driver, whose name I have unfortunately lost (too bad, as he deserves props for his excellent talking and driving!). A quick drive through El Calafate found us on a dirt road leading to the Estancia Anita grounds.
Lesser Rhea / Choique
Southern Caracara / Carancho
Right away we started seeing interesting wildlife, Lesser Rheas (LIFER!), good looks at Southern Caracaras, and the like.
Skies were dark, but as yet dry, and we wound our way down the wide dirt road, before turning off onto a narrow double-track suitable only for 4x4s like the one we were in.
A dead sheep had been hung over a fence, presumably to feed the Caracaras – it was one of many dozens of ex-sheep we would see on this trip, although by far the freshest. Nearby he pointed out a Loica AKA Long-tailed Meadowlark (LIFER!). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good photo of this beautiful bird, but see CalPhotos for some ones others have captured.
Our driver was great about identifying everything we saw, and explained some of the (not always savory) history of the Estancia, once the site of a laborer’s riot that ended with the land-owners sanctioning the killing of several dozen workers.
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle / Aguila Mora
As I was out of the car photographing the lovely scenery, our driver (gosh I wish I remembered his name!) pointed out a juvenile Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle (LIFER!) soaring overhead. This was our first, but by no means last, look at this lovely denizen of Patagonia, with its highly distinctive, broad wings and short, wedge-shaped tail.
We drove up up up on a sometimes rather narrow and steep road, and were soon rewarded with distant views out to Glacier Perito Moreno, a nice contrast with the close-up views of the previous day.
Austral Parakeets / Cachaña
At a grotto we were thrilled to see a flock of Austral Parakeets (LIFER!), and enjoyed watching them as they noisily flitted about on a tree.
High on a bluff we briefly got out into the blustery weather and saw a distant Andean Condor (LIFER!). It was chilly and barren up on this rocky table, so we didn’t linger, and headed back down for a clearing, where we had an awesome lunch of fresh steak sandwiches, grilled on the spot on a portable propane burner, mmmmm!
An astonishing number of sheep bones were strewn everywhere, and we enjoyed walking among them and contemplating the many creatures who must have feasted on them.
Toward the end of our lunch break, 3 20-somethings rode up on horseback. They were workers from a nearby eco-hotel enjoying a day off, and they and their dog joined us for a bit. The woman was kind enough to offer us a maté, our first experience of the extremely-popular tea drink of Argentina, and there was nowhere I would have rather had my first taste than in the Patagonian highlands!
The subject of maté deserves its own post (and has a pretty thorough Wikipedia page), but in short, the loose tea is put into a gourd or cup, plumped with warm water, then filled with not-too-hot water and sipped through a straw that has a filter at the bottom to keep out the large particulate matter. Each person finishes a cupful, then the server refills it and passes it to the next. Probably not for the hardcore germ-o-phobe, it’s nonetheless a wonderful social tradition, and I would have many more before our trip was over (but not Sarah, who found the yerba to be too bitter and astringent for her taste).
Another vista of Perito Moreno, and we headed back down towards El Calafate.
Along the way we stopped at a rock outcrop that had ~9000-year-old paintings, which were pretty cool, but thus far largely unstudied, and little is known about them, especially compared to the sort-of-not-really-nearby amazing Cueva de los Manos, which Sarah’s folks had the good fortune to see.
Nearby we had some good looks at guanacos, a native llama-like mammal, but smaller and with reddish fur. We’d see many, many more guanacos in the next few days, but for now we enjoyed viewing these fuzzy, soft critters.
We’d been in the bumpy 4×4 for hours now, and it was time to head back to El Calafate. On the way, we were treated to more lovely vistas over Lake Argentina as the storm began to break It took some time to get back, but before too long we were back in El Calafate, bought a book (in Spanish) on the birds of Argentina, and walked back to Kau Yatun.
It was happy hour, and the bar had a buffed-out snack spread, which we partook of as we waited for our dinner hour to arrive.
It arrived and how – being our last night in El Calafate, we opted to dine at the fancier restaurant at the hotel, which was parilla-style. We were seated, given a Pisco Sour (a great aperitif typical of South America), then had a (it must be said, lackluster) salad bar, clearly an afterthought to the meat-based part of the meal.
A huge table grill, loaded with lamb ribs, steaks, pork chops, chorizo, and blood sausage soon landed and we contemplated how the heck we were supposed to even make a small dent in the pile. Fortunately everything was very good (granted, I am not too squeamish about my meats – blood sausage would put off many, I’d imagine), and we made a smallish dent in the meat-o-rama by the time the “entertainment” started.
Said entertainment was a bit on the “gak, I’m at the Argentine version of a Hawaiian luau” side of things, with 2 guys and one woman dancing and playing percussion, but another glass of wine mostly silenced my reservations, and we enjoyed the rest of our meal/show.
Tired and sated, we retired to our room and called it a night. Another wonderful day in El Calafate, but our last.
Part 1: Getting to Patagonia
Part 2: El Calafate & Laguna Nimez
Part 3: Glaciar Perito Moreno
Part 4: El Calafate backcountry excursion <– You are here!
Part 5: Goodbye Argentina, hello Chile
Part 6: To Torres del Paine!
Part 7: Lago Pehoe and Paine Grande
Part 8: Mirador los Cuernos
Part 9: To Rio Verde and Punta Arenas
Part 10: Pelagic, Penguins, and farewell to Patagonia
Part 11: To Buenos Aires!
Part 12: BsAs’ Sunday markets and other diversions
Part 13: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Part 14: Buenos Aires’ Jardin Botanico and Costanera Sur
Part 15: There’s no place like home