Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tierra del Fuego 2015

On my way to the Tierra del Fuego made a stop at Hacienda San Gregorio, once owned by Jose Menendez who was considered at one time, the richest man in South America during the late XIX and early XX centuries.   The main reason for the stop was that there are Magellan Owls who lives in the old trees surrounding the old mansion.  If you go back in my blogs of 2013, you can see a more extensive collection of the abandoned buildings once thriving hacienda.  We searched for the owls and were about to leave when once was spotted.  It was so well camouflaged that we almost missed it, we were searching for them high on the trees, but were much lower, could have grabbed it by hand…but who wants to tangle with those talons.

After crossing by ferry the Straits of Magellan’s from Punta Delgada, arrived at Puerto Espora in the Tierra del Fuego.   Drove to Porvenir, arriving at the hotel just in time for a bottle of wine and choice beef. The next day departed early for the King Penguins colony in Bahia Inutil. The wind was strong and the skies overcasted with intermittent rains, typical weather for this part of the world.  One peculiar behavior that I observed of the penguins, was that they appear to play with the foam accumulated on the shoreline.  They will stick their bills on the foam and lift it to see it been blown away by the wind.  It was like children blowing soap bubbles.   After a while they just walked over the sand dunes to the colony.  There were a few “pinguinitos”, they looked like brown cotton balls with a beak and wings, and the center of attention of the colony; always next to their mother and surrounded by adults, some of them pecking at the small ones.

We were invited for lunch to a sheep hacienda.  After lunch, we sat around the fire in the living room listening to tales of the way of life of the original settlers, while the lady of the house made carded the sheep’s wool.  She processed the wool into threads and then made clothing and hats for the family.  Then we returned to the pinguinera for the late afternoon photo session.  While leaving the beach that morning, I saw a sick Magellan Penguin just hiding next to a pile of seaweeds, when we returned in the afternoon, all that was left was a carcass, the skuas wasted no time.  Though posting this image but will pass. Penguins like selfies too.

We spent the night back in Porvenir and the next day started to Punta Arenas by backtracking the way we came. When we got to Puerto Espora, the ferries were not navigating because of the heavy winds in the strait.  We were advised to return to Porvenir and take the ferry from there to Punta Arenas but by the time we got back, the Chilean Navy has closed navigation of the larger ferry too due to the heavy winds.  So we had to wait until 5 PM when navigation was permitted.  Why did we initially want to go back via the way we came?  We were planning to stop again in the way at the Hacienda San Geronimo to photograph particularly the old shipwrecks on the beach and check the owls one more time.  The action of the waves has further broken the hulls of the rusted ships and I wanted to have images to compare to those I took 1.5 years earlier.

While waiting for the ferry to depart, I ventured around Porvenir to photograph the old houses and visit the local museum, a worthwhile visit.  There is an interesting mural at the museum that tells the story of a famous British hunter of Selknam or Ona Indians who inhabited Tierra del Fuego.  Back in the late 1880’s there were wars between the Indians and the colonizers.  The Indians considered the sheep no different than guanacos and hunted them.  This caused the sheep farmers to start hunting the Indians but there were also conflicts with the gold miners.  Julius Popper, the developer of the gold mines started to pay for killing the Indians. So there was a bounty and the hunters were paid according to the number of pairs of ears or hands and later on, the heads that were brought for payment.

The museum houses a large collection of birds as well as whale skeletons and a mummy of a woman named Kela that was found in the island of 3 Mogotes in 1974; it was carbon dated approximately back to 1424.  There is also a reproduction of an old store circa 1900’s.  On the grounds there is an observatory named Mercury, but could not figure out its background.

Porvenir is an interesting place.  During my previous visit I gave its beach the title of the most polluted one in the world; I may have embarrassed the citizens, beach now is cleaner.  In a way, the city was no different than those out west in the USA that grew when the gold mines were found.  Once the gold was exhausted, their heydays were done.  The city was at one time the Hollywood of Chile where the first movie was made.  The first image below is the Red Cross building and the second is the home childhood home of Vicente Gonzalez Mimica, a prominent photographer now based in Punta Arenas.  One of the rewards of travel, are the people you meet.  During the ferry crossing to Punta Arenas met a British motorcyclist that was in his seventh year of traveling around the world…now that is an adventure!!!