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Puma watch-2

3/28 & 3/29 Travel Days 1 & 2.

Start of travel day #1: 

I was up before dawn at 05:00 am. Then I visited (bolted through) 4 terminals, rode 3 crowded buses, 1 bumpy commuter plane, and completed 2+ miles of walking before reaching my jet in LAX. 

The shuttle buses that whisk you between the terminals must also navigate the busy runway paths at LAX with signs along the way that say, “Stop for Airplanes!” ✈️ Which we did. So crazy. Our bus kept bottoming out & scraping the tarmac. I’m surprised how chaotic LAX still is. It was something I would expect in another country, not here. 

No where on my reservation nor my boarding pass did it say what gate I was to go once arriving & deplaning at LAX. Terminal B was all I knew. The terminal map had all the gate numbers identified, but none of the airlines listed. Well, okay how fun is this. I finally found a tv screen in the duty-free shopping mall with my flight# & gate listed. Gate one hundred and forty four. Yes, 144. 

I went up, around, then down again on escalators and fast tracks.  I was so happy that I could jump the long line at the gate in business class. I went through gate 144, no plane. We had to board another bus. 🚌 That was 10 hours out of my day thus far. A 10 hour flight to Santiago was still in front of me.

Travel day #2: Once in Santiago, I had a 5 hour layover. Our boarding gate was yet another bus ride on a busy tarmac to the plane. By 11:45 on March 29th, I was on my way to Punta Arenas, Chile on a 3 hour flight. 

The view from the plane was phenomenal. The majestic Andes Mountain range stretched as far as the eyes could see. I crossed over thousands of miles of rugged volcanic rock scapes and glaciers.

Total travel hours from Carmel, Ca to Punta Arenas, Chile: 30 hours. 🇨🇱 

At the airport in Punta Arenas I met up with Jeff Parker of https://exploreinfocus.com, the Puma Trip leader and shuttled to the hotel. I had a nice hot, relaxing bath and a fresh change of clothes for the rest of the day. A delicious dinner of Fettuccini del Mar awaited us at Hotel Diego De Almagro at the end of our day.

Travel Day #3: Punta Arenas, Chile

 My first real day of vacation started with breakfast at Diego De Amargo Hotel in Punta Arenas. In an Antarctic wind-swept, volcanic ash covered land, you will not find a lot of fresh produce. The daily breakfast consisted of sweet pastry items, doughnuts, white bread & rolls, processed, sugar-coated cereals, previously frozen, thawed or canned fruit, and flavored, sugar filled yogurt. 

  Dr. Thomas Fry & I walked around town in Punta Arenas. There were interesting murals, old churches and buildings to photograph. The main park in town across from the church had a visitor center, a large statue of Magellan and many well-fed friendly dogs, one of which followed us around town for many blocks. Unfortunately, many of the beautiful statues, and plaques around town were defaced with spray painted graffiti. 

  Later in the afternoon we went sight seeing in a rental car to Puerta del Hambre (Starvation Point) & Bahia Mansa. There were many old, dilapidated fishing boats to photograph in the bay. We drove to the very end of the road and hiked about 3 miles along the rocky coast taking nature photos. We were fortunate to photograph the endangered orange bumble bee Bombus dahlbomii.

  Jeff, Tom, & I walked around Punta Arenas and had dinner at a very kitchy restaurant called “La Marmita”. Very good food & desserts.

Travel Day #4: Punta Arenas, Chile.

  I had the opportunity to walk about town again, this time with our leader Jeff Parker. We walked back to the park to find that all the dogs had vacated due to the activity in the square on this Sunday. Between Sunday mass, a military presence, loud anthem music and a demonstration protest parade, there was too much activity for the feral dogs. I had brought a big ham & cheese sandwich from the hotel breakfast buffet for the sweet dog that had followed me around the day before. I had no luck finding him.

  We happened upon a nice chocolate shop, “La Chocolatta”.  I had to buy some fine Chilean chocolates for my coworkers back home…….it is the rule.

  Jeff & I walked a few blocks to the mercado for supplies for our upcoming hikes into Torres de Paine National Park & surrounding areas. There was very little to purchase in the way of snacks other than processed, sugar-filled cookies & candy. I felt bad for the people of Southern Chile since all of their staple food items seemed to be white rice, white flour, white bread, and refined white sugar. There were plenty of frozen meats, canned fruits & vegetables, and packaged, processed foods. I noticed a small produce aisle off to the side. I found one tiny area in the store where a few small bags of packaged, dried nuts were located. I grabbed those and some dark chocolate bars for the upcoming week of Puma Prowling. I bought a six pack of original Coke® which I will drink on vacation. The Coke seems to act like a mild ant-bacterial for me when introducing new foreign gut bacteria on vacation that might otherwise prove troublesome. 

  We then walked back to the hotel with our snack stash in tow. I saw 2 small, skinny black & white dogs that looked like they could really use the ham & cheese sandwich I had made for the big dog I was searching for from the day before. The shy one needed more coaxing, but in the end both dogs got a nice snack.

  I got to share a nice dinner back at the hotel where we met up with the rest of the group. There was our leader Jeff Parker from Texas, Dr. Tom Fry from Colorado, Ray Ellis from Atlanta, Jerry Miller from New York, Tin Man Lee from Los Angeles, and the lovely ZZ from China. All in all a very interesting mix of photographers and adventurers.

Travel Day #5: Rancho Lago Amarga, Chile

Seven travel photographers with loads of gear and our Puma guide, Mauricio, poured into a shuttle van at the hotel in Punta Arenas and made our way to our destination……Torres del Paine or “Puma Land”.

  We stopped in this quaint town of Puerto Natales for supplies for the guests who did not have time to go to the mercado before. It is the gateway town for travelers going to Torres del Paine. It is filled with mountaineering and backpacking stores galore. 

  After about three hours of driving through mostly flat grassland we finally arrived at Refugio Laguna Amarga just outside of Torres del Paine National Park of Chile. 

  Our accommodations once was a thriving, working, 17,000-acre private ranch. They still have a herd of sheep that roam around the ranch.  Refugio Laguna Amarga shares a fence line with the national park. Most of our puma tracking was to take place on the ranch itself which was planned to provide an intimate, private experience for the seven of us. 

  Our photographic journey focused mainly on the wild puma that thrive here and hunt without fear of man both day & night. Wild guanacos, rheas, foxes, Cara Caras, European hares, flamingos, the endangered South Andean deer, and the near-threatened Andean condor also reside in this Darwinian dreamland. The landscape is a mix of rolling grasslands, prairie brush, volcanic ash, Magellanic steppe, rugged mountains, glacial moraines, and jagged rock towers. 

  The first great photo opportunity was the ranch “Refugio Laguna Amarga” otherwise known as The Goiien house. The ranch is situated on a hillside above a meandering river valley. The view from our day room or “la sala” is absolutely breath taking. La sala has a full view of the iconic mountain range of Torres Del Paine of Southern Patagonia.

  When we first walked into the guest house to choose our rooms, we were taken surprise by the smell of skunk. Apparently, one of those striped nocturnal creatures decided to make its home under the guest house. It was noticeably noxious and persistently pungent for quite some time I must say. By day four I hardly took notice.

  Our first lunch at the ranch was a delicious baked salmon with mashed garbanzo bean as a side preceded by a vegetable soup. Not a bad start I must say. Right after lunch a young man came up to the window with a hairy armadillo that he had found roaming in the field. ZZ and I ran outside to delight in this very interesting animal. We were warned not to pet his back since the long hair-like structures were actually more like quills. Instead we got to rub his belly. The young man set the armadillo loose and off he went to continue his foraging. We followed him for a while snapping some photographs.

  Now it was time to pack our cameras into the van and prowl for pumas. Our scout had spotted one earlier that morning and off we went to try to find the cat again. It is unusual to actually spot a cat, let alone photograph one the first time you set out to find a puma here, but the God’s were with us this day. The cat was spotted near Lake Sarmiento so we set off on foot together. She was spotted laying in the tall grass so we began to photograph her. I had my 150-600mm lens so I was able to get a decent photo of her from a distance. After a while she got up, set her eyes straight onto me, and began to slowly walk up the hill right toward me. She came within about 15 feet from my position. I heard Jeff Parker snicker and say, “Let’s see what you’re made of Karen”.  I have to admit being in the presence of this stealthy, wild,  predatory cat was an amazing feeling.  Her gaze had been locked onto to me for a long time it seemed, then she moved her focus to something on the hill above me. Jeff reminded me to take a breath once she broke her stare and walked around to my left side. I had not realized that I had actually stopped breathing. I then released a long, cleansing exhale.

Puma in front of me-Ray Ellis  The cat was on the move up the hill past the group. The 8 of us stayed within view of her. It was a hefty climb from our lakeside position up to the top of these steep, thorn bush covered hills. The Puma continued to walk and stalk as the afternoon sky began to dim. At the pinnacle of the hill the cat watched and waited. The group watched and waited with her. A light rain began to fall so we donned our rain gear and covered the camera lenses with plastic bags. The rain did not deter the stalking huntress, so we continued to follow her on a parallel path with prudent distance.  

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  The puma continued to lay in wait amidst the brush until the night began to fall. Dim lighting makes action photography near impossible so we packed up and started our long journey back to the car. We would have to wait another day to spot a puma with a fresh kill.

  This was an incredible 1st day in Puma Land that exceeded all of our expectations. Once back at the ranch we had dinner together. Dinner always started out with cut-up white bread & margarine and a bowl of soup. The main course was well-done, substantially tough beef with polenta. Vegetables were not a part of the menu for most nights.

Nightfall was very cold. Unbeknown to us, The electricity at the ranch is turned off after 10pm. There are no lights, and there is no heat until morning when the generator gets turned back on. It was too cold to take a shower by the time we got back to quarters, so I just used some wet wipes to bathe and made a plan to get a shower early in the morning.

Travel Day #6: Torres Del Paine, Chile

 We all needed to be up by 06:30 to be in the shuttle van ready to roll by 07:00 am. I was very surprised to find myself in complete darkness inside of my room. The entire guesthouse was freezing cold inside. The heat had been off all night along with the electricity. I was not all too happy about that since I very quickly succumb to numbness in my hands, feet & nose due to Raynaud’s disease. Not having a thyroid gland exacerbates the problem since I have no temperature regulation due to a previous total Thyroidectomy. There was no hot water so I washed my face by patting it with a corner of my bath towel that I had dampened. The rest of the body got the wet-wipe treatment.

  I put my headlamp on which luckily I had thought to bring in case we were out prowling for puma after dark. The breakfast buffet was dismal. There were a few fruity, sugar-filled yogurt cups, cold, white bread, cheese slices, ham slices, margarine and jam all in separate Tupperware containers on the table in the common area which I called “La Sala”. There were also cookies, crackers & cereal bars, instant coffee, and hot water.

  Some mornings there was even a little milk available for the coffee. There were always 2 big bowls filled with white refined sugar which no one touched to my knowledge. To be totally honest, there was not one single item on that table that I had ever had as a part of my morning diet for over 40 years. Breakfast, which usually is my favorite time of the day was a very sad time for me at the ranch. By the grace of God I had brought 2 apples and a jar of peanut butter which would prove to sustain me most of the week to come. 

  I was glad to be in the shuttle van by 7:00. At least there was heat in there. The day turned out to be cold & rainy. We had a Guanaco photography shoot this day as no puma were to be found._KAS2362

  I found delight in photographing pink clouds over the mountain peaks and rainbows around every turn. The ranch had many antiques that I enjoyed photographing. There were old phones, Peacock® sewing machines, a box radio, a wooden turntable, a Remington® typewriter, and a severely out of tune piano. There was decaying farm equipment, and a rusted old stove out on the grounds as well. 

  Dinnertime was the standard ranch fare of plain white bread with hard, un-spreadable margarine, a bowl of broth with a big chicken leg and a piece of floating corn on the cob. This is a Chilean dish that was actually quite delicious.

Chicken Soup

Ranch Fare

  After nightfall the weather turned ugly. The wind howled all throughout the night and then the rain poured down in buckets. I found it difficult to sleep. I had never heard wind like this before……This was only the beginning.

Travel Day #7: Torres Del Paine, Chile

 Morning came. My room was extremely cold and dark. There was no heat, no light. I was miserably cold. I got completely dressed so that I could tolerate the cold weather inside the guest house. I shuffled into La Sala for our non-breakfast buffet. 

  I had one of my apples that I had brought with me from Punta Arenas along with the peanut butter I had purchased from Puerto Natales. I poured warm water from the thermos from the non-breakfast buffet over the spoonfuls of canned coffee powder that was offered. There was at least a little milk to make the coffee powder palatable. Apparently the non-breakfast buffet is set up in La Sala each night after midnight by the ranch owner.

  We then packed all of our camera gear for the day into the van & drove into the unknown before sunrise. From left to right we had Mauricio as our driver, ZZ, and Tin Man in the front seats, Ray from Atlanta, Dr. Tom from Golden, and our fearless leader Jeff Parker in the middle row who manned the side door. I was by the window in the back row with Jerry from NY at the right window. In between Jerry & I were always 2-3 small backpacks. We set out each morning with our long lenses in our laps & the tripods in the cargo area in the very back. ZZ & Tin Man had 4 Nikon 850s with lenses varying from 400mm to 600mm prime. Those big, heavy monsters rode in the back with the tripods. We had more camera lenses than people in the van at all times. 

  Overnight it had snowed on the mountain peaks. The air temp was noticeably colder than the previous mornings. I had no less than 5 layers under my snow parka and I placed warmer packets inside my coat pockets and into my Merrell® snow boots. 

  The water levels had risen to near flood stage overnight in some areas according to one report. Per Mauricio, the amount of rainfall we had gotten in a few hours was what Southern Chile typically receives over many, many months as it is a high desert climate. We searched for Pumas all day. Most of us stayed in the van while the guides got out to scout. It was just too cold to venture outdoors in the windy, freezing rain. We got out for a few landscape & raging river shots though. 

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 Travel Day #8: Torres Del Paine, Chile  

The ranch was dark and cold again on this morning. I was feeling run down & tired. There was no heat again and no lights in the guesthouse. I put on no less than 7 layers of clothing, wool socks, my snow boots with heat packs, and a fleece beanie topped with a headlamp to find my way to La Sala for hot coffee. The non-breakfast buffet in La Sala had nothing to eat but processed ham, square sandwich type cheese slices, plain, cold sliced bread, cookies, crackers, sugar-filled yogurt cups and lukewarm water for the instant coffee powder.  There was not even milk on this oh so grim morning for the instant coffee. I was tired, cold, hungry, out of T.P. in my toilet cubicle, and the straw that broke the camel’s back…..no crema para cafe’. I was NOT a happy camper. 

  I walked outside into the morning darkness where I found Mauricio standing by the van. I tossed my gear in the vehicle and told him that I was going to have to leave the Puma photo tour after our morning Puma Prowl. When he asked why I wanted to leave I told him that I was not expecting an “indoor camping” experience. Camping is only fun when you “know” you are going camping.

 The only reason I went with the group that morning truly was because riding in the van into the stormy Patagonian wilderness was actually warmer than staying behind inside the guesthouse that was climatized for a meat locker. I just needed to get my numbed toes and fingers rewarmed, get a good hot shower, and perhaps even a hot beverage at a place that served milk in the morning with their coffee. The ranch was not far to Puerto Natales where I suspected I could find modest accommodations, a restaurant, electrical illumination, room heat, hot water, and perhaps  a few different day tours. At least I had options. For now though, I needed to stay with the heated van so I could survive a few more hours of this Patagonian wind & cold. 

  Off into the wild we drove once more. This time Dr. Tom & I rode in the front seat. It was toasty by the heater vents, and the 3 day chill began to defrost from my body. I could feel my toes again.

  As the trackers looked for a puma on the 17,000 acre ranch land, Mauricio drove our team through Torres Del Paine park. The wind was blowing enough to make whitecaps on the lakes and even smaller ponds. We came across Chilean Flamingos that I really wanted to get photos of. It was a challenge to get a clear shot even on a tripod with that wind. The Flamingos were trudging against the waves to forage for their food.  We found some Black Necked swans, Spectacled ducks, and Rheas too.

  Luck was with us for Pumas this day. The trackers found a sleeping Puma up in the hills out of the wind. The sun actually came out for a visit as well. We watched the puma resting for awhile, but there are only so many resting Puma photos one can take. Another puma was spotted near the Ranch with 2 cubs and a fresh Guanaco kill, so we rushed back to get some shots before nightfall. 

  We got our cameras set up across the river from the Guanaco kill before sunset and waited for the mom cat to return with her cubs. The diminishing light and the wind made for some challenging photography. I shot some video footage of the action since the still photos were not going to come out crystal clear at that distance and low light readings. This puma & her cubs have their range close to the ranch. Her name is Mata Oveja, or “Sheep Killer”. She is a fierce huntress, but a doting mother to her cubs. Once all three cats had their fill of Guanaco meat, the mother Puma cleaned the blood from the faces of the cubs and covered the carcass with grass & dirt. To watch a Puma mother and two cubs eating together was an experience of a lifetime.

  Meanwhile, back at the ranch…….Our dinner was being prepared. The usual fare of white bread with un-spreadable margarine, soup, tough, well-done meat, and a starch of some kind. Vegetables were scarce. Dessert at dinnertime was either a flavored, sweet custard pudding or thawed, sugary fruit over another starch. Most nights I gave my dessert to one of the hungry guys. ZZ never ate dinner at the ranch. I suspect she was smart & brought her own food with her. I do have to say that whenever salmon was served, it was cooked to perfection. I also need to mention a delightful spice that I was introduced to by our server, Marielle. It made the meat & the soup very tasty. It is a Chilean spice called Merkén made from smoked”cacho de cabra“.  I am now in love with this spice.

Our team leaders were successful in convincing Juan, the ranch owner, to keep the heat on for us in the evening as temperatures had been dropping into the 30’s. I am grateful that I was able to continue the tour. A little warmth was all I needed along with a little milk for the morning non-breakfast buffet.

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 Travel Day #9: Torres Del Paine, Chile

  Our morning began a little more comfortably with heat, then eventually, the lights went on at the ranch. The non-breakfast buffet was the same, but at least there was some milk for the instant coffee that I could take on the road in my new “Jeff Parker Photography” travel thermos. 

 The wind was fierce this morning for photography.  We got an early start for Laguna Azul landscape photos. Unfortunately the raging wind blew white caps over the lake which smashed our hopes of getting photos of the towers reflecting in the lake this morning. The wind was blowing so hard that tripods were getting blown over. I cranked up my ISO to try to get a clean shot of the Crested Caracaras that were clinging onto a tree branch. In dark, windy conditions the photos did not turn out so clear, but we had to try anyway. A newly formed pond had appeared during the night, so I took my camera over to that spot to photograph the Spectacled duck pair wading in there. 

  We spotted many Guanaco remains throughout every field we roamed. This 17,000 acre ranch was like a Guanaco killing field. It was kind of eerie really, which matched the dark, windy, chilly feel of the morning. I managed to snap a few good Darwin’s Rhea photos as we drove around the desert landscape. Many grey foxes ran about as well. The wind and the cold began to pick up even more. We decided to head back to the ranch a little early. 

  Meanwhile, back at the ranch……..lunch was being made for us. We unloaded our gear from the van and downloaded & backed up all of our photos from the morning shoot. The wind was blowing even harder than before. The Patagonian wind was not the occasional strong gusts like we have in Carmel & Monterey Bay. It was a constant, pounding, powerful, screeching force that was completely unnerving. This supernatural wind blast event continued throughout the entire night and into the next morning without slowing down one iota. I could see the window glass in La Sala actually bowing  inwards! I was afraid the picture frame windows would shatter & send glass shards throughout the living area. We opted to close the door of La Sala & hunker down behind the relative safety of the door & wall in the hallway area. Of course, you cannot say that you have had a true Patagonian weather experience without hurricane force winds and battering sideways rain darts cutting into your face. I received a mini micro-dermo-abrasion treatment on the way to the dining hall without ever stepping foot into a spa salon here at the ranch. 

  As my old friend Robert from Florida always said, “Adventure is rarely fun while it is happening.” Yeah, like that.

  We had to move our table away from the windows. The wind was bowing the glass window inward and was letting rain pour inside onto the tables & floor as if no glass were there at all. 

  Ray from Atlanta said that this Patagonian storm event topped any wind or rain he had ever experienced in all his travels to Alaska or Iceland. This was truly beyond anything I had ever experienced. Photos & video really cannot do justice the the power of the wind & rain we experienced over a 48 hour period. It just never let up. There were exactly 2 healthy, green trees before this storm on the ranch that could be viewed from La Sala. There was but one left standing by morning.  And the wind continued to scream.

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Travel Day #10: Torres Del Paine, Chile

There was no real let up to the powerful wind event. The rain poured nonstop all night like no deluge I had ever experienced. New, giant ponds had formed overnight and over the roads, and snow had re-dusted the hillsides. Maurico proclaimed, “Nunca have we had this much rain in so few days.” He stated that the rain we received over the past few days is about the normal yearly total.

  The wind continued to howl and push us around like rag dolls as we prowled for Puma. At least it was not raining. Photographer’s beanies and spectacles flew off of from their heads and faces. This was without question the strongest and longest wind event I had ever experienced in my 6 decades of travel. What was curious about the Patagonian wind behavior was that there was not just an occasional strong gust, but rather a constant, beating, injurious blast that never ended. 

  This Patagonian high desert is completely inhospitable & rugged, yet somehow the wildlife thrives here. It is a wonderland of odd and diverse creatures clustered here that normally are not commonly found together elsewhere. From Armadillos to Flamingos to Ostrich-like birds to penguins to Camel-like creatures to predatory cats all interact here. Watching the Guanacos “gallump” over the hills en masse and observing the Rheas trotting about in a zig-zag pattern through the thorny brush, and viewing the Andean Condors in the sky made me wonder if this place had really changed all that much since ancient times. The large fauna species like (Litopterna) a horse-like animal, Saber-toothed cat (Smilodon), giant ground sloths (Megatherium), Volkswagon-beetle sized Armadillos (Glyptodon), and huge hoofed mammals (Toxodon) are now gone, but many of their descendants remain. 

  Our daily journey through this Darwinian dreamscape appeared very similar to the scientific accounts that I have read in the past about the Pleistocene Epoch. This place describes an ancient place in time where the herds of game animals roamed the prairies, flocks of flightless birds trotted across the range, exotic mammal species foraged along the water’s edge, birds of prey soared through the skies, and ferocious saber-toothed cats stalked and preyed on the game animals. 

  With heavy camera gear in tow, our small group of adventurous photographers raced up the windswept hills to catch a glimpse of a Puma cat resting high above the lake in the rocky cave formations. The wind was so forceful that it kept me from drawing in a complete inhalation as if to steal my breath away. Upon finally reaching the apex of the hill, an enormous blast of Patagonian Monster Viento was awaiting my arrival. It felt as if I had struck a brick wall. I was blown back and nearly rolled back down the hill. If not for the heavy zoom lens I was holding low to the ground as ballast, I would most likely would have been airborne. 

  Once having found “relative” shelter from the wind by laying flat on the ground, I tried to catch my breath. I began to cough quite a bit and could not seem to stop. I could taste a little blood from all the coughing. I’m sure I burst a spontaneous Alveolar bleb that afternoon. 

  We had to wait for our breathing to slow down and for the wind to slow down prior to climbing the last hill up to the caves where the cat was. I climbed the steep hill behind the group watching my step on the uneven terrain over grass tuft mounds and thorny plants while the wind pushed me around at will. A gust of wind got the best of me and I got blown right onto one one those prickly plants. The seven layers of clothing protected all but my right middle finger which was badly impaled. I got up and continued up the hill like a drunken sailor, not at all too graceful or dainty. I did not realize it at the time, but my right hand was bleeding profusely.

We crept up to the summit to catch a glimpse of the Puma they called “Blinca”. She can be identified by a badly scarred right eye due to being attacked by a male Puma when she was only a kitten. Males apparently attempt to kill the young kits so that the female Puma will go into esterase again. Blinca is a fighter and a survivor. We watched her as she rested on a rocky outcropping that overlooked an expansive river valley and herds of Guanacos. We positioned our cameras to try to get a decent photo in the wind. I noticed blood smeared all over the camera grip & controls and some blood was even running down the legs of the tripod. “Just lovely”, I thought. “Let’s blood-let ourselves all over the mountain in front of an apex predator”. 

  As darkness began to fall, we pulled back so that the Puma could go on her evening hunt. It was still quite windy, but it did not feel as strong as it had been over the past two days. There were still whitecaps on Lago Sarmiento, small waterspouts, and blowing rain seemed to swirl over the lake from every direction. The wind seemed to have no beginning nor ending, it just “was”.

Mauricio spotted a Grey Fox somehow in the grass in the distance. I snapped off a few last shots for the day.

  Meanwhile, back at the ranch……….the evening soup, a generous portion of tough, shoe leather meat & a new starch awaited us. The Merken was a life saver for flavor. We started having bets on whether the soup would be red, yellow, or green that evening.

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  Travel Day #11: Torres Del Paine, Chile

   I awoke, the room was dark, but the heat was on. I placed my headlamp on and got cleaned up. I could hear people shuffling about the guesthouse which was odd. usually I had always been the 1st one up. For some strange reason it was one hour later at Torres del Paine than what my iPhone alarm stated. It was near time to go and everyone but Jerry & I had the correct time on their phones. 

  I decided to stay behind since it was warm, and I was not feeling like there was going to be a Puma sighting this morning. In fact, without Mauricio I just did not think we would see one again. Mauricio had to get back to Punta Arenas for another commitment, so the last 2 days of the Puma tour were going to be with someone we were not bonded to, in fact, Jeff our tour leader had never met the man prior. As the group drove away into the Patagonian darkness, I enjoyed my cafe con crema from the non-breakfast buffet in La Sala such as it was. I was visited by the little white ranch cat named Michi. I poured her a little saucer of milk, just don’t tell Juan.

  As the sun came out I walked around the ranch grounds blissfully snapping photos of the various wildlife I found. I snapped a shot of the sunlight as it emerged and illuminated the towers in a reddish hue. There were battling guanacos making a fuss. There was a pair of Upland goose, and a beautiful Southern Lapwing pair. 

  We all took notice of the dining hall roof that afternoon. It seems a piece of it went missing on the wind storm the previous day. 

  After lunch we went out for an afternoon drive with the new driver. We all missed Mauricio as our driver/tracker. His positive energy was contagious. This new driver, well not so much. We stopped for a few Guanaco & calf shots and a Crested Caracara that was close to the road. 

  We were called on the radio, a Puma had been spotted by the on foot trackers Junior and the lovely Javiera. We again bolted up some steep, thorny-bush covered hillside to get a glimpse of the Puma cat. Without a highly skilled tracker, you will never see a Puma like we did. They are masters of blending in, and experts of silent stealth. They are in view one second, then just gone the next. It is as if they have some sort of supernatural cloaking ability.   

  The Puma was scoping out some Guanaco from her hillside perch. It was pretty dark, so I just enjoyed watching this cat while she surveyed the land. It was Blinca once again on the hunt. She made her way down the valley to the lake. I chose to hang back & let her hunt. A few photographers followed the cat for a short time from a prudent distance. I heard from them later that Blinca had leaped into the air near the lake and ensnared a flamingo in flight in her claws. No one could get the shot since the cat was so lightening fast. Just amazing.

  Meanwhile, back at the ranch our cook was preparing our last supper. It was salmon cooked to perfection and a colorful yellow starch that tasted like potatoes. Some nights we had a dessert with Calafate berries. There is a saying in Chile about their Calafate berry. If you taste it, you will someday return to Chile. I tasted the berry with some hesitation in case the fable is true. If I do come back, I hope it will be in the summer.

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Travel Day #12: Torres Del Paine, Puerto Natales, and Punta Arenas, Chile

  We were up before dawn to have our non-breakfast buffet at the Ranch. The slightly heated water in the thermos was just warm enough to dissolve the instant coffee powder from the little coffee can that they offer here. We shared milk from a single serve carton for the coffee. The usual fare of white flour bread, cookies, crackers & sugar was also available.

  We were packed into our van by 07:00. I could see my breath in the chilly morning air by the light of my headlamp. We all began to pile in. Just then, our leader noted that the low gas warning light on our vehicle was illuminated. We seven adventurers were all ready to photograph the mountain towers at first sunlight, the golden hour. Yesterday’s guide had left the gas tank nearly empty. Sitting in the darkness, with nothing to see but the condensation in the air as we exhaled, we concluded that it would be a fool’s errand to venture out into the Patagonian wilderness to our chosen morning photo location without ample fuel. The nearest gas station? 62 miles away.

  We are extreme adventurers, yes. Some of us, like myself, are prone to be less on the extreme side nowadays, so we made the prudent choice to wait until sunlight before knocking on the ranch owners door to request a can or two of petrol for our journey back to Puerto Natales. 

  Eduardo senior drove us from Refugio Laguna Amarga to Puerto Natales for a real brunch and real coffee with cream. The town has many quaint shops and cafes. After our brunch we drove to Estancia Olga Theresa which is a working cattle & sheep ranch that also happens to be a habitat for the endangered Andean Condor. The 700 foot tall cliffs make a safe roosting spot for about 100 condors a night. It boasts the most accessible condor roost for viewing & photography. 

  Eduardo junior is a condor researcher & local expert. We got to learn about these condors before driving around the ranch in 4 wheel drives to the roosting site. Sadly the weather was windy and cold with a constant heavy fog & drizzle which made me decide to only take out my iPhone for photos. It was amazing to watch the condors soar over the expanse of the ranch. I wish the weather had cooperated, but it was still an amazing place to see. Once my extremities began to go numb, it was time to get back into the truck for me. 

Travel Days #13 & 14: Traveling back home

Refer to travel days 1 & 2 and reverse it. It was easier going back since I had the Global Entry Pass for re-entry into the USA which is worth every penny I spent to obtain that card. I just used my phone app & whizzed past the line. Glorious.

In review, we had many surreal once in a lifetime photographic opportunities, quite a few photographic challenges, logistics situations, terrain difficulties, changing weather disruptions, and temperature fluctuations, all along with limited dietary choices. 

  This wild destination of Southern Chile was both challenging and rewarding for me. This was my birthday present to myself as I enter my 6th decade. I highly recommend this entire itinerary to anyone who wants to have an opportunity to stalk along with the Puma, gallup with the Guanacos, forage like the foxes, skunks, and the armadillos, and soar up high with the Condors. You will not just be a watcher, but rather you will be completely engulfed within the experience. As you take in it’s splendor…..it takes you. Patagonia felt like a wind swept, ice age wasteland at first glance, but it could not be more alive.

http://www.diverindeep.com/Photography/Monterey/Monterey-Bay-Area-California/17801486_DkvvG4#!i=2501080766&k=6MBm3GN

On May 4th, 2013 I dove with 4 other underwater enthusiasts off “The Sanctuary” dive boat.

Split shot of "The Sanctuary"

Split shot of “The Sanctuary”

sanctuarycharters.com

The sea was flat enough to waterski on, so I tried some over/under photography.  The air was chilly, and the water temp was 48 degrees! I wore a 7 mm wetsuit with a hooded 5 mm vest, and a heated vest under all the neoprene.  If not for a heated cabin, a cup of noodles & a hot water hose to flush the cold from my suit, I would have missed a second dive.

My dive buddy did not get his PADI dive certification replacement card in time, so he could not come aboard this time.  I had to hang with another couple for safety. We were at a 90′ depth at The Pinnacles dive site which is why I got so chilled on the 1st dive.  Some surge was noticed, but not like the usual washing machine spin-cycle effect that I have become accustomed to diving in Monterey.

The water was a dark green with about 50′ visibility.   The rocky pinnacles were covered in life & color.  There were many starfish in all shapes, colors, & variety. Crabs, Nudibranchs, Turban & Jeweled Top Snails, & various Rockfish were abundant.

The second dive was at “Fire Rock”.  Again, flat & good Viz.  I worked on more split shots of the kelp under the surface & the boat above. There was a light current which carried me past the boat at one point so I dove down to 40′ depth to photograph the hearty, young kelp towers while the sunlight at the surface came shining through.  I got a few shots of a Giant Kelpfish as well.

I did not feel as cold on the second dive, but I was finning around quite a bit more to find good shots & to position myself for optimal lighting.  I had 2 fun dives, and had a smooth ride all the way out of the Monterey Bay past Pescadero Point.  No one chummed the water with their breakfast this time which is unusual (in my experience) on a Monterey dive boat.

I snapped off a few decent shots in spite of my testy Sea & Sea DX D200 UW housing which won’t allow me to change shutter speeds underwater. I have had the thing adjusted numerous times in the past without a permanent fix to the problem.  Perhaps a larger hammer?  🙂

I used the Nikon D200, Sea & Sea housing, Tokina 10-17 mm WA lens, Dual Inon D2000 strobes on 12′ arms, and a Sola 600 focus lamp.

Transparent ShrimpNew photos posted in Monterey gallery today. We did a dive at Wharf 2 in Monterey.  The visibility was about 8 feet, the water temperature was around 52 degrees.  This was a macro photography day.

http://www.diverindeep.com/Photography/Monterey/Monterey-Bay-Area-California/17801486_DkvvG4#!i=2483006661&k=HLfWZ5z

I was within arms length of the ocean's most feared apex predator!Swimming with Great White Sharks
Metallic Archival Print 24″x 36″
© 2011 Karen Schofield, R.N.
$225

Solstice Light Portal

During the winter solstice, the setting sun is correctly aligned to shine directly through this natural rock portal at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California.

My Great White Shark photo adorns the window in Carmel By The Sea.
Carmel Camera, San Carlos & 5th Avenue.

  I have been honored with the distinction of being chosen to show my photography at the
Carmel Art Institute’s International, Juried Photography Competition & Exhibit.
A handful of photographers were chosen out of hundreds that entered.  Some photographers
had but one photograph chosen for the exhibit, some had none chosen.
I am delighted to say that the judges chose five photographs from my Point Lobos portfolio.
  Opening night for this exhibit is Friday September 28th, 6:00-8:00 pm in the Carmel Barnyard.
Luganos will be serving hors d’oeuvres & wine selections.
  The exhibit runs from September 28th through October 18th, 2012.
Twenty percent of all photography sales goes to benefit The Point Lobos Foundation.
I hope you will visit the exhibition and see why it was named
“The Magic of Point Lobos”.

Nassau Grouper Steals the Spotlight