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Jul 2009

The enchanted Galapagos Islands

Posted by / in South America /

Did you know?
The Galapagos penguin is the only tropical penguin in the world.

The Galapagos Penguins breed as many as three times a year, since they don’t have a specified breeding season. Because of this, they are able to choose when to breed, and they ultimately decide this depending on food supplies. Before they breed, the penguins molt, and they may do this twice a year. While the birds are molting, they usually stay out of the water. They are able to go to the sea for food rather than starve though since the water is so warm in their area. Since they molt right before breeding, they are sure that they will not starve during the molting process. Granted, that may mean that there is not enough food during the breeding season, but the survival of the adult penguins is more important than the younger ones since they are the ones that make sure the species does not go extinct.

Some other interesting Galapagos wildlife facts:

The endemic Flightless Cormorant is the largest of the world’s 29 cormorant species, and the only one to have lost its power of flight.

Marine iguanas are only found in the Galapagos region. These are the only marine-going reptiles found anywhere in the world.

There are thirteen species of Darwin’s finches endemic to the islands. As noted by the great naturalist, these birds are famous for their beaks

17% of Galapagos fish species are endemic to the Galapagos.

Why are they so famous?
Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in September 1835, first landing on San Cristobal. He spent a total of 5 weeks in Galapagos.. His observations about life on the islands eventually led to his famed theory of evolution. His On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859.

Most of the islands are the tips of enormous volcanoes formed by slabs of the Earth’s crust moving south east over a “hot spot”or stationary area where concentrated heat and magma are released.

What can I do to ensure the islands retain their uniqueness?
Why not volunteer on our project on the island of San Cristobal….from 2 weeks to 1 year..

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Feb 2009

Trekking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Posted by / in South America /

The approach to the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is on the gravel roads that link one side of Patagonia to the other. Vehicles throw up a cloud of dust that leave a wake as if travelling through water. We spotted rheas (Patagonian ostriches), guanacos, (wild llamas) and a mighty condor drifting effortlessly across the wide open skies above the horizon. The great granite massif that forms the “Torres” is the centre piece to one of nature’s most stunning landscapes. Three “towers” and several aptly named “horns” soar over 2500m high above the surrounding hills, this place is all about scale, and here we’re talking big scale that’s served in quantity!

Our plan was to trek the “W” route following the 3 valleys that lead, from left to right, to the Torres base camp, the “British” base camp and Grey Glacier. We planned a route that would take 6 days with a mixture of laden and unladen walking. The group split into 3 person tent teams and procured supplies according to the food budget and the amount of weight they were prepared to carry. The walk to the Torres Base Camp was our warm-up walk which, 6 hours later, had done the warm-up and much more. After breakfast on the following morning we re-grouped and headed of to Campamiento Italiano at the head of Valle Frances.

We walked up Valley Frances to Campamiento Britanica from where had stunning views around the amphi-theatre-like bowl in the centre of the massif. Walking laden can be a challenge and our walk to Campamiento “Pehoe” proved the resolve of the group. All made it with time and weight to space.

Our walk to Glacier Grey was into the teeth a mighty gale. The weather until now had been hot, sunny and dry; today we got cool, cloudy and only slightly damp – 4 seasons in one day is the catch-phrase around here! Our travails were rewarded with fantastic views of the glacier with its blue tinges and imposing scale. Huge chunks the size of office blocks peeled of the face of the glacier creating a huge wave and a round of applause from the spectators. We returned to the camp with the ind on our backs and arrived in good time to prepare the evening meal. During the final day’s walk-out, I suspect that more than just one of us was sad to be leaving the park as we walked. A great 6 days for all!

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Jan 2009

The Salar de Uyuni

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Bolivia southern borders with Argentina and Chile are reached by crossing the vast Uyuni salt flats known locally as the “Salar de Uyuni”. This journey shouldn’t be taken lightly; just getting to the start point involves a rough 5 hour bus trip over unmade roads from the “Silver City” of Potosi. The town of Uyuni has a wild west feel to it, it sits on a dusty and windswept plain bordered on one side by the Andes and on the other by a vast salt pan that stretches to the horizon – whichever way you go involves adventure and not a little hardship.

Patagonia Venture 26 arrived in Uyuni on 3rd January 2009 and after making the necessary preparations climbed into a pair of hefty Toyota Landcruiser 4WD station wagons that were to become home for the next 3 days. The first day took us over a flooded salt flat that reflected the views mirage fashion with perfect clarity. The wide open spaces at this altitude provide the most incredible visibility and the distant volcanoes seemingly floated on the horizon.

An ancient graveyard of rusting trains was like a playgound for grown ups and re-enactments of scenes from John Wayne to Indiana Jones were played before we continued across high desert to our fist overnight stop in a collection of mud huts. Day 2 brought us to flamingo filled lakes, Dali-esque rocked shaped by nature and a pink lake called lagna Colorada. By day, this part of the world can be scorching hot under the high altitude sun, by night the temperature can drop to -25C. With such a range of climate we were forever adding and subtracting layers to remain comfortable. The colours of the landscape blend into one another from blue to purple to orange to red creating a never-ending overload of scenery.

We arrived at the Chile border satisfied that this trip could never be erased from our memories. The dusty and bumpy roads had taken us to a place that is surely unique on our planet. Looking into to Chile we saw a ribbon of tarmac that would lead to the Atacama desert and the start of our next adventure

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