Note from NPE: Fred and Lorelyn Koehler are regular NPE explorers and recently returned from their New Paths Epic Patagonia Expedition. Fred decided to share the details of his experience with you. In this article, he describes his experiences during the 4 night and days spent in Torres del Paine National Park.
Patagonia Torres del Paine with New Paths Expeditions by Fred Koehler
After lunch, we disembarked the Stella Australis in Punta Arenas and drove north. After several stops for wildlife viewing, we arrived for a late lunch at Hosteria Rio Rubens. Another time warp, same lunch stop in 2001 Patagonia trip. Comparing photos from 2001, nothing changed including huge portions of food. Hamburger Complete, big beef patty on a big bun, lettuce, chopped tomato, mashed avocado and lots of mayo served with great French fries. A young couple dining at Rio Rubens informed us they experienced rain, high winds and no sun during the past two days at Torres del Paine National Park.
Entering Parque Nacional Torres del Paine on an extremely well-maintained gravel road we stopped where a car skidded off the road and rolled on its side. Everyone escaped without injury. Our driver shook his head and commented on tourist renting cars, driving too fast, and being hit broadside by an explosive blast of wind. It was not our only encounter with rolled cars.
Arriving at Explora Lodge with moments to spare set the stage to capture the first in a series of memorable sunsets. Everything is included at Explora Lodge, food, drinks, horseback riding, hiking, boating, fishing and daily excursions of the groups choosing. Expedition Leader Jorge Salas selected a comprehensive schedule of events and free time.
The evening meal is the most formal with the correct number of glasses, forks, spoons, knives and other accoutrements. Menu options and presentation match the high quality of Explora thanks to Lodge Manager Rosario. Our first night we were introduced to Carmenere Grand Reserve 2012 wine by Vina von Sebenthal. It became our immediate dinner favorite. The most lax meal is breakfast with eggs to order, and a more European flair with bread, lunch meat, cheese, cereal, coffee and juice. Considering Explora Lodges 49 rooms and the closest grocery store a five hour round trip drive the breakfast was adequate. Architecturally the Lodge hugs the surrounding landscape with a modern flair. Room’s interiors are inviting with wood walls and a huge picture window. No need to get out of bed in the morning, just turn your head and look out the window.
The surrounding mountains delay a normal sunrise to 7:00 AM. A short 5-minute walk up a hill behind the hotel provided an over look of Lago Pehoe and Salto Chico Waterfall cascading next to the hotel, dropping down to Lago del Toro. No wind and a sunny day ahead. A short drive after breakfast took us to an isolated section of the park. For the next several hours the only sound heard was birds singing and the click of cameras. The birders in the group saw close looks at Dark-bellied Cinclodes, and a Southern Crested Caracaras posing on a fence post.
Regroup and off to Grey Glacier. About a 1½ hour hike and back to Explora lodge. After lunch a little welcome down time which did not last too long. Several decided to test the indoor swimming pool, 103 steps down from the Lodge. Two brave New Paths Expedition members tested the ice cold glacial waters of Lago del Toro. Complete immersion was necessary to qualify for an “I swam in Lago del Toro.” Soon after the swimmers returned our Explora guide summoned everyone, there is a Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus ) near the swimming pool. Back down the 103 steps. Beautiful sighting, both male and female 18 inches tall. Back up 103 steps provided cardio for the day. One more outing today to Salto Grande, the “big waterfall” and sunset.
6:00 AM quick breakfast on the run. Off for a long drive to Laguna Armarga before sunrise. We are now on the opposite side of the Torres looking across the lake with theTorres as a backdrop. The first rays of dawn illuminate the mountain from the top down. After 20 minutes everything changes to a faint shade of pink including the snow-capped peaks. Our guides caution us to watch for the Golden Necklace near the opposite shore. Soon it’s visible, a thin line of gold in the water. Binoculars reveal the secret, a line of Chilean Flamingos. The birds standing in shallow water are in the early red/pink sun, but the lake shore is in the shadow. Time for cookies, tea, coffee and Bailey’s. On the return to the Lodge, a group of Guanacos grazed alongside the road. Using our best stealth techniques we slowly approached the Guanacos. Fooling absolutely no one the minimum distance was finally reached. We slowly move, they slowly move. The Guanacos finally moved to a spot on a hill where the sharp peaks of the Torres appeared directly behind them. Another great photo opportunity.
Late afternoon we drove to an overlook of the park. A long valley extends below. Blue sky and sunny weather are enhanced by Explora Guides Cello and Nicholas when they open the back of the van and produce a cooler full of liquid refreshments and cookies.
Our last full day is free. We asked Nicholas, the best birder at the lodge if he would take us “birding.” The guides at Explora are not just accommodating but just plain nice. A few species spotted were Chilean Flicker, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Austral Thrush, Pygmy Owl, Shell Duck and Austral Parakeet.
A fun boat ride across Lago Pehoe concluded our stay at Explora Lodge. Leaving the park after lunch, the wind increased to where Andean Condors could fly. Our guide spotted a low flying Condor, well within camera range. Eighty-three pictures later I climbed back into the van and began the trip home.
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Note from NPE: Fred and Lorelyn Koehler are regular NPE explorers and recently returned from their New Paths Epic Patagonia Expedition. Fred decided to share the details of his experience with you. In this article, he describes the events of the Australis cruise to Cape Horn via the Beagle Chanel, Straight of Magellan and the fjords of the Darwin Mountain Range
Navigation to Cape Horn (Patagonia) with New Paths Expeditions by Fred Koehler
Two cities for your bucket list. Ushuaia Argentina’s claim to fame, they are the Southernmost city on the South American continent.
However, the Southernmost city in South America is Puerto Williams, Chile about 30 miles Southeast of Ushuaia.
Puerto Williams is an island on the opposite side of the Beagle Channel and not connected to the South America continent.
And so the argument goes on. Geographically Ushuaia is unique. The downtown area extends inland from the Straights of Magellan for three-quarters of a mile then rises very quickly to over 3500 feet above sea level. In Ushuaia, our New Paths Expedition group of eleven boarded the 210 passengers “Stella Australis” for three nights. We arrived in the lounge for the introduction of the Captain, Officers and activity personnel explaining what the ship had to offer. The lights dimmed the screen rolled down, and the first presenter stepped to the microphone. We could not believe our eyes; it was Francisco Cardenas from our trip to Patagonia in 2001. Francisco is now the top Expedition Leader/Naturalist on the “Stella Australis.” After the presentation, we relived the eight days we spent with him 15 years ago. At the time, he was new to guiding and recalled our adventure. We “adopted” him for the next three days.
Aboard ship seating is open however New Paths Expedition Leader Jorge Salas worked his magic, and the ship provided a permanently reserved table for us. Our first dinner, crab starter, excellent steak, and flan for dessert and open bar for wine and beer. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style. A plethora of selections
provided choices for everyone. The head baker responsible for desserts out did himself and usually drew the longest lines. With one seating at each meal, we never felt rushed to vacate the dining room. After dinner, we were often the last to leave the dining room.
First morning, 7:00 AM meet in the lounge with life vests, rain gear and cameras. It’s still dark, temperature 43 degrees as we our turn to board the zodiac. After dawn, the14 passenger Zodiac reaches the rocky shore of Cabo de Hornos or Cape Horn. To reach the top of the Island and lighthouse required climbing 160 stairs straight up the islands sheer wall. The stairs are in excellent condition with hand rails on both sides. A light rain accompanied us up the stairs. Reaching the top, plateau area, rain changed to graupel or snow pellet. Wearing a rain jacket I could hear the tiny pellets bouncing off my hood. Foot traffic is confined to a wide boardwalk taking you to either the light house or the Cape Horn Monument.
Before reaching the lighthouse, the weather broke to the partly blue sky with high mixed clouds. At the far end of the island stood a beautiful steel monument which was destroyed a few months ago by 130MPH winds from the Antarctic. Looking south from the monument toward Antarctica the horizon turned dark. Our guides quickly began asking everyone to begin heading back to the zodiacs. Wind and heavy seas on the return trip to the ship made disembarking the zodiac a challenge. Cape Horn, two and one-half hours on the island and all four seasons!!!!
Late in the afternoon, we donned our life preservers and headed ashore to visit an abandon military radio station built in 1931 turned into a museum. Francisco provided a comprehensive talk on the Yamana natives. Despite the cold, rainy climate they wore a single garment of animal skin, over their shoulders like a cape. Women swam in 48-degree water hunting for shellfish. This small group of indigenous people was visited by Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Drake, James Cook, and Charles Darwin. A
Plaque noted Darwin visited on the Beagle voyage of 1832-1835. Prior to returning to the ship, we were greeted by an old tradition, a Stella Australis bartender serving Mortals. Their version of a Mortal is 60% hot chocolate and 40% of a popular American whisky. Francisco informed a better mix is 10% hot chocolate and 90% whisky.
After breakfast, a series of lectures covered the afternoon excursion to Aguila Glacier and tomorrows landing at Magdalena Island. Both lectures were well presented. Mauricio talked about the Straights of Magellan, Past and Present without notes. Afternoon life jackets on and zodiac to the glacier. On the walk from the beach to the glacier, Francisco pointed out the variety of local plants. After a great viewing, we were again greeted with Mortals, this time, we requested a 50/50 mix. Our last dinner awaited us. Appetizers were on the table, octopus in a black olive cream sauce. Main course grilled conger fish plus a request for a few short ribs on the side. Wine flowed freely as the ship has an open bar policy.
Last stop, Magdalena Island. Early morning zodiac to view Magdalena Penguins. Walking is confined to designated paths with stakes and ropes keeping visitors from disturbing the penguins’ nests. The ropes are just high enough for the birds to walk under. Male penguins were cleaning out last years’ nest, offering sea weed and small stones to their mate for approval. Zodiac to the “Stella Australis” for the last time and cruise to Punta Arenas. Then back to reality.
Thanks to New Paths Expeditions and Expedition Leader Jorge Salas for a great adventure
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Note from NPE: Fred and Lorelyn Koehler are regular NPE explorers and recently returned from their New Paths Epic Patagonia Expedition. Fred decided to share the details of his experience with you. In this article, he describes the events of the King Penguins & Gauchos of Tierra del Fuego Pre-Extension: from the cultural experiences in Punta Arenas to the incredible encounters with Tierra del Fuego King penguins, the time spent with real Gauchos and wildlife observation, to a champagne toast at Garibaldi Lake before arriving in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
Tierra del Fuego with New Paths Expeditions by Fred Koehler
Eight of us blended with a mix of tourists and locals. Everyone ordered Completo; a Chilean hot dog served open faced with sauerkraut, chopped tomatoes, avocado, and lots of mayonnaise. Completo’s are usually accompanied by local beer.
After exploring the central plaza, we walked to the former Sara Braun Mansion. She married well-to-do Portuguese tradesman and businessman José Nogueira in 1887. In 1890, Nogueira ordered the construction of the mansion but passed away in 1893. She completed construction in 1895. In 1992, the mansion converted to the José Nogueira Hotel and opened the Shackleton Bar. Entering the bar the clock turned back to 1916 when Shackleton planned the rescue of his stranded crew on Elephant Island. To commemorate the rescue we ordered Caliphate’ Pisco’s made with fresh berries.
The next morning our two vans drove five minutes to the ferry dock for a two-hour Straights of Magellan crossing.
Rule number one in Patagonia, be flexible.
The ferry crossing to the Island of Tierra del Fuego was canceled. Our two local guides and drivers immediately called another crossing location two hours away. Reaching the new crossing with minutes to spare we were surprised to learn that the crossing took only fifteen minutes.
Arriving in Cerro Sombrero, population 687 at lunch proved challenging. No open restaurants in town but a grocery store with a deli. New Paths Expedition Leader Jorge Salas and local guide Francisco pick up loaves of bread, jar of mayo, fresh avocados, potato chips, sliced ham and cheese from the deli and went to work. A small eating area in the grocery store accommodated everyone. Within minutes Jorge and Francisco appeared with two tall stacks of sandwiches. Impromptu is always a winning combination. We talked about our fun lunch for days.
An afternoon stop at the Parque Pinguino Rey provided a close look at 150 King Penguins and their chicks.
A Southern Gray Fox strolled past on his way to his burro behind the visitor’s center. Another great photo opportunity. Several hours later we cross from Chile into Argentina in the middle of nowhere. First passports required to leave Chile, then drive about five miles to enter Argentina. The distance between check points is known “no man’s land.” Overnight at Grand Hotel in Rio Grande, Argentina.
An hour drive from Rio Grande brought us to Estancia Las Hijas a 20,000-acre cattle and sheep operation. The 80-year-old sheering shed holds up to 1000 sheep. Much of the sheering equipment dates back over 70 years. While touring the Estancia sides of lamb are being prepared on the patio, asado al palo or roasted on a stick. Our group of 12 including our Expedition Leader, local guides and drivers filled the small restaurant. After lunch Estancia Manager Stephans took us on a walk looking for wildlife.
Before entering Ushuaia our two local guides and drivers pulled off the road onto a scenic turn out. They surprised us with a champagne toast to all. Overlooking Lake Garibaldi, drinking champagne, toasting cheers to all and having a last laugh about our impromptu lunch in Cerro Sombrero ended the day.
Today’s traffic snarled one of our favorite towns in South America, Ushuaia. Windswept and clinging to the base of the Martial Mountains, Ushuaia is perched on a steep hill, and framed by the Beagle Channel. Time to end this journey.
A special thanks to New Paths Expedition and Expedition Leader Jorge Salas.
NPE Note: Thank you Fred! Fred and Lorelyn, together with their ten travel companions, boarded the Stella Australis, the best ship to navigate the Beagle Channel, Straight of Magellan and the fjords of the Darwin Mountain Range to the mythical Cape Horn.
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There is no better way to learn about the realities of a travel experience than through the accounts of past explorers. Fred and Lorelyn Koehler are regular NPE travelers and recently returned from their New Paths Epic Patagonia Expedition. Their trip also included Easter Island, the most isolated inhabited place on Earth (The best way to reach Easter Island is by combining it with a Patagonia Expedition). Fred -using Lorelyn’s detailed notes, decided to share the details of their experience with you.
Easter Island with New Paths Expeditions by Fred Koehler (Orange – CA)
Fly five and one half hours to visit and island 63 miles square with a population of slightly over 5761. 350 passengers ona wide body plane quickly disperse into a myriad of hotels, resorts, and campsites. After a 10 minute ride from the airport, we arrived at the top rated Hare Noi Hotel. Using a map of the island carved into a table top, guide Tito expertly explained history, culture and the geography of Easter Island before lunch.
Meals are a choice from three starters, three main courses, and three desserts. First lunch fresh pumpkin soup, sesame-crusted white fish with rice and flan for dessert. Beautifully presented. While eating a small pickup truck pulled in with a 5-foot tuna and smaller fish. Fresh tuna for dinner.
After lunch, a short drive in our open air (canvas roof) truck took us to Puna Pau and on to Ahu a Kivi where seven Moai face the ocean. All other Moai face inland. Last stop today Tahai for a spectacular sunset.
To fully capture the essence of Easter Island required several long days with downtime at midday. 5:45 AM board the truck for a 30-minute ride to Ahu Tongariki for sunrise. Tito packed portable chairs coffee, brownies and assorted snacks and water. Using our flashlights, we followed Tito to the best place to view the sunrise. Our first glimpse of light revealed 15 Moai. The light change from a sleepy gray, to pink, and finally a ball of fire exploded on the horizon between two Moai. It was totally silent, no one spoke. The drive back to Hare Noi was also silent, everyone checking their pictures.
Late morning a trip to Anakena where the first king, Hotu Matu’a set foot on the island around1200AD. Later seven Moai were erected. Four of the seven Moai are complete with top knot. Next a short drive to Vinapu, a ceremonial center showing extraordinary stonemasonry of large, carefully fitted slabs of basalt. (looks like Cusco’s Sacsayhuaman)
As the path extends up the side of the quarry photo ops become more spectacular. Rounding a bend, looking across the valley and down several hundred feet is Ahu Tongariki and its fifteen Moai. Time to return to Ahu Tongariki for sunset. Tito explains the second Moai from the left is a family Moai, Tupahotu.
Tonight a special dinner, Curanto or pit cooking. With a variety of seafood, beef, squash, fresh vegetables plus side dishes the Easter Island version of a Chilean Curanto was a culinary delight.
Early risers were offered a second sunrise look at Ahu Tongariki. Everyone attended. Too good to pass up. The remainder of the day we had an opportunity to shop in Rapa Nui, take our passport to the post office for a free stamp, visit the museum, explore Rao Kau Crater and Orongo.
Orongo is the site of the “Bird Man” cult ritual. A competition from one member of each tribe to collect the first Sooty Tern egg of the season. The competition began in Orongo on a sheer cliff 820 feet above sea level. A member from each clan climbed down the cliff, swam to 1.5 miles to Motu Island, took an egg, swam back, scaled the cliff, and presented the unbroken egg to their sponsor in front of judges. Most years the participants swam to the island and waited days or weeks for the Sooty Terns to lay their eggs. The winner gave the sponsor the title of Tangata Manu and great power on the island for a year. Many Hopu were killed by sharks or by falling off the cliff.
Our thanks to New Paths Expeditions for a well planned and executed trip.
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The discoveries come following a 30-year investigation where specialists tagged 50,000 individuals.
Scientists also observed the “divorce” of couples, and findings suggest that the cause may be the inability to produce offspring. In such cases, Penguins looked for new life partners. Others believe that personality incompatibility may also be a cause.
An important finding of this research is the life span of the relationship of individual couples. Beforehand penguin relationships were supposed to last only ten years. The main finding of the recent research is a couple whom relation lasted over 16 years. These makes Magellanic Penguin the most loyal wild species.
Every year Magellanic Penguins depart on solo journeys of 200 000 miles. When southern summer arrives, they return to their nest. They find each other by the use of a unique call. The researchers utilized satellite following to distinguish the developments of the feathered creatures, demonstrating the extraordinary voyages, up to 2000 000 miles, that they take every winter up north, to the hotter waters of Brazil in the Atlantic, and Peru in the Pacific Ocean.
In the wake of rejoining and mating, the female typically lays two eggs. Couple members will alternate to guard the eggs while the other goes to the ocean to fish.
After they incubate, the parents spend a month tending to their young before taking off to their wintering territory.
Patagonia, a territory divided between Chile and Argentina, have the biggest population, with 1 700 000 estimated nests.
It is important to mention that their numbers have declined since the turn of the century because of oil contamination and falling fish numbers.
Other species that mate for life include Albatrosses, Vultures, and Angelfish.
New Paths Expeditions explores Southern Patagonia in detail with its Epic Patagonia Expedition. An award-winning itinerary that includes Megallanic Penguin colony visits during nesting time.
The expedition crosses Tierra del Fuego to encounter King Penguins and interact with Argentinian Gauchos and then boards the Estella Australis ship and navigate the Beagle Channel to Cape Horn. Then sails the fjords of the Darwin Mountain Range and the Straight of Magellan to Punta Arenas, from where you drive to Torres del Paine National Park and lodge for four nights at the upscale Explora hotel, the best location in the park for a complete exploration of its highlights and hidden treasures. Horseback riding, trekking, birdwatching, puma search and many other activities are included. Open bar during the Australis Navigation and while at Explora hotel. Extensions to Easter Island, El Calafate, Perito Moreno, El Chalten, Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires are available.
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The award winning Explora Hotel Patagonia is the only property located right at the heart of Torres del Paine National Park. This is why we selected this all-inclusive and upscale property to spend 4-nights during the Epic Patagonia Expedition. You can’t beat its location, services and vistas. Check the view from your room! (We guarantee mountain view rooms). Any other hotel will force lengthy drives every day to explore Torres del Paine National Park.
About the Expedition:
The Epic Patagonia Expedition explores Easter Island (Pre Extension), crosses Tierra del Fuego to encounter King Penguins and interact with Gauchos, navigates to Cape Horn through the Beagle Channel, Darwin Range and the Straight of Magellan before reaching Torres del Paine, the most beautiful place on Earth (4 nights at Explora Hotel Patagonia). It then continues to Perito Moreno, the most active glacier of the world. All this at an unbeatable price while escorted by a true Senior Leader with more than 100 expeditions in Patagonia. Departs in March, the month with the best weather, the ideal amount of daylight hours and perfect colors for photography. Don’t miss it. Only 12 participants. Call us now at 888 832 7280.