Words can't adequately describe what or even how I feel right now. It was like being live in a nature documentary by David Attenborough, only the voice-over was missing.
In the early morning we were shipped out on a local tender and then got onto a bus which took us to the National Park.
Before even entering the park proper, we spotted a condor sitting in the pampa by the side of the road, no more than 30 metres away. It minded its own business and then took off very gracefully for a creature of that size (wingspan of 3.2m).
On we went for a few minutes only to spot a whole group of condors sitting on a rocky bit further away.
There were some Nandus, too but we had seen those more clearly and closer on the way to the Otway Sound penguin colony so they weren't that interesting anymore.
And then, the highlight: a whole herd (flock? I'm not sure what the collective word is) of Guanacos, right there beside the road, the closest not further than 15m away or even closer. There were at least 30 animals, maybe even 50, including a large number of young one who couldn't have been older than maybe a week. A wonderful and utterly awesome sight. We spent at least 15 minutes there and I got a number of brilliant shots, including a sequence of one male (assumingly the dominant one) chasing another (impostor?) across the hill and back again.
All the while a condor was circling over the herd on the lookout for any weak or sick ones. As one of the lecturers told me, they will finish off a still living animal that's fallen and can't get up again or is sick etc. so they won't just go purely for things that are already completely dead.
On went the journey into the park proper where we spotted a grey fox at one of the vantage points. The weather was clearing up more and more the further we went in and we soon had bright sunshine, just the very top of the mountains were still in clouds, including the landmark of the region, the Torres themselves. They wouldn't come out later, either but all those animal sightings more than made up for it.
There was lunch at the Hospitales by Lago Grey, in which icebergs from the glacier drift along lazily and then the long drive back with various stops on the way when more animals were sighted. We also saw several Karakaras (large birds of prey who also feed on carrion), Magellan and Koroskovia Geese and finally, back in Punta Arenas, black necked swans who look similar to our swans, just as if they'd dunked their heads and necks into a pot of ink...
Ferried back to the ship, it was time to relax a bit and watch the anchor being weighed.
We are now on our way to Porto Williams, our next destination, again passing the Kirk Narrows on the way, which I won't miss this time!
I really wish I could upload those photos...
We arrived in Puerto Natales ahead of schedule and received permission to land from the port authorities sowhoever wanted could go down to Deck 2 to be shipped out on one of the small Polarcirkel boats, each having room for eight passengers (four along each side) and a driver (the big ship couldn't dock at the pier). They're quite slick boats with a powerful outboard engine and the drivers really know how to control them. On the way over there the sea was very calm so getting on from the ship (over a small gangway) and off at the pier wasn't a problem at all.
I wandered around the town for a while, first along the harbour and then criss-crossing through town, taking a few pictures on the way until I found what I had been looking for, a small, cosy bodega where I joined two of my shipmates for a meal of wonderful, fresh and tasty king crab, the local specialty and afterwards a round of Pisco Sour, the national drink/cocktail.
The ride back in the little boat was much more exciting as the weather had turned so the sea was quite choppy which didn't perturb the driver at all and he skimmed over the waves at full speed. Much more fun and everyone said "Again! Again!".
Now I'm going to get stuff ready for tomorrow and turn in as it's an early (breakfast at 6am) start for a day tour to the Torres del Paine National Park. Let's hope the weather holds.
Update on the day tomorrow night.