Most of Álvaro's updated information comes from Parque Nacional Lauca (pictured above) and vicinity, where I spent most of a year doing my M.A. fieldwork in the 1980s. This is an area where, unfortunately, the mining industry also has a major presence; in gateway village of Putre (pictured below), the Hotel Las Vicuñas is now open only to mining personnel. That said, Álvaro reports, “[T]here are two new hotels in town: Hotel Q'antati (which I stayed in), great rooms, heating, breakfast but no lunch/dinner. The Chakana Mountain Lodge I saw from a distance and it looked nice, but I did not see it up close. “
The route up to Lauca, though, “is a mess. There is road construction going on from the army base [near Putre] to Chucuyo, with many delays, dust, trucks. The experience there was a nightmare this year. The company that is doing it (Kodama) is clueless unfortunately, and they are being critiqued from all sides on their work. While we were there, a head-on collision occurred on a one-lane stretch they were working on; one man died. Much of this road construction is to get it up to the level that it can take heavy truck traffic, which is expected to increase greatly from mining operations in the area.” Barbara Knapton of Alto Andino Nature Tours, who lives in Putre, says the delays have made it difficult to reach and return from the park; I will have more on the topic in the near future.
For birders, the big news comes from Tierra del Fuego (on the right half of the NASA image above). On the Chilean side of the island, just across the Strait of Magellan from the city of Punta Arenas, “[T]here is now an area on Bahía Inútil [“Useless Bay,” in English], where it is possible to see a flock of loafing king penguins. I have not been there yet, but am excited at the possibility to see this superb creature at such an accessible location.” While this would still mean a full-day excursion from Punta Arenas, kings rarely appear so close to significant population centers – I myself have seen many on the Falkland Islands (the one below occupies part of a mixed colony with gentoos), but never on the South American continent or Tierra del Fuego.
Finally, Álvaro adds a word for those flying south from Santiago or Buenos Aires. His flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas “had to skip the traditional stop over at Puerto Montt because of the smoking Puyehue (Caulle) Volcano, and then farther south on the flight we could see smoking Hudson doing its thing! Two smoking volcanoes on one flight was a first for me; on that day (early November) Puyehue was definitely more active than Hudson. I would advise tourists to think about backup plans if they are planning on flying to Puerto Montt during this season if Puyehue increases activity once again. I heard of flight cancellations to Temuco in late October as well. The wind direction is prevailing from the West, creating a greater problem in Argentina, but there are enough local wind shifts that one is not always in the safe zone in Chile.” The NASA satellite image above, taken in July, indicates the pattern of ash distribution.
Well, just down the road, really. Earlier this month, an attack of bronchitis caused me to postpone a promotional digital slide presentation at REI Fremont, 43962 Fremont Blvd., Fremont, CA 94538, tel. 510/651-0305. We have rescheduled the event, for this coming Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. According to my doctor, I am longer contagious.