This vacation is spectacular. Having Cristian and Vanesa join us is a great idea, since we share our perspectives about everything with each new town and hike. The Patagonian Andes are immense, and our tour only touches a tiny part of them. Even so, that’s enough to appreciate this part of the world. The wildlife is much more abundant than in parks in North America, and very different. The guanacos (llamas) and ñandu (small ostrich-like birds also known as “lesser rhea”) are in herds both near and far from the road. Giant condor circle almost everywhere and rested caracara feast on road kill like crows. Pulling over to have a potty break can be exciting, as you have to watch out for black widow spiders, among other things. Armadillos, hares and foxes hide amongst the scrub-brush, occasionally running across the road. It turns out the ñandu can be just as curious about us as we are about the big bird. When we spotted one close to the road, Han eagerly jumped out of the car, camera in hand, only to realize the strange creature was getting uncomfortably close. She kept one eye on the bird while figuring the distance back to the safety of the car. Once the bird was inside her ‘safety zone’ she broke into a run and hopped back into the passenger seat. The bird looked momentarily confused then went back to grazing.
The flowers are typical for the high dessert, small and tightly bushed. In the foothills and mountains, tiny orchids are everywhere. There are occasional poppies and other plants we can’t identify. The bees are over various black and white patterns. In fact, many of the birds are also black and white as well (geese and condors). We’re not sure about the relation.
The geology is also amazing. The Andes have several millennia of inland sea and volcanic upwelling phases. There are giant banded layers in great arching hills that now fragment to expose ages of green life, then water sediment, then a volcanic ash layer of dramatic change.
There are several petrified forests in the parks and lots of different stone compositions. Some large coral even exists along one of the lakes we encountered, ancient relics from a bygone inland sea.
The stone can be a wide variety, all strewn along a single area from the glacier movement pushing the valleys ever deeper. We walked along granite of many types, peppered with rusted iron compositions that are quite heavy, mixed among sedimentary stones from compressed ash, lime or sand. In total, it’s a geologic adventure as much as anything else.