Wednesday, April 05, 2017

If Only the Moais Could Talk

Greetings Everyone,
It's hard to imagine a place so remote that the nearest continental point is 2182 miles away! A place where stone giants line the seashore gazing out at open ocean that stretches forever. Rapa Nui is that place and on March 25 we set out to visit this almost mythical island known by most as Easter Island. The first European to set foot on the island was Jakob Roggeveen who landed on Easter Sunday, 1722 giving Rapa Nui its more common name, Easter Island. Today it's much easier to reach in a Boeing Dreamliner that flies daily from Santiago, Chile to this remote locale.

The Island looks a lot different today than in 700 to 1100 CE when the first Polynesians arrived in their outrigger canoes from the Gambier or Marquesas Islands. Back then the Island was forested with palm and Toromiro trees which are now extinct in the wild. Efforts to replant the Toromiro have failed as the soil and climate are no longer ideal for them.  Today the Island consists mainly of open grasslands with a few groves of introduced eucalyptus trees.

Easter Island Landscape

We were met by our tour guide, Josie, and checked into our hotel before making our first excursion to the ceremonial site of Ahu Tahai close to the only town, Hanga Roa. It's hard to describe one's feelings when you see these monoliths for the first time.  Wonder and awe come to mind.  How could ancient peoples carve and transport these massive stone statues with only primitive tools?

Moai Carving Tools

This site contains three stone platforms called Ahu which support the statues which are called moais. The largest platform, Ahu Tahai, contained 5 moais each carved from compacted volcanic ash called tuft.  The largest stands 30 feet tall and weighs 80 tons!  

Ahu Tahai

Nearby was a smaller Ahu with a single Moai, Ko Te Riku, with restored eyes made from white coral and red scoria.  This moai had what looked like a top hat also made of red scoria.  Josie explained that it is a top knot or putao and is thought to be hair fashioned in the style of the day.

Ko Te Riku

Josie took us to the nearby grave of Dr. William Mulloy, an American anthropologist, who was responsible for restoring this site in 1974. She added that Dr. Mulloy was her maternal grandfather! How wonderful to have Josie who has a very personal connection to the island, as our guide!

Josie at the Grave of Her Grandfather, Dr. William Mulloy

We visited a second site called Ahu Akivi, (which Dr. Mulloy also restored) an inland grouping of 7 moai all looking out to sea.  Legend has it that a priest, Hau-Maka, had a dream in which his spirit traveled far looking for a new land for his king, Hotu Matu'a. When he awoke he told the king about this new land and scouts were sent to locate it. Seven remained behind to await the arrival of King Hotu Matu'a and the statues at Ahu Akivi were erected in their honor.

Ahu Akivi

The next morning we visited Anakena, a white coral sand beach thought to be the first landing site on the island.

Horses at Anakena

Nearby was Ahu Nao-Nao with 7 moais, 4 with pukao.  At this time of the day it was a peaceful place and I wondered what the first Rapa Nui thought as they landed on the beach in their canoes after crossing thousands of miles of open ocean! How long had they been at sea and what hardships did they have to endure before arriving at this place?

Ahu Nao-Nao

Our next stop was Te Pito Kura, an unrestored site.  I was shocked to see a single moai that had been deliberately pushed over. The statue laid face down in two pieces on the ground.  It was the largest moai transported from the Rano Raraku volcanic quarry and successfully erected on an Ahu or platform.  Its height reached 10 meters or 33 feet and it's estimated weight exceeded 80 tons!  Who would have caused such vandalism to a once sacred site?

Te Pito Kura

Josie went on to explain that in fact all the erected moais on the island had been toppled between 1722 and 1868 by the progeny of those that created them. I had no idea.  What could have caused the people of Rapa Nui to destroy what was once believed to be the embodiment of their ancestors containing mana, a supernatural power meant to protect them?  Internal warfare is thought to be the answer.  As the population of Easter Island grew and natural resources depleted, the Rapa Nui began fighting among themselves with one clan toppling the moais of another to weaken them. The arrival of the first Europeans and the emergence of a new religion called the Birdman Cult probably contributed to the destruction of the moais.  

Nearby is a large ovoid-shaped rock purporting to have been brought to the island by Hotu Matu'a and like the moais contains supernatural power or mana. The name Te Pito Kura means "navel of light" and this stone is also referred to as Te Pito O Te Henua ("navel of the world").

Te Pito O Te Henua ("navel of the world").

Probably the most famous site on Easter Island is Ahu Tongariki with its impressive 15 standing moais!  

Ahu Tongariki

Restoring Ahu Tongariki was no easy feat.  The statues, some weighing up to 80 tons, were not simply toppled over but moved hundreds of feet inland by a massive tsunami that hit the island in 1960!  The 26-foot high tidal wave was caused by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded centered around Valdivia in Central Chile.  I talked about this earthquake in a previous post titled "The Many Surprises of Chiloé!".  The impetus for restoration came from an unlikely source, Tadano, a Japanese company that makes trucks and cranes.  They demonstrated back in Japan that an 11-ton replica of a moai could be lifted by one of their cranes.  In June of 1992, a crane capable of lifting 15 tons arrived by ship all the way from Kobe, Japan!  A team of Chilean, Polish and American archaeologists was formed and restoration was completed in September, 1996. Today thousands of tourists travel to Easter Island to see this impressive site particularly at sunrise when rays of sunlight illuminate the resurrected figures.

Ahu Tongariki at Sunrise

If only the moais could talk they would tell us where and when they were created. We know from carbon dating that they were carved between 1100 and 1600 A.D.  Most of the moais were carved insitu at Rano Raraku Volcano, a seemingly inexhaustible source of volcanic tuft. There are around 400 statues still at the quarry, half of which were completed but never transported to an Ahu.

Moais at Rano Raraku Volcano

The Rupa Nui were in the process of carving the largest statue, a monstrous megalith called El Gigante (The Giant), which was almost 71 feet tall and weighed 175-200 tons!  He was never completely cut from the mountain maybe because the clans had already started warring or maybe because his creators realized he was just to big to transport and erect.

El Gigante (The Giant)

How on Earth did the Rupa Nui get the statues them from the quarry to an Ahu up to 12 km away? If the moais could speak maybe they would confirm one of the popular theories proposed over the years. Were they placed on logs and rolled to their destination?  This may help explain why the island was deforested. Or maybe the trees were felled to build sledges to pull the moais to their waiting platforms. Another theory suggests that the moais were made to "walk" through the use of ropes. We may never know the truth which adds to the mystic of the island and its stone giants.

Theories of Moai Movement

The next day Josie took us to the village of Orongo.  High above the Pacific, Orongo is the ceremonial centre of the Birdman Cult.  We passed a collection of low, sod-roofed, windowless stone houses which were used to provide refuge for meditating members of the Birdman Cult. Every September the cult members would eagerly await the arrival of Sooty Terns to a nearby islet marking the beginning of the annual egg hunt.  Whoever brought the first egg back undamaged would bring mana to his chief and clan.  To reach the islet meant a 300-foot climb down a barren cliff face to reach the ocean and a swim on a reed mat through a thundering surf.  Once on the islets the hunters had to wait for the birds to arrive and lay their eggs.  


Had the Birdman Cult ritual replaced the need for the moais to provide mana and ultimately led to their destruction?  Only the moais know for sure, if only they could speak.  However the power of Orongo also came to an end. In the 1860's most of the Rapa Nui had died of disease or were enslaved by Peruvian slave raiders. In 1862, 1500 men and women (half the island's population) were captured and taken to Peru.  Of the 3000 total Polynesians and Micronesians taken only 148 were repatriated and of these only 37 to their home island. Josie told us that her great-great grandfather was among the lucky few who were taken and later returned to Easter Island.  She lent me a book entitled "Slavers in Paradise" by H. E. Maude. On page 168 there was a photo of Josie's great-great grandfather Pakamio Maori taken on June 30, 1889!  

Pakamio Maori, from "Slavers in Paradise" by H.E. Maude

Josie's great-great grandmother was an equally colorful character. Josie told us that Angata was married to a cruel man who beat her so much that he broke her back.  The next day he mysteriously died. Angata married Josie's great-great grandfather Pakamio and lived for many years after his death. She was still alive when British anthropologist and archeologist Katherine Routledge arrived on Easter Island in 1914. Angata was described as a cathechist and visionary in Katherine's biography "Among Stone Giants" written by Jo Anne Van Tilburg.  Angata tried to get on Katherine's good side by bringing her chickens and other gifts but she had an ulterior motive.  She was hoping that Katherine would intervene on behalf of the natives against sheep farmers who had taken over the island.  Angata was respected but her spooky behavior led many to fear her as a witch. Although Routledge initiated the first true survey of Easter Island, she never published her scientific findings. After returning home she was plagued with mental illness and institutionalized by her family. Van Tilburg told Josie on one of her visits to Easter Island that Routledge believed Angata had put a curse on her! Josie's connection to Rapa Nui really brought the history and culture alive for us!  We treasured the intimate stories she told us.

Angata, from "Among Stone Giants" by Jo Anne Van Tilburg

After our visit to Orongo, Josie took us to Vinahu, another site her grandfather William Mulloy restored.  During the 1955 Norwegian Archaeological Expedition, Dr. Mulloy found one of only two female moai.

Dr. William Mulloy at Vinahu, from "1957 Thor Heyerdahl Expedition"

Today the statue looks a lot different.  With all the lichen growing it's difficult to see the breasts which define this statue as female.

Female Moai at Vinahu

The following day we visited another unrestored site called Ahu Akahanga.  It's still shocking to see the moais in a toppled state.  Ahu Akahanga is unusual in that one of the moais was felled face up.

Ahu Akahanga

Ahu Akahanga is also known as "The King's Platform".  Legend has it that the Island's first ruler, King Hotu Matu'a, had a spat with his wife and left Anakena Village to live out his final days in Akahanga where his sons buried him.  Archaeologists have yet to find his tomb.

We had lunch at La Kaleta Restaurant.  Located at the Hanga Roa Wharf we had a seaside seat where we could watch the surfers catch a wave.

Hanga Roa Surfer

Nearby, Green Sea Turtles glided around the docked boats looking for a handout from the local fishermen.

Green Sea Turtle

That night we were entertained by a Kari Kari Dance. With a Polynesian flare the women shook their hips with an unbelievable fast tempo while the men thrust their hips dressed in only a loin cloth. For a moment I thought I was at a Chippendales Show (not that I've been to one)!

Kari Kari Dance

During our final morning on Rapa Nui we took in one more sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. When we arrived a crescent moon hung over the forgotten ancestors as the first rays of sunlight illuminated their dark forms.  I couldn't help thinking of the commemoration on Dr. William Mulloy's grave, "By restoring the past of his beloved island, he also changed its future". While tourism certainly has provided the people of Rapa Nui jobs and secured an economic future, care must be taken to control the number of visitors so as to not overstress the limited resources on this remote island.

Moon Over Ahu Tongariki

Thanks to our wonderful guide, Josefina Nahoe Mulloy (Josie), whose intimate connection to the island gave us insights that most tourists aren't privy to.  You brought the past of Rapa Nui alive and are a shining example for the future!
We hope all is well with everyone,
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Falls and Flows of "Sur Chico"

Greetings Everyone,
We are back on the mainland exploring Chile's Lake District.  On March 13 after leaving Chiloé Island we headed to Puerto Varas, a touristy town on the shore of Lake Llanquihue northeast of Puerto Montt.

It was drizzling in the morning and we couldn't decide on the day's activities so we ended up driving to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Created in 1926, it is the oldest park in the country. At the end of the road was Lago Todos los Santos and a short distance away were the Petrohué River Falls that cut through the basaltic lava created by past eruptions of Osorno Volcano.

Petrohué River Falls

To get a closer look at the volcano we drove up the road toward a ski area at its base.  The clouds had cleared and we had good views.

Osorno Volcano

When we reached the ski area the chair lifts were running.  We didn't have much time so we bought tickets to ride up.  I hadn't been on a chairlift in awhile so being so high off the ground was a bit scary.

On the Chairlift to Osorno Volcano

We rode one, got off and had to ride a second to the top.  We were still 3200 feet below the summit of 8701 feet.  We climbed about 200 feet to a final viewpoint.  A lenticular cloud formed over the summit, cool from this vantage point but the wind would be howling above.

Lenticular Cloud over Osorno Volcano

The clouds were building all around us so it was time to head back.  On the ride down, the volcano became completely obscured by clouds so our timing was good.

Clouds Building Below Us

The next stop on our "Sur Chico" Tour was the Hulio-Hulio Biological Reserve, a private natural reserve and ecotourism project in southern Chile. The reserve was created in 1999 and includes 600 square kilometers (232 sq mi) of native forest in Chile dedicated to wildlife conservation and tourism. The reserve is owned by the businessman Víctor Petermann who bought it in the 1990s. I was hoping to see more mammals here but they were elusive and rarely seen. We enjoyed a few short hikes to check out some of the impressive waterfalls along the Fuy River. The Hulio-Hulio Falls plunged 130-feet giving us a spectacular view.

Hulio-Hulio Falls

On to Pucón, the adventure capital of "Sur Chico" where Villarrica Volcano, one of Chile's most active, loomed over town. "Could I climb it?" I wondered so we checked in at Pucón Adventura to find out.  The young guy at the front counter replied "no problem" when I asked how hard it was to climb. He told me "if a 78-year Chinese man could do it so could I" and we signed up for Sunday's excursion.

The following day we drove to Huerquehue National Park to do a warm-up hike.  Our objective was San Sebastián Volcano but after climbing about 2000 feet we decided to save some energy for tomorrow.  We stopped in a high meadow for lunch where strange-looking trees grew.  They were evergreens with thick pointed leaves.  They looked like Joshua trees on steroids or maybe Morticia's pet plant, Cleopatra, on the Adams Family TV show.  We guessed that they might be Monkey Puzzle Trees.

San Sebastián Volcano

We were up at 5:00 the following morning for the big climb. We drove to Pucón Adventura and were among the first to arrive around 6:15.  We were sent upstairs to get our stuff.  In addition to boots, which were different than the ones we tried on yesterday, and gaiters we were given a pack with crampons, rain pants and jacket, a diaper (more on that later), plastic sheet for glissading, gloves, outer mitts and a gas mask!  So much stuff... I added my personal gear and my pack was heavier than I'd like.  We were introduced to the 4 guides for our group of 11 clients.  The other climbers came trickling in and we piled into a van for the drive to a ski area at the base of the volcano.  We unloaded and were given the choice to walk up from the parking lot or take the chairlift.  We opted for the lift along with 2 of the guides and 4 climbers.  There were lots of other groups starting out with us.  It would be crowded on the mountain.

Start of the Climb

The chairlift moved swiftly cutting off 1200 feet of climbing but we still had 3300 feet to go.  We unloaded and began the climb.  It was straightforward at first passing the ruins of a chairlift destroyed by an eruption in 1971.

Damaged Lift House

We were taken under the wing of the senior guide Elias.  Being by far the oldest in our group and maybe on the mountain I think he expected us to be slow and we were.  However we were steady and when the others stopped for a break we kept on going.  Elias liked this.  Two French guys joined us as their group was moving too slow behind us.  In about 1500 feet we reached the glacier.

At the Toe of the Glacier

Elias put on our crampons and we pulled out our ice axes.  The first pitch was on a side slope and steep.  I didn't like it.  Elias told me to relax.  It wasn't that hard but my anxiety was getting the better of me.  We kept climbing steadily and I began to get into the rhythm. The others stopped but we just took a short break for water.  There were a few more steep pitches but by now I had calmed down and convinced myself that I just might make it to the top.

1st Pitch Up the Glacier

We reached the end of the glacier where we took off our crampons and packs and left them with many others.  The last pitch was an easy climb on a path worn free of scree.  As we approached the summit we had to put on our gas masks, the sulfuric fumes were that strong.  We were the first of our group to reach the top around noon.  Elias was happy.  He kept saying our pace was good.  Yes, we know. 


We walked to the rim and peered over.  We could see the glowing red magma crater about 1000 feet below.  Cool!  The volcano burped red lava and Marc got a photo.

Volcano's Burp

We left the rim to enjoy the view of the other volcanoes piercing the clouds but I wanted to see the lava again so went to the rim once more.  We were on the summit for about 15 minutes before heading down.  I had trouble finding my pack.  There were so many piled about since we had left them behind.  We had a sandwich before getting geared up for the glissade down.  I wanted to walk down but it wasn't an option.  We put on our rain pants and jacket, our diaper, hung the plastic sled from our waist belts and put on our overmits.  The diaper was a heavy nylon pad for keeping snow out of our pants as we glissaded down.

It was time to descend but I wasn't ready.  I couldn't quite figure out how to use the ice ax as a brake. Elias' instructions seemed simple enough - "Ok, sit down in the chute, keep your legs straight, keep your ice ax point out to the side so you don't impale yourself, use the tip of the ice ax to brake, hold it near the end, don't drop it, don't crash into the person in front of you, hope the person behind you doesn't crash into you and off you go!".  It wasn't that hard once I got the hang of it.  I remember doing it once before long ago.

Peggy's Glissade

We glissaded down 5 pitches of 400-500 feet of various steepness.  When it wasn't too steep, we used the plastic sled to make us go faster.  Mine didn't work and I stopped sliding so had to use my feet to crawl down like an inchworm.  We made it down 2000 feet in no time.  I must admit it was easier than walking down with crampons and much safer.  The routes up and down were different so you didn't having to worry about colliding with someone coming up.  The guides kept the glissaders out of trouble.  Once off the glacier we removed all of our glissade gear off and walked down in thick scree.  It broke your stride so was much easier on the knees. 

Down the Scree Slopes

We were first up in our group but among the last down. We reached the van around 3:30. Yea! We climbed Villarrica, one of the most active volcanoes in Chile!

Our Villarrica Volcano Hiking Route

We decided to drive to Temuco, the final stop in our Lake District Tour, by way of Conguillío National Park. We enjoyed views of the lava fields from past eruptions of Llaima Volcano, one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Chile.  At 10,253 feet it is about 900 feet higher than Villarrica.

Llaima Volcano

We stopped at Lago Verde where we had lunch.  A little further we stopped to view Lago Arciris, a lake that had been formed when the lava formed a dam and flooded the forest.  We then drove through a grove of Araucaria araucana (commonly called the Monkey Puzzle Tree). 

Araucaria araucana (commonly called the Monkey Puzzle Tree). 

It is an evergreen tree growing up to 100–130 ft in height. It is native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina.  Araucaria araucana is the hardiest species in the conifer genus Araucaria.  Because of the longevity of this species, it is described as a living fossil.  It is also the national tree of Chile. Its conservation status was changed to endangered by the IUCN in 2013 due to the dwindling population.  The leaves are thick, tough and triangular with sharp tips.  

Monkey Puzzle Tree Leaves

We arrived in Temuco around 5:00 and checked into our hotel for our final night in the Lake District. We enjoyed exploring this region of lush farmland, dense temperate rainforest, snowcapped volcanoes, plunging waterfalls and deep, clear lakes.  We highly recommend a road trip to this accessible area.  You won't be disappointed!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Many Surprises of Chiloé!

Greetings Everyone,
Islands are known to harbor endemic and unusual wildlife and Chiloé Island off the southern coast of Chile looked like the perfect place to search for rarities. We flew from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt on March 6, picked up our rental car and drove to Pargua where we boarded the ferry to Chiloé Island.

Taking the Ferry to Chiloé

We got our first view of Chiloé's amazing wildlife during the crossing, South American Sea Lions.

South American Sea Lion

As we were nearing the island, a pod of Peale's Dolphins greeted us, thrilling us with their acrobatic moves.

Peale's Dolphins

Our first destination was Chepu Adventures Ecolodge located on the northwest coast of Chiloé at the confluence of the Puntra and Grande Rivers which combine to form the Chepu River. We were greeted by Juan our host and settled into our cozy cabin. As we returned to our abode after dinner we spotted a Southern Pudú, the world's smallest deer, just outside our cabin! This particular male with a broken antler is known to frequent the lodge. The Southern Pudú is listed as near threatened due to habitat loss and hunting.

Southern Pudú

Early the next morning we set off in a kayak to watch the sun rise over the sunken forest. I must admit it was a bit scary kayaking in the dark especially when we reached the forest. I couldn't see a way through the maze of submerged tree trunks which formed when the Chepu Valley flooded following the 1960 tsunami and earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded! We waited until it got light enough to find a way around.

Sunken Forest

We were hoping to spot a Southern River Otter, probably the world's rarest otter, or a Coypu but saw none. We returned to the lodge for breakfast and at 10:00 we arranged to go back out in a motor boat to continue our search for the otters. Javier, a local fisherman who now brings tourists out in search of wildlife picked us up at the dock. We motored down the Chepu River and into the Coluco Lagoon but sadly found no otters or coypus. As we were returning, I asked Javier if he could take us up the Puntra River where we had kayaked earlier and he agreed. About 3 km past the lodge, Javier spotted an otter swimming along the shore!

Southern River Otter

She entertained us for 40 minutes as she swam along the bank catching crabs and eating them sometimes while floating on her back! We returned to the lodge, elated that we had such a great encounter with this endangered mammal.

Southern River Otter

Female Southern River Otter

Later that afternoon we drove to Puñihuil to visit a colony of Humbolt and Magellanic Penguins. The surf was a bit rough and I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to go out but the local fisherman had an ingenious way to get tourists into the boats. We were pushed out in a high-wheeled cart! It looked silly but kept us dry as we boarded the boat for our excursion.

Getting to the Boat

At this time of year most of the penguins had gone out to sea but there were a few stragglers still molting their chick-down before they could take to the water. Both species look very similar but the Humbolt Penguins have one dark breast band while the Magellanic have two.

Magellanic and Humbolt Penguins

We also spotted a Marine Otter but the surf was too rough for a photo. We returned to the lodge for dinner and another peaceful night. We had arranged to go out with Javier again the next morning but he canceled due to forecasted bad weather. When we woke up it was clearer than expected and we scrambled to find someone to take us out. Javier ended up taking us and we found a second female Southern River Otter further upriver!

Second Southern River Otter

We were hoping that Javier could take us back to the Coluco Lagoon at 5:00 to look for coypus but he was busy. Fortunately Juan was able to take us in the lodge's small motor boat. As we set off the skies were clearing but we could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. Were we being foolhearty boating on a lake in a metal boat doing a lightning storm? We pressed on encountering rain showers but fortunately no nearby electrical storms. When we entered the lagoon most of the weather had passed so we could relax and search for coypus. Juan spotted one far away and another close by grooming on shore.


These rodents look like a cross between a muskrat and a beaver. Originally native to subtropical and temperate South America, it has since been introduced to North America (where it is referred to as a nutria), Europe, Asia, and Africa, primarily by fur ranchers. Coypu have become pests in many of these areas, destroying aquatic vegetation, marshes, and irrigation systems, and chewing through human-made items, eroding river banks, and displacing native animals. It was nice to see them in their natural range where they're not considered vermin.

They next day we left Chepu Adventures after a very productive stay and drove south toward the city of Castro. Our next destination was Hotel Tephuhueico which we were expecting to reach by car but we received an email stating that all the recent rain had made a bridge to the hotel unsafe. We now had to drive further south to Lake Tepuhueico where a boat would pick us up and take us to the hotel. Frustratingly it was only 10:00 and the boat wouldn't be available until 4:00 PM. We killed sometime in Castro before heading to the rendezvous point. The directions were somewhat cryptic so we couldn't find the location. We were out of cellphone range so had to drive back toward the main highway to call for clarification. We decided to stay put until we got word that the boat was on its way and would proceed to the first location where the road reaches the lake. When we arrived we could see a tiny open boat bobbing in the waves. We were skeptical about crossing the lake in such inclement weather. A guy got out and in broken English told us we'd have to wait another 2 hours for the wind to die down! Resigned to our fate, I reclined the car seat and fell asleep. I was abruptly awoken and told that it was calm enough to attempt the crossing. We scrambled to put on our raingear and stuffed our duffel bags and packs into garbage bags for the wet crossing. The wind, rain and waves hampered our progress but slowly we puttered across the lake. Finally around 5:00 we arrived at Hotel Tepuhueico. Set in a 20,000-hectare private reserve of temperate rainforest, the hotel seemed out of place but we were happy to have finally arrived.

Hotel Tepuhueico

After dinner we set off on a night walk with our local guide to look for nocturnal animals but only spotted a lone Pudú. The next morning we set off before sunrise to search again and spotted another Pudú, possibly the same one from last night.

Male Pudú

After breakfast I was on the deck scanning for wildlife. I glimpsed at what looked like a cat's tail disappear behind the hydrangea bush next to the front steps of the hotel! I grabbed my camera and binoculars, stopped off at our room to tell Marc and went out in search of the animal.  I stayed within sight of the front door and when Marc came out I thought he saw me and I continued my search. Nothing. Suddenly a black cat, the size of a house cat strolls across the open lawn! I couldn't believe my eyes. He was so calm. I snapped a few photos with my camera but where was Marc? 

Mellanistic Guigna or Kodkod

He was on the road and I couldn't call him without frightening the cat. The kodkod disappeared in the bushes and finally Marc showed up. I asked if the cat had reappeared on the road but it didn't. When we showed my photos to Alexis, the hotel manager, he confirmed that it was a Guigna or Kodkod, the smallest cat in the Americas! I was thrilled to have seen it and taken some photos but bummed that Marc missed it. He hadn't seen me and went looking for me on the road. Alexis kept saying how lucky I was. He's been here for 3 months and has only seen it once!

In the early evening I resumed my scans from the deck. I spotted a Darwin's Fox! This time Marc was with me. The fox was just outside the front door! We sat on the steps to photograph him. He was close. At one point I thought he was going to come inside. Alexis joined us and kept telling us how lucky we were. 

Darwin's Fox

Up until 2008 Darwin's Fox was classified as critically endangered based on an estimated population size of less than 250 mature individuals. New distribution information indicates that the extent of occurrence of the species is much larger than originally thought and the species was downlisted to endangered. No reliable population data is available although foxes seem to be more abundant and to occur at higher densities in Chiloé than on the mainland. A very conservative minimum estimate suggests at least 412 and 227 mature individuals occur on Chiloé and on the mainland, respectively.  It is likely that total population size does not exceed 2,500 mature individuals.

We left Hotel Tepuhueico at 9:30 the following morning. All the aggravation in reaching this place had vanished after our remarkable sightings of three rarely seen mammals! The lake was calm as we motored back to our car. 

Boarding the Boat

We headed further south to continue our exploration of Chiloé Island. Our next destination was Parque Tantauco where we hoped to encounter more wildlife. We drove 18 km on a gravel road to the ranger station at Yaldad where there was a resident Darwin's Fox!

Darwin's Fox at Yaldad

Another 20 km in brought us to the Chaiguata sector and our accommodation for the next two nights. We had booked a domo, a funky structure with a comfy bed and a dry place to escape the rain. 

Our Domo

That night we went in search for the Monito del Monte, a tiny opossum, possibly the world's most primative marsupial but didn't find one. The next day it was raining so we drove to Quellón to look for Chilean Dolphins but didn't spot any. Was our wildlife karma wearing off? We returned to the park passing the Yaldad ranger station. A km beyond a vehicle was parked in the middle of the road and a woman was on the roadside looking at something. We got out of our car to check it out. It was a baby Pudú standing in a stream shivering.

Baby Pudú

I asked the woman if the mother was around and she said no. The guy told Marc that they came upon the baby Pudú running across the road and that it appeared to be injured. Mom wouldn't return if we were standing around so we got in our car to wait as the other couple left. We were there only 5 minutes when an animal appeared on the road. Oh good, the mother has returned or so I thought. It was not Mom but a Darwin's Fox! This did not bode well for the baby Pudú. Maybe the fox wouldn't see it. The fox came over to our car and went underneath. Why? He came back out and headed straight for the baby in the ditch. "Should we intervene?" Marc asked. Even though part of me wanted to stop the fox, I said "no, we have to let nature take its course". The fox grabbed the baby and it let out piercing screams. Marc couldn't bring himself to take a photo and I didn't ask him to. Somehow photographing or videotaping the scene seemed sadistic. Would we be taking pleasure from the poor Pudú's terror and pain? The fox wasn't much bigger than the Pudú and after several attempts to bite it we decided to leave rather than watch the Pudú suffer a slow and agonizing death. About 15 minutes down the road we overcame our shock and regretted our decision not to photograph the scene from a scientific perspective. I'm not sure if a Darwin's Fox attacking a baby Pudú has ever been documented. We drove back to the site but both the fox and Pudú were gone. Good thing. At least the Pudú wasn't suffering any more. A near threatened species dies to sustain an endangered one!

The next morning we saw a female Pudú next to the road and she lingered long enough for Marc to take her photo.

Female Pudú

We passed the scene of yesterday's crime and all was quiet. We stopped at the Yaldad entrance station to tell Victor, the ranger, what we had witnessed yesterday but he wasn't there. The resident Darwin's Fox was snoozing by the picnic tables. He looked too small to be the killer. But wait, there was a second, larger fox we had not seen here before.  Could he be the Pudú hunter we had seen in action?

Pudú Hunter?

We drove north to Chacao to catch a ferry back to the mainland. Our time on Chiloe Island had come to an end. What a great adventure it was, full of surprises and encounters with rare wildlife! Many thanks to Juan and the staff at Chepu Adventures for taking such good care of us during our stay. Thanks to Javier for finding us two Southern River Otters! We're grateful to Alexis and his wife for making our stay at Hotel Tepuhueico comfortable and making it possible for us to see three rare mammals! Thanks to rangers Victor and Sander at Parque Tantauco for lending a helping hand during our visit.

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map: