E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer


Two Weeks in Patagonia - a Diary


Torres del Paine - Chile

Below, you will find a day by day account of my trip to the Patagonia area of Argentina and Chile.  I wrote each day’s entry on the day that it occurred on our mini-bus in transit or in the hotel.  It may seem negative at times due to the horrible weather conditions we encountered but these were my feelings and emotions at the time as many of my hopes and dreams for this trip were dashed.  Hopefully the highlights of the trip will also shine through.  The text is a mix of present tense and past tense since I wrote some of it as things were occurring while some was written at the end of the day.
At the end, I have appended a table of the birds and mammals that I observed and photographed.  I have also included some comments about Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris and on the equipment I used – what worked, what didn’t and what I wish I had brought along.
Day 1 – Phoenix to Buenos Aires (April 9, 2007)
After months of planning, the day has finally arrived – it’s time to depart for my first foray into South America.  I chose the mountainous part of Patagonia on the southern tip of Argentina and Chile to begin my exploration of this continent due to my love of mountain landscapes and the possibility of photographing several waterfowl species that I have not seen before in my quest to photograph every duck, goose, screamer and swan species on earth.
Despite promises to the contrary, American Airlines did not come through with a Frequent Flyer Upgrade to First Class for my trip to the southern Andes Mountains in Patagonia.  The initial leg of the journey got off the ground on schedule from Phoenix to Dallas and we also got off on time for the 10 ½ hour flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  When boarding the 767 to Argentina, I knew immediately that I had a problem.  My seat, 11H, only had a 28” seat pitch which is 2” less that the already uncomfortable reduced seat pitch of 30” in today’s world of airline travel and the other seats on the airliner.  This was due to the positioning of the First Class to Coach divider which is set back a bit to allow the last row in First Class to recline.  The result is that one row of seats, row 11, takes the hit.  The problem is that at 6’ 2” with long legs for my height, I can not physically squeeze my legs in leaving my knees out in the aisle and in the adjacent passenger’s seat.  For a short flight this is tolerable but not for an overnight flight of almost 6000 miles.  Fortunately I found an empty center aisle seat with nobody in the middle seat and was fairly comfortable for such a long flight in coach.  Take note though for those on international flights on American Airlines 767-300 Extended Range aircraft, don’t get seat 11AB or 11HJ. 
After a small dinner, I set my watch forward 4 hours to Argentina time (same as North American Atlantic time zone) and then I took an Ambien and slept for about 5 ½ hours.
Day 2 – Buenos Aires (April 10, 2007)
I awoke on the plane just before a spectacular sunrise over South-central Brazil.  After a light breakfast, we soon landed in Buenos Argentina about a half hour ahead of schedule.  I was fortunate to get the Green Light at customs and got to bypass that process.  With luggage in hand, I went in search of my shuttle to the first hotel of the journey all before the actual scheduled arrival time.  I got through immigration, got my luggage and was out and about in the airport just 15 minutes after touchdown.  In fact it was so early that the shuttle was not here yet.  After a slight bout of anxiety and getting ready to get a cab to the hotel, I located the shuttle driver.  So far the travel portion of this adventure was going very well but that would change on Day 3 – keep reading…
Our shuttle dropped us off at the Hotel Dolmen in the central part of Buenos Aires after fighting traffic of epic proportions.  The traffic was like nothing I have ever seen in New York, Los Angeles, Seoul, Tokyo, Paris or even Tel Aviv.  This is due to the fact that 11 million people live in a land area about half the size of the Phoenix Metro area.  The Hotel Dolmen’s receptionist accommodated my early arrival by allowing me to check in very early and I was in a hotel room and taking a nap by 10:30AM.  After the nap, I went in search of food and started walking the streets of Buenos Aires along with many of the 11 million people that live here.  The weight problem faced by the US population became immediately apparent.  As I was walking in the streets, there were essentially no people that were overweight.  This is perhaps a product of a lot of walking (and maybe smoking) by the people or Argentina.  I found a Pizza café and had a small Pizza and then made my way back to the hotel to get ready to meet the rest of the people in the Joseph Van Os Photo Safari of Patagonia that I was participating in.  More on my overall impressions of this Joseph Van Os Photo Safari at the end of this diary.
At 2:30 we all met in the lobby and I met Alejandro Ronchetti, our Argentinean leader.  We boarded a bus to brave the Buenos Aires traffic again and headed to the Costanera Ecological Preserve.  This is a wetland marsh but due to recent drought conditions, only a few city birds were present and after seeing some Monk Parakeets, Black-hooded Parakeets and Red-crested Cardinals begging for hand-outs, we moved on to the Palermo Lakes Area.  I photographed some Speckled Teal and White-Tufted Grebe on the water and Great Kiskadee, and Sayaca Tanager in trees.  Speckled Teal appear to be the most abundant and approachable duck here.  Unfortunately we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.  As dusk approached we took a bus back to the hotel and went to dinner.  Dinner is quite late in Argentina, generally starting around 9:00PM but many don’t go to dinner until 10:00PM when restaurant lines peak.  Dinner is also quite a multi-course, multi hour event.  It is a major social event in this culture.  At dinner we also met Vicky Laferrere, Alejandro’s partner and helper in keeping everything organized.  She gave us each a gift of some Argentinean tea.

Black-hooded Parakeet - Buenos Aires, Argentina


Day 3 – Buenos Aires to El Calafate (April 11, 2007)
Day 3 and its finally onto our destination in Patagonia.  Aerolineas Argentina, the National Airline however made it difficult for us.  Originally we were supposed to leave at 7:00AM which was rescheduled to 10:40 but 10:40 came and went and we finally boarded at 11:00AM – a completely haphazard boarding process that allowed people to embark through either the front door or the rear door which of course caused a traffic jam on the plane as people with assigned seats in the rear that got on in the front battled with people sitting in the front that got on in the rear met around Row 20 of the MD80 – my assigned Row.  My fear for getting my gear onto the plane as carry-on luggage did not materialize.  The airline’s published policy is one small briefcase or purse of 5Kg (11lb) or less but as is the case with many rules in this part of the world, it was completely unenforced.  Security was similar to US security prior to 9/11/2001.  Once again, luck of the draw assigned me the worst row on the plane as this is a reduced pitch row right in front of the exit row where the seat doesn’t recline.  I found refuge in the last row of the plane which I had to myself but no view outside.  We finally all got boarded and then we sat, and sat, and sat as it rained outside.  Jet Blue horrors of sitting 10 hours on a tarmac started occupying my thoughts.  We finally started taxiing at 1:00.  There was one other change that conspired against us.  Flights were combined and we now had to go to Ushuaia first – the southernmost city in the world in Tierra del Fuego.  Our original noon arrival time became 6:00PM which means that we missed our scheduled afternoon shoot of Swans and Flamingos on Lagos Argentina – the largest lake in the country.  We had another surprise when arriving in El Calafate.  Not a single person on the flight that boarded in Buenos Aires got their luggage.  The airline said that they didn’t load it because it was raining in Buenos Aires and that it would be along on a later flight!  We were told that this flight arrives at 9:30.  So we boarded our shuttle busses and checked into the very nice El Quijote Motel in El Calafate and went to Dinner.  I sat next to Jeff Foott, our American guide at dinner.  He has had a fascinating life and has done a lot of film work for Discovery and National Geographic.  Upon our return at 10:00PM, we called the airline and they said the luggage would be delivered at 10:30.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  It actually arrived at 2:00AM. 

Perito Moreno Glacier - Argentina


Day 4 – Perito Moreno Glacier (April 12, 2007)
After only 3 hours of sleep, a shower with the best towels I have ever used and breakfast, we boarded a bus to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), Argentina’s largest National Park, home of the worlds 3rd largest icepack and several glaciers.  Our park guide, Fernando informed us that after Antarctica and Greenland, the Patagonian Icefield has the most ice in the world and its quality is very pure. Near the southern part of this icepack lies the Perito Moreno Glacier which separates arms of Lagos Argentino.  This leads to an interesting effect since one side of the lake drains to the Atlantic Ocean via Rio Santa Cruz but the other gets pinched off  by the glacier which allows snow and glacial melt to raise the water level on the pinched off side.  Eventually the pressure due to the rising water on one side gets so high that the natural glacial dam breaks in a spectacular explosion resulting in the water leveling out and then the process starts all over again.  This is a process measured in years with it building up and breaking every few years.  During our visit, the glacial dam was open after a break in 2006.  The Perito Moreno Glacier is a glacier in balance – it is not growing nor receding currently.
The day started out relatively clear but as soon as the sun started coming up, clouds and rain rolled in.  This allowed for a few rainbow photos on the way to the Glacier but by the time we got there it was raining.  Not to be deterred, several members of the group decided to take a boat across the Rico Arm (the arm that pinches off) of Lagos Argentina to do a hike on the glacier.  After being fitted with crampons and taking a lesson on both the glacier and how to walk on the glacier, we climbed the side of the glacier and got a number of interesting pictures of fissures, sink holes and glacial formations.  It continued to rain the whole time but it was still a rewarding experience.  Skies were mostly gray and white so I focused on details of the glacier where possible.  On the way back from the glacier we were turned loose to be on our own and I did a very high energy return hike to try to get some exercise and get my heart rate up a bit since the group as a whole tends to move fairly slow.  I have learned as part of this trip that Joseph Van Os participants tend to be part of an older, affluent, often retired demographic and less capable of the highly physical nature than my photographic style demands.  More than half the group took one of our two vans back to the hotel after a short boat ride and looking at the glacier from a platform choosing not to participate in the activities that require a little physical exertion.
After returning back across the Rico Arm, photographing the glacial wall on the return, we went to a viewing deck with several levels.  We got to witness a fairly significant calving of the glacier but unfortunately I was not prepared for photography as I was in rainy hiking mode but did get to witness the spectacle as an approximately 150 foot wide and 400 foot high section of the glacier broke off in an explosion of sound and ice revealing some highly compressed and deep blue glacial ice.  At this point it was getting later in the afternoon and water started to tax even the best of raingear. 
Canon’s weather-sealing on the pro gear proved to be of huge benefit again as I shot all day in the rain with no protection of the gear and the equipment performed flawlessly while other manufacturer’s or non-weather sealed Canon cameras either stopped working or required so much protection that it was difficult to actually take photos for the owners of those cameras.
After a 1.5 hour drive back to the Quiote Motel, we went for the nightly dinner event.  I turned in after my return to catch up on some missed sleep.
Rainbow Over Lago Argentino - Argentina
Day 5 – El Calafate to El Chalten (April 13, 2007)
Day 5 is a travel day as we make our way from El Calafate north to El Chalten, our next stop.  This is where we will photograph Mt. Fitzroy – the mountain that is often used on cover shots for Argentina and Patagonia Tourism.  The day again started very rainy and we had to travel the highway that goes the full length of Argentina – highway 40.  Surprisingly, much of our route is a dirt and mud road.  Along the way we stopped at the oldest hotel in the region for a snack – the El Leona Motel a historical site.  After our stop we continued our drive to El Chalten and the Mount Fitz Roy area driving along the shores of the large and spectacularly blue glacial waters of Lago Viedma.  At one point our guide Alejandro had the driver slam on the breaks and he went running out of the van and returned with a Patagonian Armadillo.  I unfortunately didn’t get any decent photos as the poor animal was mobbed by the group and freaked out and fled.  Later we saw Crested Caracara and I was surprised by how much darker the Patagonian sub-species is than the Crested Caracaras I have photographed in the USA.  Unfortunately due to heavy cloud cover, the Andes and Mount Fitz Roy were not visible.
As we approached El Chalten, the weather got progressively worse and it was obvious that the last 24 hours of rain fell as snow here.  The whole area was white and the roads a muddy mess but we went on and arrived at the Fitz Roy Inn.  A small alpine hotel with no TV or Phone.  It is the only hotel open in Chalten year-round.  My original room had a very tiny bed that was a good foot shorter than me and only about 30 inches wide.  Alejandro, after seeing my bed and then looking at me went to the front desk and got me a room with a regular double bed – much better!  As I look around, while I am a slightly above average height and relatively skinny person in the US.  I am positively large here.
After a Pizza lunch, which was across the street but we had to take a bus due to the heavy and muddy flooding in the road, we proceeded to a good size waterfall called Chorrillo del Salto.  Finally I was in my photographic element and got to do some real photography.  My spirits, after four days of very little shooting and no good shooting lifted just a bit – at least we were photographing even though it was still raining.  After about 2 hours here, we went to a lookout to try to see Fitz Roy to no avail but I did spot a Black-chested Buzzard Eagle.  These birds are relatively large and I spotted him a good 2 miles off in the distance coming over a ridge and he ultimately flew right over the group at very high altitude.  Evening was setting so we went to the nightly dinner event for the last 2.5 hours.


Chorrillos del Salto

Day 6 – El Chalten (April 14, 2007)
Over the years I have developed a complex about weather and my photography.  It seems that many places that I go to, the area has the worst weather it has received in years.  My trip to Patagonia is no exception.  It rarely snows in El Chalten in April and the area is relatively dry at about 20” of rain per year, yet we arrived to several inches of snow yesterday and it has been raining non-stop since.  It’s essentially been raining the entire time since arriving in Argentina.  The clouds have been completely covering the mountains that we came here to shoot and we haven’t even had a short peek at what we came here for.  The weather forecast offers no hope either.  We will likely spend our entire time in Argentina without ever seeing what attracted us to this place to begin with.
The plan for this morning was the single event I was looking forward to the most on this trip.  The fitter members of the group were to go on an optional hike for several miles to a small alpine lake where Mt. Fitz Roy is reflected for some alpenglow early morning shots but due to weather, this had to be cancelled.
With nothing else to do this morning, a smaller group went to the Fitz Roy visitor center where our local park guide, Cecilia, gave us a 30 minute lecture on the area and how the mountains were formed.
This area was formed by the Pacific plate pushing under the Atlantic plate as South America was traveling westward after breaking off of the African continent.  As it met the Pacific plate, the forces of collision pushed up the mountain range we know as the Andes – the second highest range in the world, after the Himalayas.  The Torres (towers) that were formed like Cero Torres and Mount Fitzroy in this area and Torres del Paine in Chile were formed by magma pushing up the rock but the density was too high for an actual eruption resulting in the tall sharp spire like mountains.
I asked how Patagonia got its name since it isn’t a Province but rather a region of southern Chile and Argentina.  The area got its name from the Spaniards that originally came to Argentina.  In ancient Spanish literature there is a mythical giant called Patagon.  When the Europeans arrived in Patagonia they first saw very large footprints which were actually formed by snow shoes, they assumed very large people lived there.  Then when they met the natives and they were about a foot taller than them (6 feet) so the name Patagons for the native people stuck.  So they were in the land of the Patagons or Patagonia.
After lunch at a Microbrewery styled after a Munich beer house, we went back out and drove towards the very large glacial lake called Lago Viedma.  I was assured that we would be photographing waterfowl there so my spirits were lifted.  On the way we stopped twice as two Guanaco herds were spotted.  The Guanaco is a wild Llama like mammal (part of the Camel family) that has been decimated by ranchers hunting them to eliminate competition for their introduced sheep.  The fact is that they aren’t even in competition as they do not eat the same plants and therefore are really killed for their hide or sport.  The Guanaco population has reduced dramatically since the sheep industry got big in southern Argentina.  Imagine a Guanaco herd’s reaction when suddenly 20 people, many of them with no idea how to deal with animals in the wild, suddenly explode out of two large vans.  Of course they ran off as people got out of the van and started walking quickly toward them to try to get a photo.  This prompted me to explain to the folks in our bus on how to approach truly wild animals to try to get a photo.  Later we came upon another herd and we were able to photograph them a bit better as nobody charged them.  
Along the way, we also spotted a number of Andean Condors – the largest raptor in the world.  I was able to get a few unremarkable flight shots against a cloudy sky.  We continued on to Lago Viedma.  But unfortunately there was no photographable waterfowl.  Only a few Brown Pintails way off in the distance.  I had a long conversation with Cecilia our guide about conversation and the plight of nature in this area.  It was great that I read Act III in Patagonia which is about this exact subject prior to coming here as it gave me a better understanding of the state of Wild Patagonia.
It started raining harder so we headed back to the hotel and then to dinner at a local Pizza Shop.  We have one more day here and the hopes of actually seeing the Andes is nearly zero. 
My room is leaking water onto the other bed in the room from a roof leak.
I have now been in Argentina 5 whole days and I am understanding more and more of the language.  The Argentinean dialect of Spanish is quite different from the Mexican dialect that I am more accustomed to hearing.  My vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds and I am now able to pick up on about 25% of the conversations and order most meals in Spanish.  I believe that if I were fully immersed here for a month or two, I would have no problem with a conversation in Spanish as long as the other person spoke clearly and not too fast.

Guanaco - Argentina


Day 7 – El Chalten (April 15, 2007)
My sense of humor has left me and I am getting positively depressed.  This is our last day in El Chalten, where we came to photograph the spectacular Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.  We awaken to find yet another day of low clouds, torrential rains and nothing to photograph.  My frustration level is reaching an all time high in photography and I am starting to feel like this trip was a complete waste of time and money.  The landscape shots aren’t there due to the weather.  The opportunity to go out on my own to find subjects to photograph in the rain isn’t there due to the structure of a group photo tour.  When I travel on my own, I can always find things to photograph.  Wildlife shots aren’t really possible since wildlife spooks at the site of two big travel coaches and 20 people.  The waterfowl I was promised has yet to be seen.  I am seriously questioning why I continue to pour money into photography when more often than not, I encounter horrible weather.  El Chalten gets approximately 20 of inches per year but in the last three days it has rained about 3 inches.  The locals say that this is very unusual and that it could clear at any minute – there has been no sign of it. And, of course, last week the weather was beautiful.  The long range forecast for the region offers no hope.  The part of Chile we are going to is being affected by the same weather so my hopes of getting anything out of this trip are waning.  I feel bad for our tour leaders as they are in a tough spot of having 16 people that paid a lot of money for a trip and not having anything for them to do.
We spent part of the morning in a lecture about the first mountain climbing expeditions that conquered the peaks of this area which are considered to be among the hardest to climb in the world.  In fact Cerro Torres was the last of the world’s great peaks to be climbed to the summit.
After lunch, the weather just continued to get worse – the entire town of El Chalten is flooded.  We drove the flooded dirt roads north along the Rio del Bosque.  True to its name, the river meanders through a wooded area that would offer some incredible views of Fitz Roy in good weather – we did not see the mountain.  The area had taken on a bit of fall color since our last trip north along this river to the Chorrillo del Salto waterfall so we stopped to shoot fall color.  At least there was some photography and again, all but a handful were done photographing after about 30 minutes leaving me and two others as the ones being waited for by the others in the vans – an uncomfortable feeling.  Additionally, this is where I was told I will likely find one of my target species for this trip, the Torrent Duck but again none were found.
Despite shooting a bit this afternoon my spirits are dashed as our time in Argentinean Patagonia has come to an end.  We will be leaving very early tomorrow for the 12 hour trip to Torres del Paine, Chile without having seen Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, two of the most awe inspiring mountains in the world and the reason for traveling to Argentina to begin with.  Fortunately, the comraderie of the group is really great and it is making the indescribable disappointment bearable.  We have lots of laughs during the 6 hours a day we spend eating.
Day 8 – El Chalten to Torres del Paine, Chile (April 16, 2007)
The first day of week 2 of my South American adventure started out with...  more rain.  It has literally not stopped raining since it began on the first morning here in Patagonia.  After a quick breakfast of yogurt and cereal, my daily routine here in Argentina, we loaded up our mini busses and started the 12 hour journey to Torres del Paine.  Just after our departure at the edge of the small mountain village of El Chalten, our home for the past few days, we encountered a Patagonian Gray Fox in the dark – a very healthy and large specimen that has obviously been keeping himself well fed off of village refuse and handouts.  I was holding out hope for a view of Fitz Roy at sunrise on the way out but again my hopes were dashed as it is a dark dreary and foggy day!
As we make our way across the desert part of Patagonia, an area that only receives about 8 inches of rain per year, similar to Phoenix, it is raining with poor visibility in  fog.  This again makes me think of all of the travel over the last few years and how many trips I have been on where it was just miserable – fall color in Vermont where it poured all but the last half day, Alaska cruise where it rained torrentially all but one day, lower Rio Grande valley for birds where it rained for the whole weekend except the last hour of the last day, two trips to Magee Marsh in Ohio for warblers where it rained the entire time both trips, trip to Florida for bird photography in February where it rained the entire time except one day, trip to Wyoming and the Tetons where it rained the entire time, trip to Yellowstone in June where it snowed so bad it was nearly impossible to get out, trip to British Columbia where it poured every minute I was there, trip to Silver Falls and the Columbia River Valley in summer when it rained torrentially the entire time there.  I’m sure I’m forgetting at least a half dozen more.  I’m getting really depressed.
As we make our way across the Patagonian Steppe toward Chile, I am seeing many Upland Geese and Aplomado Falcons and I would love to stop to photograph them but the itinerary doesn’t allow for that due to the 12 hours of travel today.
In late afternoon about 9 hours after we started we finally reached the Chilean border.  First we stopped on the Argentina side to be allowed exit from the country and the 7 km later at the Chile side – both processes were smooth.  All roads from here forward while we travel in Chile are dirt roads.  The area in between the two check points just after crossing the border into Chile had the highest concentration of Caracara imaginable.  Crested Caracara and Chimango Caracara (much smaller than the more familiar Crested Caracara) were on many fence posts.  Several gauchos in the traditional costumes riding their horses were also spotted.  Additionally, upon crossing into Chile, the cloud deck started to lift a bit and it stopped raining.  It also got much colder.  I am hoping that this is a cold front followed by a high pressure system that will clear out the clouds by morning. 
After passing through immigration and customs, we stopped in a little border shop and I had pure Kiwi Juice – absolutely the best fruit juice I have ever tasted.  In the US, Kiwi juice is always pear, white grape, or apple juice with a little Kiwi thrown in.  This was thick and tasted like pure Kiwi puree – delicious.  Coming out of the store, I remembered to set my clock back an hour – we are now out of the Atlantic Time Zone and in the Eastern Time Zone.  Just three hours different from my home in Phoenix.
As we approached Torres del Paine at sunset, suddenly, behold, we saw the Andes for the first time in a week of being in South America.  The Torres del Paine were off in the distance fully visible between layers of clouds.  Even though the conditions for photography were not great due to the lack of light playing on the mountain, I took photos anyway because with my luck I may never see them again.  Many herds of Guanaco were also spotted on the drive. 
We finally arrived at the Pehoe Lodge overlooking Pehoe Lake at Torre del Paine after 13 hours of travel, about half on dirt roads.  I don’t think I have mentioned to this point that a vegetarian diet in this part of the world is difficult – the culture revolves around eating meat, lots of it and for long periods of time everyday.  But the kitchen prepared a nice, if small, dinner for me of potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms – it was by far the best tasting meal I have had here. 
I got on line for the first time in 5 days on a very slow Internet connection and learned of the awful shooting spree at Virginia Tech University which killed 33 people.  Something like that makes all of the complaining about weather in Argentina pretty insignificant.  I checked the weather online and right now, the forecast for Thursday is good.  I also met a skiing idol of mine.  Lito Tejada-Flores, author of Breakthrough on Skis, my skiing bible and a book I have owned for many years. He is staying here and I got to talk with him and his wife Linde Waidhoffer, who is an exceptional photographer.  They are very nice people and I enjoyed our conversation.

Cuernos del Paine, Chile

Day 9 – Torres del Paine, Chile (April 17, 2007)
They say that the weather changes faster in the Magellan’s than any place on earth.  I witnessed that first hand this morning.  I got up early due to a headache and went out 2 hours before sunrise to find a bright and beautiful southern star field in crystal clear skies.  So I went back and got my equipment for a star trail shot of the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine.  From the time I got on top of a cliff overlooking Lago Pehoe when it was still clear, to the time I set the shot up 2 minutes later, it had clouded over completely.  But at least it was not raining.  As it got lighter the Cuernos were not visible due to the clouds so I scouted the area for shooting locations so that I don’t waste time when we do get good morning light.  One of the best locations to photograph the Torres is from the grounds of our hotel which I now realize sits on an island in Lago Pehoe.  I did take a number of shots of the surrounding rock formations, the lake, and plant life.  This was the precursor for a day that lifted my spirits dramatically.  Another day, another country, better weather, life is improving in South America.
After about 3 hours outside I went back to the room to deposit my equipment and go to breakfast.  I happened to look out the window and saw two Flying Steamer Ducks, one of my target species for this trip right outside the window on the lake shore.  So I grabbed the 30D, 1.4x teleconverter, 300 f/2.8 lens (this combination yields better image quality than the 1D Mark IIn with 300mm lens and 2x teleconverter at nearly the same focal length due to the 1.6x crop on the 30D compared to the 1.3x crop on the 1D Mark IIn).  I mounted up and got some decent photos of them.  I also photographed Great Grebe and Upland Goose.  I finally hurried through a bowl of cereal and as I was walking across the bridge back to the mainland and our bus for a 10:00AM departure, the Cuernos made an appearance as they would several times today.  By now the light was no longer warm morning light but I still got some OK photographs.
We were on our way for the day and soon came upon some very tame Guanacos which I did both close-up and environmental shots on and also some nice landscape shots of the Cuernos.  By the way, Torres del Paine means Towers of Blue – it is mixed language between Torres meaning towers in Spanish and Paine meaning blue in the native Patagonian people’s tongue.  The Torres were only slightly visible in fog.
While waiting for the Torres to come out from behind some thin clouds, a Patagonian Gray Fox graced us with his presence.  I took a number of nice shots of him although he did not cooperate for the environmental photo – my favorite type of wildlife shot.
Onward from there we made our way towards the Rio Paine Cascades and stopped for a sack lunch and restrooms where there were many very tame Guanacos against a beautiful meadow background along with the Rio Paine.  After photographing them, we finally made it to the waterfall by mid afternoon where I immediately spotted a Torrent Duck couple.  This was the highest priority species on my wish list for this trip.  The Torrent Duck lives in torrential waters, thus its name.  These Ducks are insane, their habitat is at the top of waterfalls or in fast moving currents where they swim against the very strong current and dive to catch food before it goes down the falls.  They are never in smooth water.  The light didn’t allow more than 1/800 sec so that is what I used and it wasn’t enough in the rough waters.  Generally, most ducks swimming can be photographed well at 1/320.  I would have needed 1/1600 to get tack sharp shots at least due to the rough water they were in.  I hope I get another opportunity and I will just have to shoot them at ISO 800.  They are incredibly beautiful ducks and I am excited about seeing them.  After that I photographed the waterfall and then we were on our way back to the hotel.  We made one stop to photograph Guanaco in a nice meadow setting and even saw moms nursing their young.  Finally, an Andean Condor perched atop a cliff was our last ad hoc stop of the day prior to returning to the Hosteria Pehoe.
Today was a great day.  I got some exercise, got to see several new species and finally got a chance to start appreciating the Andes.

Patagonian Gray Fox - Chile

Day 10 – Torres del Paine, Chile (April 18, 2007)
Today I awoke at 5:30AM with a splitting headache.  I got dressed and went out and hiked to the top of the island, a short hike to see if perhaps today I could photograph the Torres del Paine in morning light but it was very cloudy and it started to rain soon after going out.  I waited about 1 ½ hours but it just got worse.  So I went back to drop my equipment and smelled a strong gas smell in my room and went to breakfast.  Right after breakfast I noticed the Flying Steamer-Duck perched on a rock in Lago Pehoe very close to the shore so I grabbed the long lens set-up and again noticed the gas smell.  But I immediately went out and carefully approached him and was able to get the best shots so far of this species.  I also grabbed a few more shots of the upland Goose couple that lives right outside the front door of the hotel.  This time when I went back, I had to get dressed for the day to go out on the road and after about 5 minutes my head started pounding again.  At this point I concluded that it was the gas smell in the room because as soon as I went outside it went away again.  My room was located next to the utility room with a somewhat noisy on demand butane fired hot water heater.  I must have been breathing butane gas all night.  I finally changed rooms and the headache went away not to return.
Next we visited the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine visitor center.  The English speaking film shown there is actually one of the films that our co-leader Jeff Foott shot and produced back in 1997 for National geographic.  It was a phenomenal film with some incredible footage.  After watching it for an hour, the weather had actually gotten worse.  It was raining hard so we headed back to the Hosteria Pehoe for a hot lunch rather than our box lunch.
After lunch we headed out to Lago Grey where the Glasiar Grey (Grey Glacier) could be viewed as well as calved icebergs.  This was also the place where I was told I would encounter another Torrent Duck couple.  Upon arrival there, I did not see the Torrent Ducks so I took the hike up to the glacier viewpoint through a beautiful rainforest.  Since there wasn’t much to see at the glacier viewpoint, I started working the rainforest.  This place is amazing with hundreds of potential great shots but the group, after not seeing any icebergs headed straight back for the bus.  I didn’t realize this figuring everybody would be shooting the rainforest, not thinking that the group is really not one to work an area when the primary subject falls through despite adverse conditions.  I finally worked my way back and found a Torrent Duck couple perched on a rock and just as I was getting set-up, one of our leaders came down, the ducks got spooked and I was told me we had to go.  My frustration level went through the roof and it took everything I had not to loose my cool.  I wasn’t smiling but I kept it together.
From there we proceeded to another place to try to find a Patagonian Red Fox which we did after giving up and getting ready to leave but by then the light was very low.  I also photographed a Black-chested Buzzard Eagle being dive bombed by Austral Blackbirds.
On the way back, the Cuernos made a brief appearance against a white sky so I took a few shots and as I went to zoom, my bread and butter 24-105 lens would not zoom without a lot of force.  It also would not come off the camera without a lot of force.  I did bang it against a suspension bridge earlier but nothing that seemed severe.  The lens seems to work OK – I did focus, exposure and sharpness tests against the textured wall in my hotel room and also compared the mount very carefully to a similar lens from another participant and found nothing wrong.  It seems it will work OK and I hope it holds together for the remainder of the trip.
At dinner, we heard from two photographers that just got in from El Chalten that the day after we left was beautiful at Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre …

Flying Steamer Duck - Chile


Day 11 – Torres del Paine, Chile (April 19, 2007)
…and on the 10th day in Patagonia, there was sunshine…at least for part of the day!
As I sit here typing this in the evening after a full day, there is a gorgeous Upland Goose couple feeding on the grass right outside my window.
The wind started howling through the night which gave me hope for some clearing in the morning.  I got out about an hour before sunrise and the Cuernos were visible.  Unfortunately though, the sun did not break through in the early morning so there was no alpenglow to photograph.  I did get some nice shots of the wind induced surf on Lago Pehoe with the mountains as a back drop.
After breakfast we headed northeast and stopped first at the Lago Norgenskjold overlook of the Torres del Paine section of the southern Andes.  The sun started shining and the wind started howling.  It turned on like a light switch and later turned off like a light switch but it was strong… really strong.  Patagonia is supposed to have some of the highest winds on earth.  There was one point where I was physically unable to walk into the wind.  I could lean forward about 30 degrees and just be held in place.  In this area we spotted the same Patagonian Gray Fox that we saw two days ago.  We photographed him for a long time tearing apart a roadkill European Hare.  This rabbit is nearly as big as he is.  Meanwhile on the cliff above us, a Crested Caracara pair waited patiently for the Fox to finish so that they could scavenge their fill also.  I scaled the small cliff and got to near full frame range with just a 200mm lens.  Crested Caracara must be one of the most abundant birds in Chile.  They are everywhere and relatively approachable.  In the US, this is a relatively difficult bird to photograph.  Here it is quite easy.
We moved north-eastward making our way towards Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) where we were hoping to photograph the Torres in late light.  Along the way, we stopped for lunch at the same waterfall we photographed two days ago and also the place where I first saw the gorgeous and loco Torrent Duck.  I decided to skip lunch and try to find them.  At first they were nowhere to be found.  After a half hour I hiked back to the bus and then from a distance I saw the female flying in so I ran back down.  Today, the female was very accommodating and I got some shots of her that I am thrilled about.  Unfortunately the male was not around.
After the lunch stop we proceeded to Laguna Azul but the Torres were fogged in from this vantage point so we made our way back.  One of the participants in our bus lost his glasses at the waterfall area so we stopped there on the way back and our bus driver actually found them.  The male Torrent Duck was now present.  He was swimming in the midst of the waterfall and the female actually went over and just flew back up after going down a very powerful fall.  The male never got close but I did get some small in the frame shots.  With that we ended our first day with significant sunshine, although, by the time we got back to the hotel, it was raining again.  Now back to my geese outside the window!

Torres del Paine - Chile


Day 12 – Torres del Paine, Chile (April 20, 2007)
As we were going to bed last night, the stars were out so we were very hopeful to finally, after nearly two weeks, see a good morning glow on the mountains.  The winds howled during the night at speeds estimated at 60-70 miles per hour at times which is also conducive to clearing.  Dutifully I got up early and again took the very short hike to the top of the small island our hotel is on to find the mountains completely socked in with no hope of clearing.  And it started to rain, in sheets!  The demonic weather of the Magellans was to haunt us yet again.  This is our last full day in the southern Andes and we have rarely seen the mountains and have never yet seen them in good light in the morning or evening.  Virtually all mountain photography has been done between about 11:00AM and 1:00PM and that just on two days.
I did a bit of email on the super slow computers at the hotel while waiting for the breakfast to start at 8:00AM.  It continued to howl and rain.  Most of the group went back to the visitor center where we watched a fantastic film on the Puma but it was cut short when the power went out.  As we were leaving the visitor center I spotted some Brown Pintail which I quickly photographed while the others were settling back into the bus.
Our next stop was for lunch at a camping area.  There was a depressing air about the group.  The realization that this is our last day here started sinking in and many comments of “waste of money” were heard.  While I agree that this trip was not money well spent due to the elements, I am not sure it was a waste of money either.  The experiences that I have documented in this diary will be with me forever and how many people really get to visit what is commonly referred to as the end of the Earth?  But I too started getting very depressed along with the group as thoughts of all of the photos that I came here for and didn’t materialize started weighing on me.  It doesn’t help that the same tour at the same time last year had beautiful weather the whole time and some of the most stunning photos I have seen were taken then.  Additionally, we didn’t even get much of the advertised fall color.  Due to the inordinate amount of rain and cloud cover, temperatures have been higher and the soil moister resulting in a delayed onset of fall.  I asked Alejandro, who has been leading these tours annually since 1994, if he has ever had weather like this before and he said that this is by far the worst weather he has ever experienced here during this tour.
After lunch, only 6 people of the 16 participants decided to brave the horrible weather for a return trip to the rain forest and Lago Grey.  This is where earlier I was setting up to photograph the male Torrent Duck when I was summoned back to the bus.  Of course I was one of the 6, never missing an opportunity to have new photo experiences.  Unfortunately the Torrent Ducks were missing.  I did get a couple of nice rain forest detail shots as well as one of a horse by the river.  Our payoff was on the way back when we spotted a pair of Crested Caracara off of the side of the road in a relatively low tree.  We first took turns shooting out the door of the bus but then we ventured out of the bus after one bird flew to see if I could get a better angle.  We photographed this Caracara for at least 20 minutes.  Despite the grey/white sky, I got some good shots using a flash as main light approach while underexposing the ambient on purpose to give the sky a darker color.
As our final day in Torres del Paine and the southern Andes draws to a close, there is much sadness about the lack of mountain shots but there is a last glimmer of hope that we will awaken to clearing that will leave the mountains with a beautiful alpenglow to photograph in the morning before departing for Puerto Natales, Chile.  As I go to bed, we once again have a star filled night.  Lets hope tomorrow’s outcome is better.

Cuernos del Paine - Chile

Day 13 – Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales, Chile (April 21, 2007)
I got up three times during the night to see if the stars were still out and they were!  Today the weather gods finally smiled on us.  It was a gorgeous day from start to finish.  I was out a full two hours before sunrise and climbed down the sea cliffs to the pools formed in the rocks at the lake level.  It was still very windy and my rain suit got wet (again) but the payoff came in beautiful morning light and clouds over the Cuernos del Paine.  I photographed the mountains for quite some time trying numerous compositions.  I had the whole area scouted from the previous days when no mountains were visible at sunrise.  Much to my surprise, at 8:30, only 40 minutes after sunrise there were only two of us left shooting in the beautiful morning light.  The rest had retreated to breakfast.  Unfortunately we wasted about an hour of the best light of the day eating and getting ready to leave.  But once we left, I was determined to get our bus to the Torres del Paine views on the other side of the park and convinced the rest of our bus to not stop in the same locations we had stopped in previous days where our other bus was stopping.
We made our way up to the Cascade area where I photographed the Torrent Ducks earlier and were rewarded with beautiful views of the Torres with a waterfall in the foreground.  After about an hour, a herd of Guanacos made their way over resulting in great opportunities of Guanacos with the Torres in the background.  At one point some motion caught the corner of my eye.  Several Andean condor were making their way towards us.  I ran back to the bus and grabbed my 300 with 2x on the 30D and got some nice flight shots against a blue sky of Andean Condor.
Finally around 1:00 we started towards Puerto Natales.  While this was much later than anticipated, it was worth it as we finally got some great weather at Torres del Paine.  On the way we photographed Lesser Rhea, a flightless bird sometimes called the South American Ostrich although it is much smaller than Ostrich.  We also came across some more Andean Condor in flight.
We stopped at a small outpost with a gift shop and snack bar in Cerro Castillo.  Here I found the hat I have been looking for for years.  I have looked high and low for a hat that I like and when I got to South America, I saw a number of men with hats exactly like I have been looking for.  It is a leather gaucho hat and surprisingly they even had one that fits me perfectly.  Expensive but it is my souvenir to myself for this trip.  As we proceeded south to Puerto Natales, we were driving just inside the Chilean border and for miles there were fences with red signs warning people of mine fields just beyond the fence.  This is a remnant from 1978 when Argentina and Chile almost went to war over the possession of some islands in the Magellans.
We arrived in Puerto Natales about an hour before sunset.  Puerto Natales is in the Chilean Magellans and lies in the Sound of Last Hope, a Fjord area.  I quickly got checked in and I just threw me stuff in my room and immediately went across the street with the 300mm lens, teleconverters, and flash and photographed Crested Duck, Black-necked Swans and Chiloe Wigeon.  It was rough sees making composition difficult but I got some decent shots.  After the shutter speeds got too slow due to the fading light, I dropped off my equipment in the room and walked into town and back.  As I was coming back, the clouds lit up over the distant mountains in a spectacular display of orange, pink and red.  Again I quickly ran to the room to get my landscape gear and got some nice shots before the show faded.
As I got back to the room in the Hotel Juan Ladrilleros, I looked out the windows and realized I have a spectacular waterfront view and the crescent moon is shining over the fading mountain and water.  A great way to end the best day in South America.

Puerto Natales - Chile


Day 14 –Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina (April 22, 2007)
The night was rough since it seems to be customary for the local teens to race un-muffled vehicles through the streets on a Saturday night at very high speed and enormous volume.  Nobody was able to sleep well due to the hotel being right on the main street.  Morning broke to more beautiful color on the mountains across the Sound of Last Hope.  I photographed birds along the shoreline for a couple of hours prior to leaving for our return to Argentina.  Magellanic Oystercatchers (similar to American Oystercatchers but with more black) were an unexpected treat.  Chiloe Wigeon, Coscoroba Swan, Black-necked Swan, Crested Duck, and Gray-flanked Cinclodes were also photographed.  At one point I spotted a Crested Caracara on the beach but he left before I could get a shot.  He was soon replaced by a Chimango Caracara which allowed close approach and some nice photos as he was working on a dead fish that was hidden behind a rock.  I also photographed a beautiful gull species called the Dolphin Gull.  By the time I was done I was muddy, dirty and had gull poop on my rain pants!  I simply kneeled down in the waters of the Sound to clean them off.
At 10:00AM the long journey back home to Arizona that would take three days began. A 7 hour drive plus one hour to cross the border back to Calafate, Argentina followed by 2 days of flying on Monday and Tuesday was ahead.  We loaded up the buses and on our way out of town stopped at the fishing port which had lots of old derelict boats that many found interesting to photograph.  This isn’t my favorite type of photography but I took a few shots anyway.  I also photographed fishermen unloading the morning’s catch of Chilean Sea Bass.
We continued the journey and soon made our way back to the Argentine border with Chile.  The Chile process was fast and efficient but the Argentine process was long, arduous, and reeking of unnecessary red tape and inefficiencies.  We finished the day with a buffet dinner which only took one hour and left time to pack for the flights.

Chimango Caracara - Chile


Day 15 – El Calafate to Buenos Aires, Argentina (April 22, 2007)
Today was a day of air travel.  We boarded our mini-busses for the last time for the half hour ride to El Calafate, Airport.  At the airport we bid farewell to our bus drivers Pedro and Daniel.  They have been just spectacular and earned every bit of the healthy tip they received.  They even stood guard over our luggage in the melee that is an Argentinian airport line.  We gave them a strong round of applause and boarded our 3 ½ hour flight to Buenos Aires domestic airport.  Austral Airlines got us and our luggage to Buenos Aires close to on time.  I did have to clear three rows of seats on our airplane and initiate a search when my iPod went missing.  It was found wedged between my seat and the wall – how embarrassing!
At baggage claim in Buenos Aires we bid adieu to Vicky and Alejandro as well as a few of the members of the group and boarded a shuttle van to the International airport for a 45 minute drive to the other side of Buenos Aires.  Once here, after a wait with some members of the group, I got checked in efficiently by American Airlines, Argentine Security which asked a bunch of security questions and Customs.
At 8:40 I made my way to the departure gate for the 9:20 flight.  There was no aircraft and the departure time status had changed from On Time to Ask Agent – never a good sign.  We never quite knew what the delay was but at 10:00 we finally started boarding.  The scene was complete chaos.  As soon as they announced pre-board and first class, the Argentineans that were boarding the plane madly rushed the check-in person making it almost impossible to get through to get on during the time I was supposed to board.  Once the agent checked my passport and ticket at the gate, everyone’s luggage was gate searched but in a haphazard method that seemed pointless since they just opened stuff but didn’t really seem to look or care what was inside.
Finally I was aboard and getting squared away in seat 3H.  This is a very old 767 (hard to believe they have been in service for 24 years now) and even the first class seats are very narrow and uncomfortable.  American has been advertising that they were retrofitting all 767 to the new style multimedia seats that practically become a bed and cubicle on all of their 767’s.  This was supposed to be done in March – they must have missed this plane.  Just as we were getting ready to push back, a passenger in coach got really irate about something and came to the front and started yelling at the crew.  This made us miss our push-back clearance.  Even the pilot had to get involved and the passenger did not sit down until he was told that he would be escorted off the plane if he said another word.  They should have just kicked this idiot off the plane.  We now had to wait 40 minutes for a new push back time.  Buenos Aires, does not have Approach/Departure radar so if you miss a slot, you have to wait your turn for another one – aircraft separation is done by time lag rather than active radar.  It is amazing that a city of 11 million people with two large airports does not have a TRACON.  We finally got under way at 11:00 PM instead of 9:20PM.  I am now glad I have a scheduled 3 hour layover in Dallas as this has been cut down to 1.5 hours for immigration, getting bags, customs, rechecking bags, and getting to the new terminal for the final flight to Phoenix.  Shortly after departure, we were served a very nice dinner and phenomenal deserts.
The flight was very bumpy and after watching Blood Diamond (a very good and eye opening movie) on the personal entertainment system I settled in for some sleep. I needed to use ear plugs due to one person that was snoring so loud, it kept the whole first class cabin awake – the flight attendants issued ear plugs to the rest of us.
Day 16 – Somewhere over Bolivia to Dallas to Phoenix, AZ (April 23, 2007)
I woke up at 5:30AM CDT after about  4 hours of sleep and it was still very turbulent.  Around 6:30 breakfast was served and soon after at 8:00AM we arrived in Dallas, 1.5 hours behind schedule.  Our route took us from Argentina, over Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Panama then across the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatan before entering the USA.
Immigration and customs in Dallas were a well oiled machine that didn’t slow me down in the slightest.  I arrived at my departure gate for Phoenix about 10 minutes before boarding.  The flight left and landed on time but my luggage did not make it from Customs to my Phoenix flight but it was all delivered to my house a few hours later and my first journey into South America came to an end.
Upon reflection of the journey, I am very glad I went.  While conditions were far from ideal and there were a lot of frustrations, mostly due to weather, it was still a rewarding trip on many levels.  I saw an incredible place, met some wonderful people, ate new foods, learned new customs, saw new animals and most of all, despite mother nature, even got a few good photographs.
Observations About Argentina and Chile
Below are some interesting observations about South America from my point of view:
-          Chilean Patagonia is more beautiful than Argentine Patagonia.  Most of Argentine Patagonia is flat desert and just the western most slice is beautiful mountains (which we never saw).  Chilean Patagonia on the other hand is all Andes and Fjords without the desolate flatlands.
-          Public restrooms are interesting.  The toilet paper is dispensed outside of the restroom.  You have to grab some on the way in and then use it.  Hopefully you grab enough.
-          Washcloths and Tissue are not in any hotel room. There are no phones or TV in rooms in most places in Patagonia.
-          Keys are returned to the front desk every time you leave the hotel premises.
-          The Argentine/Chilean Spanish dialect is a much better sounding dialect of Spanish than the Mexican Spanish dialect to me.  It is a bit easier for me to understand when spoken slowly.
-          South Americans eat late.  Typically breakfast isn’t even started until well after 8:00AM and places don’t open for lunch until 1:30.  Dinner starts at 8:00PM and most don’t start dinner until about 10:00PM.  We tended to eat at the beginning of meal services and the locals didn’t really come strolling in until we were done in general.
-          Center for Disease Control warnings about water quality are completely unfounded.  In the sub-tropical areas in the north one should  be careful but in Buenos Aires and especially in Patagonia, there is no need to be concerned about the water or eating fruit, salads and other washed foods.  The water in Patagonia is better than what most metropolitan areas in the US have.  In Patagonia, the water is filtered glacial melt and is tested and has not ever been found to have any of the bacteria or viruses linked to stomach problems or dysentery.
-          The people of this area are very short in height.  This leads to some problems for taller people.  Single beds are very short and very narrow.  I had to sleep in several beds where it was impossible to keep feet and both arms on the bed at the same time.   
Equipment Talk
This Patagonia tour is primarily marketed as a landscape photography tour with the possibility of some wildlife.  The central focus is on landscapes.  Since the weight restrictions of the airlines and the amount of stuff I could take and carry by myself was limited, I went with my lower weight landscape outfit which includes the EOS 1Ds Mark II, 16-35 f/2.8, 24-105 f/4, and 70-200 f/4.  Additionally I packed the EOS 1D Mark IIn and 300mm f/2.8 with teleconverters for possible wildlife and to get the duck species I had targeted.  At the last second I threw in the very lightweight EOS 30D due to the 1.6x crop factor for smaller birds.  I was told that you could get very close wildlife here and didn’t think I would need the 30D but its not too significant to add it and a couple of extra charged batteries.  I also packed a flash, flash bracket, and the compact after-market EOS 1D charger which continues to work flawlessly and is such a major improvement over the bulky stock Canon charger.  For camera support, my workhorse BH-55 ballhead from Really Right Stuff was awesome as was the Gitzo 1297 Basalt tripod.
Due to weather, this trip turned more into a wildlife trip than a landscape trip including opportunities that required more hand holding than I usually do.  As such, I wish I had brought the 70-200 f/2.8L Image Stabilized lens or upgraded to the 70-200 f/4L IS lens.  Also, some birds did not allow as close of an approach as I would have liked and I wish I had brought the 500 f/4 lens but that would have made dealing with luggage unwieldy.  It turns out that the 30D was better suited for the approach distances to the birds in the area so it became a workhorse on this trip.  It performed flawlessly including flight shots even in relatively low light and in rain.
The camera bodies held up very well despite the incredibly inhospitable conditions.  All except three people on this trip used Nikon equipment and they all went to painstaking lengths to keep their gear dry.  I expended little effort to keep my 1D series bodies dry and even exposed the 30D to much harsher conditions than the engineers at Canon probably envisioned but it kept on ticking.  My EF 24-105mm f/4L lens did not fare well on the trip though.  It did fine in the rain but after it got bumped against a wooden bridge, it became very stiff to mount and the zoom action became very tight.  At one point it simply locked at the 35mm position and could not be zoomed but then later it could be zoomed again.  Focus and exposure tests confirm that it was still working mechanically and optically though.  I am guessing a cam or bearing got dislodged when it got bumped.  During my final packing, the lens finally failed altogether with things rattling and rolling around inside.  It will be sent to the Canon repair center and I will likely switch back to the 24-70 f/2.8L lens as its corner image quality is far superior and it seems more rugged as well.  My off-camera flash cord also failed although not in the way they usually fail where the retaining screws under the hot-shoe back out.  The top cover popped off on the camera end of the cord which is problematic in the rain.  It would not stay on.  A band-aid solved the problem for the rest of the trip by holding the cover in place.
Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris – My Impressions
The following comments are based on my experience on this single photo safari.  This is the first Joseph Van Os safari I have been on but all of the other folks have been on multiple trips with this company so I feel they are representative of other trips offered by JVO.  Joseph Van Os has built the largest Photo Tour business in the world.  They offer the largest range of locations and itineraries and their prices reflect a premium class tour due to the variety, the famous names that are leaders of the tours, and the services they provide.  The leaders work very hard to accommodate everyone’s desires and needs.  The vehicles are spacious and you are not packed in so that you can sit comfortably and have all your photo gear at your fingertips.  The tours are well organized and the folks at JVO in Washington are extremely friendly and helpful making booking the trip and getting prepared for it a breeze.  Documentation is clear and complete including detailed packing lists, luggage tags, etc.  All of this convenience and the prices attracts a lot of affluent customers, mostly people that had high paying careers and are now retired; however, most of them are not truly hard core photographers like I am used to on the photo trips I usually take which are either by myself or with other hard core photographers.  The trip tended to cater more to the casual shooter more than it does to the pro or advanced hobbyist photographer.  Many of the members of the group would prefer to ride the bus, get out at various locations, take a few shots, get back in the bus and move on.  They tend to be single minded on the primary attraction at a given location and not look for alternate compositions or subjects which are often abundant.  While virtually all of the participants have advanced equipment and high end tripods, in most cases I was one of only 3 or 4 people that used their tripod and the only one that used it consistently.  While shooting at a waterfall in Argentina, most people were taking 1/15 to 1 second exposures hand held. Many of the tripods never left the bus for the entire trip.  The tour is not conducive to really working an area like a serious photographer does and if you try to do that you feel a lot of pressure to hurry up and take a few shots and get back on the bus because you have 19 people waiting for you on the bus after taking their shots in a short period of time, especially in poor weather.  This leads to missed opportunities, hurrying and not getting the bets shots possible.  An inordinate amount of time is spent around meals and I have learned that many of the repeat customers come as much for the social experience and seeing new sights than they do for serious hard core photography.  The tour was very regimented and where one can go is tightly controlled.  A photographer going off and finding their own isolated place to shoot to get something unique or shooting a subject that you spot while driving was not really possible.  JVO requires the tour leaders to be with the photographers so being left at a location and being picked up later is not possible.
Would I ever go on a JVO trip again?  Yes… but not for a serious landscape shoot or serious wildlife shoot where the subjects will flee or where one needs lots of time to find and work subjects in an area to get the great shot.  You are just not able to work the area a way I like to do.  On the other hand this type of tour is very effective at introducing you to an area that you could come back to on your own or in a small self-managed tour.  An Antarctica trip, which must be guided anyway and is contingent upon the ship’s schedule would be ideal for a JVO tour.  In fact, the JVO Antarctica tour is one I would consider since you have a ship to yourself and the tour can dictate the times and how long one stays at a location rather than a regimented tourist cruise.  The subjects in Antarctica are also heavily concentrated and are not scattered by people so a tour like this would work well there.

Guanaco - Chile


Bird Species Seen

Mammal Species Seen

American Kestrel

European Hare

Andean Condor*


Andean Condor*

Hairy Armadillo*

Aplomado Falcon

Patagonian Gray Fox*

Austral Blackbird*

Patagonian Red Fox*

Black-chested Buzzard Eagle*

Patagonian Skunk

Black-hooded Parakeet*


Black-necked Swan*


Brown Pintail*


Chilean Flamingo


Chilean Flicker*


Chiloe Wigeon*


Chimango Caracara*


Coscoroba Swan*


Crested Caracara*


Crested Duck*


Dark-bellied Cinclodes*


Dolphin Gull*


Fire-eyed Diucon


Flying Steamer Duck*


Gray-flanked Cinclodes*


Great Grebe*


Great Kiskadee*


Imperial Cormorant


Kelp Gull


King Cormorant


Lesser Rhea*


Magellanic Oystercatcher*


Monk Parakeet*


Neotropic Cormorant


Patagonian Sierra Finch*


Red-fronted coot


Rosybilled Pochard


Rufous Hornero*


Sayaca Tanager*


Silvery Grebe


Speckled Teal*


Torrent Duck*


White-tufted Grebe*


White-winged Coot*


* Photographed



Home Page

Back to Quack Archive