Category Archives: Flora and Fauna

New Species Discovered in Peru

National Geographic reports that a new species of night monkey has been discovered in a cloud forest in northern Peru.

The as-yet unnamed species was found by a team of Peruvian and Mexican scientists during a 2009-2011 expedition in Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, which lies east of Huancabamba, near the Euadorian border.

In total, the biologists found eight new species of mammals related to the common shrew opossum, enigmatic porcupine, small-eared shrew, gray fox, olingo (related to raccoons), and four types of rodents. Additionally, three new varieties of frogs were encountered, including Pristimantis bustamante.

The 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe protects not only cloud forest, but also páramo grasslands. It is home to an estimated 326 species of bird, 85 species of mammals and 23 species of amphibians and reptiles. The threat of deforestation endangers this reserve, which is also habitat for the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear, both endangered species.

The team of researchers will be returning to Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary this November to continue their explorations for more new species, including an orange-skinned porcupine that locals report seeing.

To get a look at these new discoveries, check out the photos at Mongabay.

 

The new edition of V!VA Travel Guides Peru will soon be hitting bookshelves! Be sure to pick up yours – in print of e-book format – before heading out to Peru’s great national parks and ruins.

A New Season in Torres del Paine

After closing last year’s tourism season with a devastating wildfire, Torres del Paine National Park is gearing up for another high season. The thousands of tourists that will be arriving should expect changes.

 

The wildfire began at the end of December 2011, and raged for nearly two months. By the end of February 2012, an estimated 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had been destroyed, according to Conaf, the national forest service. The entire park was forced closed until the blaze could be contained. Eventually the northern sector reopened.

 

The Puerto Natales hostel, erratic rock, informs V!VA Travel Guides that burned areas include along the trails in the Las Carretas, Paine Grande Italiano and Paine Grande Grey sectors. Ruth, an erratic rock volunteer says, “There is already new green grass growing, which makes the black even darker, so it is pretty impressive.”

 

Reforestation of the burnt areas of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been slow. Thus far, only 10,000 native lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) have been planted. Conaf takes national and international volunteers in a variety of positions.

 

The high season opened on October 1. Since then, regular bus service has begun and most refuges opened. The ones at Los Cuernos and Chileno are slated to open October 15, and Refugio Dikson, which forms part of the circuit, will be online November 1. Catamaran service also has begun once daily; at the end of October, it will run twice daily, and as of November 5, three times per day.

 

Prices for the 2012-2013 season are:

* Park entry: 18,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) or $36 USD

* Public bus from Puerto Natales: 15,000 CLP ($30 USD) round trip

* Lago Pehoe catamaran: 12,000 CLP ($24 USD) one way; 22,000 CLP ($44 USD) round trip

* Refuges: 22,500 CLP ($45 USD) per bed, without sheets or meals

* Meals: breakfast 5,500 CLP ($11 USD), lunch 8,000 CLP ($16 USD), dinner 11,000 CLP ($22 USD)

 

Tourists will face many more regulations, especially concerning camping, and more education about park rules. Also, many more patrols will be on the lookout for people who camp in non-designated areas. Drop by erratic rock’s free daily information sessions at 3 p.m. to learn about new changes and about all the challenges you’ll face in Torres del Paine National Park.

 

 

A big thank you to the staff of erratic rock for the above information. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and the other wonder destinations of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.

On the Road – Peru: In Mourning

Since yesterday morning when I first heard the news, I have been in mourning — as have thousands around the world.

 

Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have lost iconic Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise in the world.

 

Lonesome George. Photo by Rachel Tavel

 

Lonesome George (in Spanish, called Solitario Jorge) was found and captured on his native Pinta Island in 1972, whose landscape was devastated by goats introduced by humans. He was taken to the breeding grounds on Santa Cruz Islands, established to recuperate populations of giant tortoises whose populations were sorely diminished by centuries of hunting and destruction of habitat.

 

Solitario Jorge became a symbol of man’s devastation of the environment and the struggle to bring back species on the brink of extinction. For the next four decades, the Parque Nacional Galápagos (PNG), the Charles Darwin Research Station and scores of scientists combed Pinta Island and zoos around the globe looking for a pure-bred mate for George. Indeed, it appeared this Geochelone nigra abingdoni was alone in the world.

 

In 1993, the scientists decided to introduce Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) females, a species closely related to the Pinta Island tortoise, into his corral, in hopes of preserving at least part of his species’ gene pool. The years rolled on with no results. Finally in 2008, the females laid eggs on several occasions. Unfortunately, the eggs proved to be infertile. Later these females were replaced with ones from Española, which species is even more closely related genetically. They remained with him until the end of his life.

 

Solitario Jorge was found dead in his corral on Sunday morning by Fausto Llerena, who took care of him for over 40 years. PNG scientists believe he died of a heart attack, but will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. His approximate age was 100 years. George’s body will be preserved for future generations of humans to learn about this species and environmental issues involving extinctions.

 

Today, the websites of international newspapers and NGOs are awash with the sad news, commemorations and calls for further conservation work to prevent the extinction of any more species. As Godfrey Merlen so eloquently expresses: “We need to take a certain risk to make every effort to stem the tide of extinction.  Let his name live on, not as a sight to see but as a symbol of our determination.”

 

During the months I spent in Galápagos volunteering with an international NGO, I often stopped by Lonesome George’s corral to pay him a visit. Sitting in the shade of the patio, watching him lumber across the rocks beneath giant opuntia cactus, I would ponder how it must be to be the last of one’s species. Is he cognizant he is the only one left, that of all his kin that were kidnapped and killed, he is the only survivor?

 

Lonesome George was an Everyperson’s pet. In every corner of the planet, people knew him, speculated about his sexual prowess and pondered his species’ future. We all knew it was the end of the road for ­­­­ Geochelone nigra abingdoni. But we hoped against all odds a pure-blood female could be found, that he would have offspring, that the Pinta tortoise would not become extinct. Extinction is forever. And we have seen another Earth species pass to that terminal state — and we have witnessed it with our minds and in that space Lonesome George occupied in our hearts.

 

The Guardian honors Lonesome George’s life with a wonderful slideshow. His life was chronicled in Henry Nicholls’ Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon (Macmillan, 2006).

 

During July, Parque Nacional Galápagos will have a special photographic exhibit of Solitario Jorge in his corral. The PNG requests anyone who would like to submit photos, to send them to: solitario-george@dpng.gob.ec.

 

To learn more about the Galápagos Islands and prepare for your trip there, pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Galápagos, authored by official Galápagos resident Christopher Minster, PhD. It is available in e-book and print formats.

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Peru: Free Hiking Near Arequipa

Last week, I filled you in on 10 free attractions awaiting travelers in Arequipa. But many tourists arrive here to do some trekking in the Colca Canyon. The recent increase of the canyon’s entry fee to a staggering $26 for non-Latin Americans will leave many shoestring travelers in the dust.

 

Not to fear, though. Arequipa’s campiña (countryside) offers several great opportunities to get out of the city for some fresh sunshine and incredible vistas. The awards along the way include waterfalls, ancient rock paintings and traditional villages.

El Misti from Yanahuara’s mirador. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Two miradores just west of downtown give splendid views of the volcanoes: one in Yanahuara (2 km / 1.2 mi from downtown Arequipa) and another called Carmen Alto (6.7 km / 4 mi north of Ca Puente Grau and Av Bolognesi; follow the signs).

 

In the Cayma district west of Arequipa, a 15-kilometer (9.2-mile) Inca trail runs through the Valle de Chilina, along west bank of the Río Chili to the Santuario La Virgen de Chapi de Charcani (General Varela 1070, Acequia, Alta Cayma). Along the way are waterfalls, and places to rock climb and fish. There is one campsite.

 

Cayma’s Oficina de Desarrollo Turístico publishes a rough map of the route (Plaza de Cayma 408, Cayma. Tel: 054-254-648, E-mail: turismo@municayma.gob.pe, URL: www.municayma.gob.pe).

 

The Valle de Chilina may also be hiked along the eastern bank of the river. From downtown Arequipa, walk north to Parque Selva Alegre, turn left to the end of that road, then right at the end of that one. Continue straight and take the third path down. This road also leads hikers through a landscape of ancient terraced farm fields, forests and scrub-brush lands overshadowed by Chachani and El Misti volcanoes.

Paisaje Arequipeño. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Just to the southeast of Arequipa is the Ruta del Loncco, places where you may hike through the bucolic countryside, to waterfalls, petroglyphs (petroglifos) and traditional villages. Yarabamba (15 km / 9 mi from Arequipa) are the Petroglifos Gayalopo y Guanaqueros. A few kilometers to the south is Quequeña, where you may hike to the Petroglifos Cerro Boracho, Trompín Chico and Quebrada de la Zorra creek. Further south is Sogay, with waterfalls. In these towns, there are campsites.

 

These villages’ websites have more information about their attractions: Yarabamba (URL: http://www.peru.gob.pe/Nuevo_Portal_Municipal/portales/municipalidades/358/entidad/pm_municipalidad_tematicos.asp?cod_tema=39505), Quequeña (URL: www.muniquequena.gob.pe) and Sogay (URL: www.sogayarequipa.com). Minibuses for Yarabamba and Quequeña pass by Venezuela and Avenida Mariscal Castilla ($0.60).

Waterfall. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Any of these hikes may be done as day trips from Arequipa. Bring along food (a picnic would be perfect) and water, sun protection (hat, sun screen) and good walking shoes. Keep valuables back at the hostel. The more tranquil hikes are in the three villages south of the city.

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

 

On the Road – Peru: Nine Great Northern Coast Get-Aways

Peru’s Northern Coast, from Trujillo to the Ecuador border, is lined with delightful beach resorts. This region is famous for its world-class surfing, though other marvels await visitors to this landscape that changes from desert scrub forest to mangrove swamp. After a day of kite boarding, deep-sea fishing or zip-lining, head to the thermal baths to relax your muscles. Birdwatching and hiking are also excellent adventures. The seafood cuisine is superb.

 

The most famous of these are Huanchaco and Máncora. V!VA Travel Guides also takes you to some that are not so well-known to international travelers. Many make easy day trips from the major cities. But all have lodging, if you want to spend a night watching the moonlight slithering across the waves.

 

Huanchaco's famed caballitos de totora.

Huanchaco

Just 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) north of Trujillo is Huanchaco, which according to Chimú mythology was the landing-spot of Takaynamo, who ordered the construction of the famous ancient city of Chan Chan. Huanchaco is famous not only for its surfing, but also the fishermen who still use caballitos de totora for their daily outings. Ask to use one of these reed rafts to ride the waves.

 

 

 

Pimentel. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Pimentel

Pimentel, only 11 kilometers (6.5 miles) from Chiclayo, has a broad, pale-grey peach. The seaside malecón is lined with beautiful gardens and mansions dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is another good surfing spot. Archaeology buffs can check out Huaca Agujereada and Huaca Blanca. Pimentel is another village where fishermen still use caballitos de totora.

 

 

 

Paddling a balsillo in Yacila. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Yacila

Piura’s port is historic Paita, birthplace of Almirante Miguel Grau (hero of the War of the Pacific against Chile) and where Generala Manuela Sáenz (Simón Bolívar’s confidante) lived her last days. Seventeen kilometers (10 miles) to the south of Paita is Yacila, is a fishing village on a small, rocky cove. Here men here still use balsillos, traditional rafts made of five logs. To the south of Yacila are other beaches, like Los Cangrejos, La Islilla, La Laguna, Hermosa, Gramitas, Té para Dos and Las Gaviotas.

 

A glorious sunset at Colán. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Colán

Colán, 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the north of Paita, has long been one of northern Peru’s great beach resorts. Oystercatchers, several species of gull, whimbrels, pelicans, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies are frequent visitors to the five-kilometer (three-mile) long Playa Esmeraldas. At the southern end of the beach, fossil-rich bluffs meet the sea. The sunsets are absolutely stunning here.

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Blanco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Cabo Blanco

Cabo Blanco’s earned its fame many decades ago with its world-record catches of marlin and albacore. It drew Hollywood stars, sport greats and industrial barons. The old Fishing Club closed several decades back, but slip a few soles to the caretaker to let you see the fishing trophies and Room 5, where Ernest Hemingway stayed when The Old Man and the Sea was filmed here. Cabo Blanco is still renowned for its fishing, as well as kite boarding and a world surfing championship. While in town, drop into Restaurant Cabo Blanco to chat with Pablo Córdova, Hemingway’s bartender, while enjoying an absolutely delectable chicharrón de mariscos.

 

 

Los Órganos

Los Órganos is a relaxed, little-touristed beachside resort that is the jumping off point for deep-sea fishing and other boating excursions. If you happen by between August and November, hop aboard for a ride out to see the migrating whales. Another popular activity kite surfing.

 

Las Pocitas and Vichayito

These two towns just south of Máncora offer a more peaceful scene. The long, broad beach is edged with lush vegetation. Enjoy days soaking up the sun and sunset strolls along the strand. These are perfect places to rent a bungalow and do a maximum chill. They are especially good for families.

 

Máncora's raison d'être: Surfing. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Máncora

Máncora is the perennial favorite for national and international tourists. This once-upon-a-time fishing village has grown tremendously in the past three years, drawing not only backpackers, but also travelers with deeper pockets. Máncora’s surfing is famous globally, and many of Peru’s greats have set up schools here. The scene is diversifying, with kite boarding, wind surfing, zip lining in the inland desert forests and mud baths.

 

 

Sunset at Zorritos. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Zorritos                                

Between Máncora and the Ecuador border is Zorritos. This mellow town has over 30 kilometers (18 miles) of broad beach to stroll along and a sea that is warm year-round. Near town are several national parks protecting desert forests and mangroves. Take a day trip into Puerto Pizarro to boat around islands full of nesting frigate birds and to a crocodile breeding center. Head into the hills to soak in your choice of hot springs or thermal mud baths.

 

 

 

 

The sea is cold up to the Máncora area, where the Humboldt Current veers westward to the Galápagos Islands. Surfers will need to use a wetsuit.

 

Another warning to travelers: These beaches are a popular get-away for Peruvians and Ecuadorians during holiday seasons, when prices rise steeply. In a few weeks, it’ll be Semana Santa, or Easter Week — one of the biggest vacation times. If you’re looking for relaxation and tranquility, you may want to head elsewhere April 1-8 this year.

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

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On the Road – Peru: Everyone’s Choosing Peru as THE Destination to Visit

In the past few months, Peru has become a hot destination choice for many international publications.

 

National Geographic has chosen Peru as one of the Best Pick destinations for 2012. Beyond Machu Picchu, hikes in some of the world’s deepest canyons and exotic birds, this publication also cites the regional foods as being a major reason to come to this Andean nation.

 

Peru's famous ceviche.

And Peru's infamous cuy.

 

Reuters recently did an article on what to do and see in Lima during 48 hours, as part of its “Postcard” series. The Amazon Basin – part of which lies in Peru – was declared a New Seven Natural Wonder of the World last year. In December 2011, the History Travel Channel focused on Peru as its country of the month. And V!VA Travel Guides is once more on the ground searching out the best to know here.

 

Crowds welcoming the 2012 Dakar to Lima.

 

Join V!VA Travel Guides on our exploration of Peru in the new series of blogs, “On the Road: Peru.” V!VA has already brought you the arrival to Lima of the 2012 Dakar road rally and filled you in on Viringos, the native hairless dog. Each week, you can learn more about the sights and flavors that await you in this diverse Andean nation.

 

What would you like to know about Peru? Let us know – and we’ll root it out on our Peruvian journeys.

 

Torres del Paine National Park Reopens

Wednesday morning, just a week after a devastating wildfire broke out in Southern Chile’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the government announced the reopening of the park.

 

Torres del Paine National Park, showing open sectors. Map by: www.laprensaaustral.cl

 

The northern part of Torres del Paine, which is unaffected by the fire, is now open to tourists. These include these sectors: Laguna Sur and Amerga, Valle Ascencio, Hotel Las Torres, Campamentos Cuernos and Cerón, and the Los Perros and Dichoso rivers. For complete details, visit the website of the national tourism board, Sernatur. Click here for a map of the open areas.

 

Local guides, hostels and other businesses are joining efforts to give informative talks at the park entrance, to instruct visitors on safety and environmental issues. They also are forming protection patrols to walk the trails, looking for campfires, illegal camping and other park rule violations.

 

Ecologists, however, are not happy with the government’s decision. They fear that the patrolling of the park will draw necessary manpower from the tasks of fighting the wildfire and reforestation efforts.

 

The fire has consumed 14,504 hectares (35,840 acres) of the nature reserve, as well as about 1,000 hectares of Estancia Lazo, a ranch neighboring the park. Grey Glacier was in danger of partial melting from the intense heat. As of Wednesday afternoon, only one hotspot of the fire remained out of control.

 

Over 700 firefighters from four countries have battled the blaze. Water is still being collected for the crews.

 

Already four Israeli experts have arrived to lend their expertise in reforestation. Volunteers are also being enlisted to help with recovery efforts (see UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire for details). The extent of environmental damage is severe. Experts estimate it will take up to 80 years for the park to fully recover.

 

La Prensa Austral has several stunning photo gallery showing the fire’s aftermath.

Torres del Paine: Before the fire

 

Forest fires are burning in other parts of Chile, including in the Maule and Bío-Bío regions. In Pichiqueime, over 22,500 hectares (55,600 acres) of forest, 100 homes and a cellulose refining plant have been destroyed, and one death has resulted.  The Catholic Church has begun an aid drive to help the affected in these areas.

 

Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera is proposing a new law to replace the present one, passed in the 1930s. The forest fire reform act would reorganize emergency response mechanisms, and increase fines and jail time for individuals that cause forest fires.

UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine: Before the fire

Last Friday evening, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that Parque Nacional Torres del Paine will remain closed through January 2012.

 

As of this morning (Monday), the fire has consumed almost 13,000 hectares (32,423 acres) of the national park. Seven hundred and fifty firefighters from all over Chile, as well as from Argentina, Uruguay and the US, have joined efforts to bring the blaze under control. The entire area has been declared a disaster area.

 

Winds as high as 120 kilometers per hour (73 mph) hampered efforts on Friday. Saturday, a light rain began falling and winds calmed, allowing six helicopters to join in the fight. Three of the six foci of the wildfire were extinguished.

 

Also on Saturday, Israeli citizen Rotem Singer was arrested on charges for starting the blaze. News reports stated he confessed to authorities, which Singer now denies, blaming bad translations. He is on conditional freedom for 41-61 days until investigations are completed.

 

The government has been criticized for its slow response to the unfolding disaster. In the national legislature, Representative Carlos Recondo of X Región de los Lagos is proposing to privatize the park, which he believes will improve its administration.

 

Patagon Journal posts that volunteers for the recovery of Torres del Paine may now sign up. Send your name, age, profession, city and dates available to voluntarios@torresdelpaine.com. The program, which start date is yet to be set, is being organized by Conaf (national park service) and local operators.

 

The park closure is expected to have a tremendous impact on Puerto Natales’ economy. In one season, the tourism sector generates $200 million dollars, as well as 8,000 direct and 24,000 associated jobs.

 

Puerto Natales, though, has much more to offer tourists than just Torres del Paine. For those needing to get out into nature, another reserve may be accessed from this coastal village: Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins. This is Chile’s largest national park, covering 3,525,091 hectares (8,710,689 acres). A boat treads across Seno de Última Esperanza to the foot of Glaciar Balmaceda to the ranger station at Sector Balmaceda. During the voyage, dolphins, sea lions, fur seals and a variety of waterfowl can be spotted, as well as. Although this park doesn’t offer multi-day treks like Torres del Paine, it does have several short hikes into the stunningly beautiful landscape. From the ranger post, trails lead to the foot of the glacier and to a lookout point. Other activities in this part of the park are rappelling and kayaking, though the paddle down the Río Serrano from PN Torres del Paine not possible at this time.

 

Another nature reserve you can visit from Puerto Natales is Monumento Nacional Cueva del Milodón, a massive cave where the remains of a three meter ground sloth were discovered. Posada Hostería Río Verde on Skyring Fiord is not only a lodge at a working ranch, but also offers day packages that includes horseback riding, sailing and trout fishing. Río Verde village also has a small historical museum. Río Rubens is another place with terrific trout fishing.

 

The Museo Histórico Municipal in Puerto Natales.

When the much-needed rains arrive, you can seek refuge in one of Puerto Natales’ museums. The Museo Histórico Municipal features archaeological artifacts and historical photographs, as well as an exhibit on the 19th century European settlement of the town. The Museo de Fauna Patagónica has a collection of over 350 taxidermied animals from around the area.  Just five kilometers (3 miles) north of town, Museo Frigorífico Puerto Bories offers interesting guided tours of the old meatpacking factory, which was awarded Monument status by the Chilean government. Out in Puerto Bories, you can also go horseback riding.

 

Puerto Natales is also the southern port for the Navemag ferry to Puerto Montt. The five-day north-bound journey goes through fiords, and past glaciers of the Southern and Northern ice fields (Campos del Hielo).

 

Turismo Aónikenk, a Punta Arenas-based tour operator, lists other things to see and do in the Puerto Natales area.

 

The famous Navimag ferry.

 

The US Embassy in Santiago has issued a travel advisory for its citizens planning to go to the region. If you are planning to visit the area, keep up-to-date with the news. Check the websites of the various national agencies: Conaf (park service), Onemi (emergency management) and Sernatur (tourism board). These media outlets are also dependable: Prensa Austral, Radio Polar and Cooperativa. Another excellent source is erratic rock in Puerto Natales.

 

Stay tuned to V!VA’s blog and facebook page for more developments.

 

On the Road : Peru — Viringos

A viringo, or Peruvian Hairless Dog. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In the ruins of northern Peru inhabits a strange-looking, ugly creature. Some travelers might mistake it for a large rat with long legs; others, a poor, mangy dog.

 

It is neither. These creatures of dark grey, leathery skin and a head tufted with sparse golden hair are the viringo, or hairless Peruvian dog. It was the mascot of the ruling classes of the Moche, Chimú and other nations that lived along these desert coasts. They have been found buried in elites’ tombs, like that of the Lord of Sipán at Huaca Rajada, near Chiclayo. Archaeologists believe they were considered to have special connections with the Underworld and other supernatural powers. Sometimes they were used for meat. They were frequently represented in pottery.

 

The Inca called the Peruvian hairless dog allqu. In Quechua, its name is kaclla, or “hot water bag.” The viringo is one of several breeds of hairless dogs found in the Americas, as well as other parts of the world. International kennel associations only recognize the viringo, Mexico’s xoloitzcuintle (escuintle) and the Chinese crested. Bolivia and Ecuador also have native hairless varieties; that of Guatemala is considered extinct.

 

Viringos not only are hairless, but also virtually toothless. Their thick skin allows them to have a high body temperature (39-42ºC / 102-108ºF) to stay warm in the chill nights. For generations, local humans have used this trait as a medicine. The dogs are placed on parts of a patient’s body that is suffering from arthritis, rheumatism or other malady. It is also said that placing a viringo on the chest helps alleviate asthma.

 

The dogs became very rare. But with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura’s policy of featuring these dogs in the ruins of the former dynasties that revered the viringo, this breed’s prestige has grown. A puppy fetches up to $2,000 in Europe. In 2001, Peru declared the viringo a national heritage treasure.

 

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Peru, updating our 2012 edition of V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.