24 and more HOURS IN LIFE OF THE CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!!
Part 3. / 7am 05/07/ 2018
Good news, I awoke to higher temperatures at 7am, it was a whopping 1.5 degree higher, so now as I struggle in to my boots, I am wallowing in delight that it is only -9 degrees, but luckily there is not a whiner of wind, however, last I forget this is Patagonia !!!. I will be much happier when I make the dash across the frozen car park to the snug warmth of the park rangers house, knowing my fresh ground coffee awaits in a shiny gold bag on a shelf next to the wood burning stove that will be roaring and spitting with early humanities best friend FIRE, filling the kitchen with a warmth I will struggle to separate myself from a short while later, as I head out in search of 4 very cold and hungry Patagonian Puma cubs and their very hungry mother.
If I am lucky, I will find them resting on the same hill, the one I have encountered them on four times in 9 days, either laying huddled together, or happily playing with rocks and one another, as young cats do, patiently awaiting the call from the female to feast on the carcass of a Guanaco, something they have not had the pleasure of enjoying for almost 2 weeks now, and one they desperately need to do, if they are all to survive the winter.
I am looking into the last dregs of fine coffee in the bottom of my cup, my feast of porridge and honey has been consumed, and I have no excuses to keep my backside glued to the chair close to the warmth of the fire, it is time to put the gloves on, and the mittens over those, and head on down the road to the point where I move off into the hills and the day once again turns into and adventure looking for these most precious and most elusive of felines………….
The walk form my house to Laguna de Ls Cisnes is approximately 7kms, it cuts through many areas where some of the females and their cubs take shelter during the storms and freezing temperatures, as well as hide heir newborn cubs when they have to leave to hunt. I set about checking a few of these locations on my travels today, but made it all the way to the frozen brine water of Cisnes Lake before my luck changed. The visibility was down to a couple of hundred mtrs with battleship blue grey skies, but fortunately not a whisper of wind. I crossed paths with the Wild Chile film crew a couple of times as their vehicles cruised the roads searching for the female and her 4 cubs who had been spotted by a couple of Swiss Photographers earlier on, and had Kindly passed on the information.
I have always loved walking long distances in this stunning landscape, but unlike before on my previous visits, when I had my large green Land Rover Defender 110, I was now entirely on foot, so unable to cover the distances those with vehicles can, or respond and make it to locations where someone has spotted the Pumas. However I have become accustomed to it and relish the walks even in freezing temperatures and the odd high screaming banshee wind. It is also keeping me in in top physical shape, and I am struggling to put on an ounce of weight despite consuming enough food for a small army to march on. So as I stood on top of a hill overlooking the frozen lake, today, devoid of even the hardiest of Flamingo’s that can be found here in the depths winter, I could just make out some broken up radio chatter wafting from the hand held unit strapped to my pack behind me. It appears the whole crew, which amounted to 10 people in 3 vehicles, were on the trail of the cubs, but had lost sight of them in the mist, which was drifting across the area.
I decided to stay put and scan the area, and hope to spot something, and 10 minutes later I most certainly did spot something, only it was not the 4 cubs or their mother, we were desperate to spot, but a very large grey male who was sitting on a hill about 4 metres away. It is these moments that you tell yourself, that wandering around in freezing temperatures, when your feet are screaming at you to spend a day sat on a chair with them soaking in a tub of hot salty water, and a hot coffee and good book fill your hands, makes it all worth it. After a few seconds the cat moved on in the general direction of a large herd of approximately 90 Guanaco I had spotted grazing high on a ridge a few hundred mtrs south of the lake, unfortunately for me, the cat was about to walk out of my field of view as it went behind a hill in front of me, I had to make a quick decision, move closer or stay put and wait for it to pop out the other side, I chose to move as I was way too far away to film it with my 200mm lens, it was to be the wrong decision. As I came to halt at the base of the slope and scanned the opposite hill, I failed to spot him. I moved to a rock formation about 50 mtrs away offering me a better view, but still no luck, the male had either decided to stop and drop down to the ground, which would diminish my chances of spotting him, despite his large bulk, or it had sped up when he had noticed I had moved in order to close the gap between us, and I can assure one and all, these cats see you way before you see them the vast majority of the time.
I was none too happy with the decision I had made, and was now paying the price for my haste. I decided to radio Nico one of the film crew, just to inform him that the large male was in the vicinity, and it had possibly spotted the Guanaco a few hill ahead of where I had spotted it. I noticed a few snow flakes drifting slowly down and the mist was moving in quite quickly, so I decided to head for home, an early day was what my feet were screaming at me, and I decided to oblige. I headed slowly towards the entrance at Sarmiento, occasionally pausing to scan and listen for any alarm calling from the Guanaco’s, but nothing pierced the silence for the first 20 minutes, only the low growl of a car heading in my direction, which luckily turned out to be the film crew scanning the landscape for the cubs and female, here was my ride home to a much needed coffee and a warm fire……
Tomorrow we will do it all again, doubt my feet will be too happy about it though !!