This morning, we awoke docked in the lovely town of Puerto Natales. It was still dark because we needed an early start for our all-day excursion to Torres del Paine National Park. The morning was grey with a bit of rain, but no matter. The bus was warm and dry with big windows. We set off in four buses. We are an adventurous group…three of the buses headed for the trailhead of a long hike called the Hunter’s Walk. Each group had their own local guide. Our guide, Sofia, was smart and knowledgeable. We tried to catch a few zzzs on the bus.
Along the walk, we found bushes, but they were very short. We were surrounded by the low vegetation of the Patagonia Steppe, dominated by beautiful tufts of camel-colored grasses, the same color as the guanaco (an American cameloid) and the puma. There were lots of guanaco about. Heads down, they pulled up some fescue grass. Then heads up, they looked for pumas.
It is early spring in this part of the world right now. The light rain could turn into snow. We didn’t spot many flowers yet, perhaps a dozen species including gorgeous lady’s purses and anemones. Of great interest to me were the cushion plants, shrubs with very short branches so the plants look like low domes. This form protects the plants from desiccating winds and low temperatures. The tight, hard domes also provide some protection from the hungry guanacos. Many of the cushion plant species are in the carrot family, which seems very strange.
We were almost at the end of the hike when a person at the front of the first group made an amazing discovery. There in the shrubbery rested a sphinxlike creature, tawny and massive. He woke from sleep before rising, stretching, and staring at us. He posed a question, “Can you do this?”
“Do what?” we asked.
“Lick your own nose!”
We all failed, and in disgust, the puma just walked away.