Monday, February 14, 2011

Pink feathers

"A short hike from the hotel leads down to the lagoon."

We had moved north from Ushuaia to the Argentinean Steps; a mountainous country punctuated by wide, wind swept plains and icy glacier fed lakes. This was the day before I tested an alternative career as a horse-backed gaucho and we were sitting in a wide windowed lounge, listening to a member of the hotel staff describe the area.

"You can see the flamingos on the water." The lady explaining this to us gestured out of the window towards the small patch of blue.

Flamingos?! I looked out at the wilderness around us. Small runty trees dotted the plains, their branches all stretched out to one side due to the shaping force of the harsh winds that whistled over this land. How could wild flamingos exist in a landscape where the vegetation looked like it was in front of a high speed fauna hairdryer? That didn't sound remotely likely. Flamingos should belong in hot tropical countries. The kind with wooden shacks on the beach selling cocktails in the half coconut with brightly colored drink umbrellas.

I clearly wasn't the first person to treat this pronouncement with complete disbelieve. On the table in front of me sat a pair of binoculars. I snatched them up and leveled the bins at the patch of blue. Sure enough, scattered around the lagoon edge in smudges of incongruous pink, were a flock of flamingos.

It was just ... just ... WRONG.

It had to be seen up close. In fact, I had to catch a flamingo and have my photo taken cuddling it.

The walk to the lagoon took about an hour. That was apparently long enough for each and every one of nature's barbies to move to the far side of the water. We skulked around the lake edge. For creatures that spend most of their time on one foot, it's surprising how adept flamingos are at subtly shifting beyond the reach of a really good photo. In the end, I had to settle for a lot of water and a string of pink blobs. Arty landscape shot.

We had marginally more luck with other wildlife in the area. The mountain side was stuffed with llama-like guanacos. This was hardly surprising since, as I have previously established, South America is FULL of alpacas which they use as their primary form of transport. Sometimes disguised as BMWs. Guanacos were the wild cousins of alpacas. They could probably be trained into skodas.

There were also the buff-necked ibis whose head, with its long curved beak, resembled its white American relative, but with the body of something closer to a vulture. It looked at as though someone had had far too much fun with a sewing kit and a bird encyclopedia.

Then there were the small emu-like rheas and the armadillo with its baby which resembled a mutantly sized earwig too closely to be cute. There were also hares everywhere --spawning from the introduction from Europe in 1888-- including in my dinner that night, served with chocolate sauce.


It almost made up for the lack of hugging-a-Chilean-flamingo shot. The afore mentioned, incidentally, are more commonly found in Argentina.

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