A mythical place at the end of the world. A land of struggle and survival.
EXACTLY WHAT IS PATAGONIA?
Patagonia is a tableland region of southern Argentina and Chile extending from the Río Colorado in Argentina down to and including the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. (End of the Earth poster courtesy of pangaea.org.)
Sparsely populated except for sheep, Patagonia is a vast wilderness of spectacular terrain, flora and wildlife. A mecca for nature travelers and outdoor adventurers, it's also a magnet for photographers and documentary filmmakers from around the world.
Patagonia is my stomping grounds, the land I know and treasure above all. A place so wild and pristine it's where you go to recalibrate your soul and put life back into perspective.
Years ago, standing on a cliff overlooking the Valdes Peninsula watching an orca take a sea lion, I decided to get into documentary filmmaking. While transitioning to my new career I persuaded Questers Worldwide Nature Tours to offer a Patagonia wildlife trip. During film school I led naturalists and birders throughout the region, plus Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. Having grown up in Argentina for ten years, my intimate knowledge of the language, people, and customs enabled me to get us into places where others had rarely gone.
For a month we traveled the length of the Patagonia. Starting at the marine mammal sanctuary of the Valdes Peninsula, we witnessed southern right whales and huge harems of elephant seal and sea lions, and the patrolling packs of orcas that attack their young pups.
Drifting south past the sprawling rookeries of Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo, we cut west to the towering ice walls of the Perito Moreno glacier. Here giant ice slabs the size of 20-story buildings calve into Lake Argentina, sending tidal waves and ice shrapnel slamming into the shoreline. Every few years a dam forms when ice touches land. Pressure builds, and becomes intolerable. The ice-dam explodes with cataclysmic force.
After a quick foray to the Straits of Magellan which have claimed many a sailors' lives, we hop over to the Falkland Islands, known as the Islas Malvinas in Argentina, on a vintage Fokker turboprop.
Fearless of man, the Falklands' teeming bird life boggles the mind and sends photographers into a clicking frenzy. Stately black-browed albatross. Marauding skuas. Rockhopper penguins by the thousands. All so tame you can click away just out of pecking range. And the abandoned New Island whaling station is a rusting reminder of bloodier days in the southern seas.
For over three decades I have returned to Patagonia, and my contacts in the region are extensive. Many have become lifetime friends, resulting in an active network of cooperative park administrators, tourism and consulate officials, wildlife experts, and landowners eager to support future filming efforts.
Most recently, I was the location fixer for an experimental photography project for Finnish public television, produced by OTHER Group of Finland. Mini-episodes were videotaped of two nature photographers applying their techniques to the iconic wonders of Torres del Paine National Park. Through patience, stealth and the experience of the region's foremost puma expert, the team was able to capture stunning imagery of these wild cats.
Earlier, I was the fixer for a DuPont corporate film about a new food pellet for raising salmon in pens near Puerto Montt, Chile. I also shot digital underwater footage of the salmon feeding, plus aerials that show the pens in protected coves and fiords.
Before that I was associate producer of The Giants of Patagonia, an episode of Digging for the Truth on the History Channel. Prior to that I was the location scout for Andean aerials for a Chevy-Tahoe SUV commercial filmed at the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile. Flying over remnants of the last ice-age in a tiny plane, with sharp peaks stabbing up at us, was enthralling and unnerving. Engine failure over this forbidding ice field would have been fatal.
But my biggest and most exhilarating project was as associate producer on a one-hour PBS wildlife documentary, The Living Edens: Patagonia. Nine months of filming were preceded by a six-week reconnaissance trip. I did a comprehensive survey of all wildlife, with charts on optimal times to film. Permit and barter deals were negotiated with national parks and provincial wildlife reserves in Argentina and Chile. In this logistically challenged area of the world, all arrangements were made for land transportation, film shipments, Stateside communication, planes and helicopters, money transfers, immigration permits, and importation of gear through sticky Argentine customs. Every step of the way I had to ensure that things stayed on track, and cajoled wavering officials back into line when they threatened to change our deal in midstream. During the filming our three-man team traversed Patagonia repeatedly, racking up 57,000 kilometers on our van and shredding a dozen tires on the unforgiving gravel roads.
WHAT WE FILMED
Patagonia's three regions each have their own thriving ecosystem. The western Andean cordillera comprises jagged mountains, remnants of the southern ice field, dense rainforests, and grinding glaciers.
Based at Torres del Paine park, we concentrated on the capricious llama-like guanaco during the tumultuous height of the breeding season. By following circling condors to puma kills we captured their entire life cycle. A cacophony of mating waterfowl echoed from reed ponds visited by black-necked and Coscoroba swans, Chilean flamingos, and myriad squabbling ducks.
Andean foothills give way to the arid steppe of central Patagonia. This is the domain of the comical Darwin rhea, wiley foxes, hardy insects, lizards, tarantulas, and armadillos. Spiky scrub dots the land, traversed by only a few rivers with awesome waterfalls. Simmering volcanoes give out to the flatlands. Saline lakes shrill with waterfowl. Despite its bleakness, the steppe throbs with life.
The last region, the Atlantic coast, is the enthralling, gut-wrenching heart of Patagonia. Compared to life in the steppe and mountains, the struggle for survival here is visceral and merciless. Bloody battles among bull elephant seals and sea lions wreak havoc among harems and newborn. Orcas recklessly hurl themselves onto beaches to devour the pups. Only the antics of nest-robbing Magellanic penguins provides us comic relief, but look out for those beaks!
Always ready to return to Patagonia, I'm open to any project. Ideally, this would be guiding photography tours, structuring special wildlife or adventure trips, location scouting, and film location management. Although I am familiar with all of Patagonia, my primary area of expertise is southern Chile, and specifically the Torres del Paine National Park and surrounding territory, including the Pacific fiords. To inquire about any of these please contact me.