Having lived in New York for more than 11 years, Mark and I were in need of a break from buildings, bustling streets, noise, pollution. One of our goals for this trip was to discover far-flung natural places unlike any we’d witnessed before and, once we found them, to spend as much time exploring within their boundaries as possible. I’m happy to say, we accomplished our goal, and then some. Never before have I had the distinct pleasure of discovering so many different types of natural environments in one uninterrupted stretch of time. From the majestic mountains, mighty fjords, and towering glaciers of Patagonia and the desert-like, wine-soaked landscape of northern Argentina to the snow-like salt flats and pungent jungles of Bolivia and fertile farmland of Ecuador and Colombia to the volcanoes of Nicaragua, we have seen all that these wondrous continents have to offer . . . or, at least as much as we possibly could. If I may run the risk of sounding extraordinarily corny, I’d venture to say that this decision to take off and discover all that lands south of home have to offer was one of the best I’ve made in life thus far. So, without further ado . . . La Naturaleza!
There isn’t much to add to the posts covering both of these magical places. One is a temperate rainforest in the heart of Chilean Patagonia, the other, a tropical rainforest in Bolivia. I guess we like the rainforest, eh?
Top Body of Water
This was another category that took a bit of deliberating before doling out the award. The Reclavi Fjord in the Cochamo Valley—as referenced in a previous post’s Best View Award—was pretty damn spectacular. The Futeleufu River in Chilean Patagonia has some of the best rapids—and clearest water—in the world and deserves a mention, if not the award itself. The lake in Guatape, Colombia? So peaceful. But in the end, we decided the prize had to be awarded to the body of water that blew us away not only because of its splendor, but because of its truly unique appearance. I mean, has anyone seen a red lake anywhere else in the world? If you haven’t read the story of our Uyuni excursion yet, definitely give it a gander. From salt flat to moonscape to red lake, the three-day tour was one of our favorite experiences on this trip.
Winner: Laguna Colorada (Uyuni, Bolivia)
With the exception of your average city-pigeon, it seems like every bird we’ve seen is different than any you’d see back home in the States. Although neither of us are “birders”—we don’t know the names and haven’t kept track of most of our sightings—there were a few birds we saw that stood out. The oversized, majestic Patagonian woodpeckers were pretty darn cool. Ditto, the deep greens and blues of the Mau-Maus in Salento, Colombia. The coolest bird we saw? Definitely the Scarlet Macaws in Madidi National Park. These large parrots are the royalty of the rainforest. It was truly, truly special to see them in the wild.
Winner: The Scarlet Macaw (Madidi National Park, Bolivia)
Yes, yes. I have been known to make a wee bit of a stink about all those rapscallion monkeys dangling from the trees throughout parts of Bolivia, Panama, and Nicaragua. And anyone who has met my little guy, Sam, knows I heart snuggly lap-cats. But the coolest mammal we saw on this trip—maybe in life thus far—was the regal and breathtakingly handsome jaguar we spotted on a branch jutting out over the Rio Tuichi in Madidi National Park. Thinking about that moment still gives me goosebumps.
Winner: The Jaguar (Madidi National Park, Bolivia)
Prior to the ANTM journey, I had never owned a decent camera nor had I devoted much time to taking pictures. Over the course of our travels, I have grown to deeply enjoy photographing the many places we have visited. As we all know, natural light is best at the beginning and end of each day. One of the most wonderful things about spending all this time traveling is to be present for these golden moments. (Well, OK, we’re usually not up at sunrise.) Out of all the beautiful sunsets we’ve witnessed—and there have been many—one light stands out unique among them all. If it seems like our Naturaleza post is filled with references to Chilean Patagonia, it is because we were amazed in so many different ways. The twilight alone is reason enough to journey to this great land in the south. Thin, crisp, blue light reflecting off the cleanest mountain water you can imagine. I would love someday to return earlier in the summer season, when twilight carries on well past midnight.
Winner: Extended Twilight (Chilean Patagonia)
We hate to sound repetitive, but everything about Chilean Patagonia is impressive, including the myriad of rich, foresty scents wafting through the air. But the most gorgeous smell our noses had the pleasure of sniffing was found not in Chile, but in Bolivia, in—you guessed it—Madidi National Park. I will never forget when Leo, our illustrious and ever-knowledgeable guide—took my wrist and rubbed it against the oozing bark of a tree that grows only in that portion of the jungle. The closest equivalent I can think of to describe what the sap smelled like is amber, but even muskier and more pronounced. It’s no wonder that people in the area use it during celebrations and festivals to entice members of the opposite sex.
Winner: Musky Amber-Scented Sap from the Special Tree (Madidi National Park, Bolivia)
Who are we kidding? All of them. Especially the big, scary, hairy tarantulas in Bolivia. And the scorpion that found his way into our hotel room in Quito, Ecuador, wasn’t too shabby either. Oh, and the large beast hanging out on the wall adjacent to my pillow last night while I was trying to get to sleep? Yeah, that guy didn’t help matters at all.